What to Look for When Buying a Second Hand Car


Feb 20th, 2020

What to Look for When Buying a Second Hand Car

The primary motivation why you're buying a second-hand car is to spend less on it instead of a brand new one but still getting a decent means of transport that fits your needs. However, a second-hand car can be a risky investment if you don't have any idea about what is involved.

Not everyone who sells their car does so because it has started to fail, although there are sellers like those in the market. Most car owners just want to upgrade to a newer model and thus need to dispose of their old one. However, even if a car is kept in excellent condition, it is still subject to depreciation, which drives a car's value down with both time and usage. 

A 3-year old car that has been driven for around 60,000 km is likely to shed almost 30% of its original value. For a 5-year-old car that has 100,000 km to it, this drop can be as much as 50%.

Important Considerations You Need To Make

Second-hand cars are available in various conditions. Some will be good as new, while on the other end of the spectrum will be those approaching their scrap value. Your goal would be to find a vehicle closer to the ‘good as new’ end and priced much lower than its original tag. Evaluating the condition of a second-hand car can pose a challenge, though, since many problems are not identifiable outright. 

Assess Its Condition

A car with a healthy-looking exterior is likely well-maintained on the inside as well. But this is just one of the indicators of a car’s overall shape rather than the rule. 

Aim for a car that has the least mileage. Be wary, however, of an excessively low meter reading. You have to verify it, especially if the car's condition indicates a much higher usage. 

The best way to establish a car's usage is by checking the service records. When the seller provides you with these records, verify them by calling the workshops. Workshops usually maintain a record of all services extended to customers, so they should be able to confirm the service history of a vehicle. 

Take It for A Test Drive

A test drive is meant to prove the condition of a car at all speeds, so you must take it on a road that allows speeds of up to 100 km/h and test drive it there. Many second-hand cars work perfectly fine when driven at slow speeds. Listen for unusual noises that should not be there. In case there are any defects, you may hear the engine, transmission, suspension, or the brakes make strange sounds. A shaky steering wheel or pulling towards a side when driven at high speeds is also indicative of defects. Make sure to use the air conditioning during the test drive to check if it works. 

Check the Airbags

If you buy a second-hand car that has defective car parts, those can easily be replaced with new or used car parts. However, if you get a vehicle with a defective airbag, it can be a fatal lapse. During the years 1999 through 2017, around two million second-hand cars were sold in Australia with Takata airbags that were defective and had the potential of killing someone if deployed. Many units were recalled and most, but not all, original owners replaced the airbags.

A professional can help you verify and confirm the condition of a car’s airbags. 

Things to Include in Your Checklist

Many sellers in the second-hand market replace defective car parts and accessories with new ones before putting their vehicles up for sale. These parts may not be entirely compatible with the car and cause problems later on, affecting the new owners. Hence, taking a second-hand car to a mechanic for a professional evaluation before you decide to buy it is a prudent step.

To help you make an evaluation yourself, here is a checklist of all the critical factors you need to consider. 

When you take the car for a test drive, check the following:

  1. How smoothly can it shift gears? Faulty gears or those that have been repaired would be slightly difficult to operate. 
  2. The engine is powerful enough to carry the car of its size with ease. 
  3. Does the car drive in a straight line while running? Does it not swerve when brakes are applied? It should stay in a straight line under both scenarios.
  4. The dials and electrical equipment are operating correctly.
  5. There is no overheating during the test drive.
  6. The speedometer is accurate in its reading.
  7. The engine does not make any unusual noise.
  8. The suspension of the vehicle is smooth. 
  9. The brakes are fully operational. 

With the car’s body, you will need to check each of these:

  1. Are there signs of damage sustained due to an accident, rust, or hail?
  2. Are there irregularities visible on the panel?
  3. The seals on the door must be fully intact. 
  4. The paint does not have any variation in tone and is not chipped anywhere. 
  5. The tubes and brackets are not corroded.

In the car’s interior, inspect the following:

  1. Are the seatbelts in good shape? Check that all the clasps work.
  2. All of the lights inside the cabin should be working correctly.
  3. All electrical equipment, including the air conditioning, windows, and audio equipment, should be in working order. 

For more information on second-hand cars, visit us at www.carpart.com.au. Carpart keeps you updated about the latest in the automotive industry and publishes how-to guides to keeping you well-informed. We’re also happy to announce that we have an online buying and selling platform for auto parts to help you make the right choices when it comes to your automobile needs.