::: Things to Look For When Buying a Second
Hand Car :::
Check all parts of the drivetrain in turn for worn parts or damage.
You are likely to find plenty of worn parts on an older car but you need
to know what they are so that you can weigh up the pros and cons of each
car you look at. Check under the car for fluid leaks from the gearbox
and engine. Serious leaks should be investigated further and can be
costly to repair due to the labour involved. Weeping sump gaskets are
common and cheap to change so do not be put off by this as long as it is
a 'weep' and not a torrent. Check all the copper brake lines under the
car for corrosion (often an MOT failure), and examine the condition of
the underseal. Patchy underseal can lead to an onset of rust if not
dealt with, and can be a pointer that's the car's been off-road at some
point [into a ditch perhaps?]. Check the condition of the exhaust, and
the rubber hangers, especially where connecting pipes join silencers, as
these areas are prone to corrosion.
Look at each corner of the car in turn starting at the front. Check
the condition of the front brake flexihoses (you will need to apply some
steering lock for this) looking for bulges or cracks. If these are
present then the hoses need replacing. Check the CV boots for cracks and
look at the inside of the wheel. If it is covered with grease then a CV
boot has split/come adrift and lost its grease. If this grease is old
then the CV is likely to be damaged, as it has probably now run dry
(£40 + labour). Do not bother looking at the condition of the bushes
because unless they have been renewed then they will definitely be tired
Check the condition of the discs and pads and make sure the disc
back-plates are in place. Check each damper in turn. If they are
"damp" (pardon the pun) then they are leaking and need
changing. Always replace these in pairs or better still - as a set.
Obviously gas dampers won't leak in quite the same way so you need to
push down on the relevant corner of the car to compress the suspension
and then release the pressure. The car should rise beyond the starting
point and the drop back to where it started. If it continues to bounce
up and down or just moves slowly back to where it started then the
damper is shot. Once happy with the mechanicals then you can move to the
engine and then to a test drive.
» Engine & Test Drive
Look in the bonnet and check the vitals such as the oil, water, and
brake fluid levels. If any of these are low it reflects badly on the
owner's maintenance. Open the airbox, look at the air filter and if
possible remove a spark plug. Their condition will give you an
indication as to when (or if) the car was last serviced and you can then
weigh this up against the vendors claims!
Examine any visible belts for scoring and wear, and check any gaskets
for signs of leaks. Look under the oil filler cap and check to see that
the oil is the correct colour and contains no "mayonnaise"
which indicates a water ingression possibly as a result of a dodgy head
gasket. Look at the condition of the coolant, if it is all rusty and
brown then the car has not been subject to much TLC and the rad and
block waterways will be rusty and in need of a flush. Be wary of a steam
cleaned engine bay as this is often done to remove any traces of oil or
water leaks prior to a sale.
Once you're happy with the static engine you can start the car.
Ideally you should start if from cold and do not let the vendor start
it. If there are any idiosyncrasies with starting the car then you want
to find out about them. The car should start straight away and turn over
on the starter strongly.
If the engine has hydraulic tappets then it will sound like a bag of
spanners (clatter) for a few seconds and will then quieten down as the
oil pressure rises. If it continues to clatter then the tappets are
probably shot and these will cost about £100 to change, of more if it
is a 16v. The engine should idle at 1100rpm and drop down to a smooth
c900rpm as it warms up, obviously an exception here would be an engine
with a lairy cam!
Allow the engine to warm up before driving anywhere, check that the
fan kicks in when it should and that the water temp looks OK. Now is a
good time to test all the electrics such as lights, leccy windows and so
on! Listen for exhaust type noises coming from anywhere other than the
tailpipe - this implies that the exhaust is blowing. Confirm this by
placing your hand over where the noise appears to be coming from and you
will feel a blast of hot gas.
Take the car for a drive and make sure that it pulls in a straight
line and stops in a straight line. If not then something is adrift. Is
it the tracking or the whole chassis? The engine should rev cleanly and