So you’ve found a car that ticks your boxes and you’re going to look at it. First up, don’t dress rich. If you look like you’re short of a dollar, when it comes to haggling the price you might have some more sway. If you look wealthy the seller is hardly going to discount the car are they.
Also, take a torch with you, we’ll get to why in a sec.
Also, you know how only the most perfectly beautiful people look good under fluorescent lights like at a 7 Eleven? It’s the same with cars. To find the problems, look at the car in as much light as possible,
Don’t inspect a car at dawn, dusk, night or if it has been raining because these situations can all hide problems.
Next, to make what to look for easy, we’ve come up with a simple easy to remember acronym, it’s P.P.O.D.S.W.T; paint, panel gaps, overspray, dents, scratches, wheels and tyres.
Go around the entire car and check that the paint matches in colour and in texture. If for some reason you can’t check the car out in the middle of the day or under bright lights, use the torch, and feel all the paint. If it doesn’t match over the whole car, why? has it had an accident? Has it been repaired? If you can spot that the paint doesn’t match, why hasn’t it been painted properly?
All the panel gaps should match. Check around the front of the car especially, if the gaps are thin in one spot but there’s a huge gap on the other side, that’s a bad sign. Also, open and close everything that opens and closes, they should open and close easily.
Ok, get your torch and check in the wheel arches, in any intakes or vents, pop the bonnet and look around the engine bay and if you see spray paint overspray, the car has been repainted, why?
Also, if the bolts that hold the body panels on look new and the rest of the engine bay doesn’t, why? Have the panels been replaced?
Dents and Scratches:
Most used cars will have a few minor dents and scratches and how many you’re willing to deal with are up to you and can sometimes give you some bargaining power. But, if the scratches are back to the metal or you can see the black of the plastic through a scratch, this may require more major and expensive repairs and if not repaired, at least with metal scratches, can eventually corrode and rust, this is bad.
Plus, are the bumpers, grill and plastic bits attached properly? They should be.
Wheels: Some light gutter rash can be ok and most wheels can be repaired but if you see any big dents, or chunks or even cracks on the wheels, that’s a very bad sign.
Tyres: Are the tyres from brands you’ve heard of or are they cheap dodgy ones. Do all the tyres match in terms of brand and model of tyre. If not, it’s a pretty good sign the seller has cut corners financially, if they’re cutting corners with the one part of the car that touches the road, where else have they cut corners.
Then look at the wear patterns, the wear should look even across the whole tyre and it should be consistent on all four tyres. If the wear pattern is all over the place, the best case scenario is that the car may just need a wheel alignment but the worst case scenario is that the car may have suspension damage.
If the tyres are nearly slick, this means you’ll be paying for new tyres soon, use that when it comes time to negotiate the price. A set of bald tyres should get you at least $1000 off the price. If this all checks out, it’s time to look at the engine.
For the engine bay, we’ve come up with another easy to remember acronym; C.O.C. Which is coolant, oil and condition of engine.
Check the coolant. Firstly, is there any? It will generally be red or green. Have a look in the coolant overflow bottle, or even in the radiator itself, but be careful, it could be hot.
Pull out the dipstick and check to see if the oil is at an acceptable level, it should be in between the two indicator marks. Also, what colour is the oil? It shouldn’t be watery or milky, it should be a browny, syrupy colour. If it’s jet black, that’s a bad sign.
Condition of engine
Grab your torch again and get as far down in the engine bay as you can. Make sure there aren’t any signs of leaking fluids and just have a look for anything that appears broken or out of place. Then, if there are any mods, make sure they are a quality brand and have been fitted professionally. Lastly, start the car and listen for any dodgy sounds.
If the car is still ticking all the boxes, it’s time to get inside. Now, look at how kilometres are on the odometer, the cars interior condition should match how many kilometres it’s travelled.
If the odometer says 60,000kms but the pedals are heavily worn and the seat bolsters are falling apart, there’s a good chance the car has travelled far more than 60,000kms. But, if the car is showing in this case, 460,000kms and the interior is in good condition, that’s a good sign the owner has cared for that car. Also, make sure you get in the back seat and look in the boot, how’s the condition, is it all consistent?
Next up, go have a coffee…
That’s right, it’s generally at this point that the emotions and adrenaline start building and you can conveniently start ignoring some red flags if you like that car. It’s really important to just take an hour or so, calm down and have a think about what it is you’re doing.
Think about any of the concerns you have with the car and if it’s genuinely worthwhile taking the next step which is potentially test driving the thing.
If you’ve gone and chilled out and you still love what you’re seeing, let’s move to Stage 3.