9 Checkpoints Before You Buy a Used Car

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Before you buy a used car, schedule a pre-sale inspection with your local mechanic. A knowledgeable mechanic will help you establish if there are any mechanical problems with the car that may cause future problems.

In this guide, we’ll help you discover the 9 checkpoints that can be used to make your final purchase decision.

Fuel Efficiency

Importantly check a car’s fuel efficiency. The initial cost of the car is one thing, but if fuelling it costs a fortune then you’ll have an affordability problem. You can use smart technology such as GOFAR to ensure that the car is fuel efficient.

GOFAR helps you to find your car engine’s sweet spot and then guides you on driving efficiently to save fuel and reduce wear on your brakes.

Other areas where the GOFAR app and adapter can help include;

  • Tracking car mileage for tax deductions
  • Alerting you when the car has a fault
  • Explaining car faults in plain English
  • Registration & Insurance reminders
  • Saving fuel by finding the engine’s sweet spot

Service History

Before you sign on the dotted line on the check, you need to inspect the vehicle’s service history manual to ensure that it was regularly serviced and on a regular basis.

The car logbook will reveal many different aspects regarding previous ownership, any accidents that may have occurred and overall service history. Typically, the document/booklet will provide you with the following:

  • Has the vehicle been registered as written off or stolen
  • The result of REVS check (applicable in Australia only)
  • Is any money still is owing on the vehicle from previous leasing agreements?
  • Vehicle identification and sales history
  • How many people have previously owned the car
  • Odometer reading
  • Previous repair log (if available in written form)


One of the most important things that a car owner needs to ensure is its cleanliness. If you buy a car that smells like a cigarette, it is a clear sign that it has not been appropriately cleaned for quite some time. Take the time to consider checking:

  • Have the door trims been kept clear of dust and grime?
  • Are there coffee stains in the cup holders?
  • Are the car floor mats worn and dirty?
  • Have coins fallen in-between the gear box and cover?
  • Do seat belts have any signs of fraying or stains?

Interior Wear and Tear

You need to determine whether the wear and tear in the car’s interior is a match for the amount that the seller expects as payment for the vehicle. For example, a car with low kilometres is suspicious if it’s clear that the interior shows signs of 100,000s of kilometres.

  • Sit in the driver’s seat. If it’s been driven for 100,000kms then the springs and comfort may have had their day. Is it still comfortable?
  • Is the steering wheel in good condition and with good grip?
  • Has the dashboard been affected by sunlight or excessive heat?

Take a few extra moments to look at the interior with a critical eye.

Spare Tyres, Jack and Lever

Check the car’s trunk to see if it has an unused spare wheel, a jack, and lever.

With the spare tyre out-of-sight until you get a flat, you won’t think it’s a problem until it becomes a massive problem.

Run your hands around the inner rim of the tyre to ensure it hasn’t been previously fitted or tampered with.

Occasionally the car will also be fitted with a ‘can of goo’ that can be used to inflate or secure the tyre as a temporary measure. The can contains a tyre sealant under pressurised air. Follow the instructions on the can to determine the volume required to fix your current flat tyre issue.

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Checking Under the Hood

  • Engine – Be careful when checking the car’s engine because the previous owner might have cleaned the engine to hide any oil leaks or other critical defects.
  • Oil Cap – If you find some creamy white liquid on the cup, this could be an indication of a broken gasket. This is a good reason to walk away from the car as it might cost you more money to repair than the savings you expect from buying second-hand.

Exterior Checks

  • Exterior Paint – You can quickly establish a sloppy owner by the number of dents and scratches on the exterior paint job. Pay special attention to the edges of the door and the fender corners to see if there are dents or missing paint.
  • Front Fender – The best way to avoid additional cost with regard to buying new shots and ball joints is to check under the front fender. If you find scratches on the underside, it is a clear indication that the previous owner never slowed down sufficiently for speed bumps. The car was driven roughly. You will spend money replacing the shocks and ball joints if that is the case.
  • Door Handles – Check for scratches along the door handles. Cars that were previously owned by women may have scrapes on the paint and door handles from jewellery. This is not a massive issue, but ultimately it’s your decision.
  • Rims – If you find a lot of damage on the wheel rims, it means that the previous owner was not careful when parking. Depending on the type, make and manufacturer of the rims, will affect the cost, if you choose to replace them.

Test Drive the Car

To thoroughly determine whether the car is worth the asking price and ultimately belongs in your garage, it’s critical that you take it for a test drive. Ideally you would test it at lower speeds, cornering, braking and also on a longer stretch of road.

  • Steering – To ensure that the vehicle has well-aligned steering, accelerate to about 30 miles per hour on a straight road and then lightly remove your hands from the wheel. (Always maintain control of your car.) If the vehicle steers away from the straight line, it means that the steering wheel has not recently been professionally aligned.
  • Brakes – To test the brakes of the car, accelerate to 30 miles per hour and then press the brakes hard. If the car brakes on a straight line without tugging on the wheel, it means that the brakes are in good condition. If you feel the vibration from the anti-lock brakes, it means that the car needs some servicing, particular on the brakes.
  • Gearbox/clutch – Ensure that the clutch is not too worn and that the gear shifts smoothly. To test the gearbox, engage very late and see if it stalls when engaging the clutch without applying the acceleration pedal.
  • Engine noise – Listen to the engine as you drive. Is it making any strange scraping, whining, tapping or clunking noises?
  • Shocks – Can you hear squeaky noises coming from the wheels of the car. If yes, it may mean that the shocks are not in good condition.
  • Engine temperature – Make sure that the car reaches its normal operating temperature after driving for only a few miles.
  • Air conditioner/heater – Be sure to see that the ventilation fan is working correctly without making extra scraping or whirring noises. Also, ensure that the air conditioner works sufficiently.
  • Lights – Make sure that the indicator signalling and braking lights are working correctly. If the car has other lights, ensure that you test them at night to see if they are working properly.
  • Radiator Fluid – Check to see that the radiator fluid is at the proper level. If the fluid is not at the proper level, it may have a leak. Excessive heat will damage the engine. The thermometer on the radiator will not work without the radiator fluid.
  • Transmission fluid – Ensure that the transmission fluid is at the proper level and that it looks clean. Check for leaks under the car, if it has been parked for more than a few minutes.
  • Fuel burning – Swipe your finger around the exhaust when it is cold and see if black soot is visible. If there is soot on your finger, it means that the car is not burning fuel efficiently and it is instead burning oil.
  • Blown Gaskets – After the engine has cooled down, remove the radiator fluid cap and start the engine. If bubbles appear after a few minutes, the gasket is blown, and this car will not be a good bargain. You can further check if the gasket is blown by accelerating very quickly. If the car’s exhaust has white clouds, the gasket is blown, and if there is some black smoke, the engine is burning oil.
  • Tyres – See if the tyres have evenly worn tread. If the tyre is only worn out on one side, your wheels will need alignment. You can try to negotiate for a better price if you are the one who’s going to do the alignment.

Negotiating the Car’s Price

Before you settle down a price with the seller, ensure that the car has a timing belt that has recently been installed.

You should also ensure that the dealer has filled the coolant and has replaced the worn out tires. All these should be part of the cars price before you buy it.

If the dealer is not in a position to replace things, ensure that this is reflected in the cost price.

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