Buying a used vehicle is a significant investment and it is important that you get the best possible value for your money.
But what if you buy a car that later proves to be faulty? Or what if the seller disappears after taking your money and now you are left with no recourse?
This is a valid concern and an important reason why many people opt to buy a used car from a reputable company like Toyota’s Automark. Automark specialises in used vehicles, especially used Toyota models, and it guarantees that it will not sell you a car that has been stolen, that had its odometer turned back or a car with fake registration documents. In fact, Automark has a very comprehensive vehicle inspection document that checks a used vehicle’s mechanical condition, its appearance, its paperwork and its history.
So, what are some of the areas that an Automark specialist will inspect to make sure a used car is in good shape? Here are four of the main mechanical areas that a specialist will check and which you can inspect yourself, when looking to buy a used vehicle.
When inspecting a vehicle’s bodywork, make sure that it is in very good light so that you can easily spot the usual tell-tale signs that the vehicle has been abused, badly repaired or damaged in an accident.
Start at the front of the used vehicle and make sure to end where you started. Walk around the used vehicle slowly and look for differences in the colour of the paint, irregular fitting panels (that are too close together, wide apart or even skew) and any signs of overspray on unpainted surfaces. The last item is the easiest to spot when you look at the bottom of the car or inside the wheel wells.
When you inspect the paint, also look at its general condition. Are there irregularities or is it smooth to the touch? This will not only tell you if the used vehicle has been repaired, but also if it is well-maintained and in a generally good condition.
Keep in mind that there is nothing wrong with a used car that has been repaired, but it has to be communicated to you from the outset.
Happy with the condition of the bodywork? Let’s open the bonnet and inspect the engine.
First impressions are very important. Does the engine appear to be in a good condition or do you notice anything? This does not mean that the engine has to be spotless, but it should be free from oil, rust and apparent damage in the engine bay.
When inspecting the engine, look at the condition of the hoses – for fuel, water and other liquids. Are they cracked, ill-fitting or leaking? This could be a sign that the engine of this particular used car has not been serviced regularly or to a high enough standard.
Equally important is to inspect the belts. Are they cracked, old or not fitting properly? This could also point to a badly serviced used car or deeper mechanical issues in the engine.
From there, inspect the battery and battery terminals. Do you see excessive corrosion around the battery or battery terminals that are caked with residue? This could also be a sign of poor maintenance of this used vehicle.
Lastly, check the oil and other fluid levels. While checking them, also look out for any foamy, white or watery residue under the oil cap. This could indicate bigger engine problems and should immediately disqualify the used car that you are inspecting.
Wheels and tyres
If a car has been abused, poorly maintained or is in a bad mechanical shape, the wheels and tyres are often a quick way to spot this.
If you see rims that appear buckled, badly chipped or scratched it may mean that the used vehicle you are looking at has had a tough life and wasn’t cared for by the owner. Often wheels that have not been cleaned regularly will show spots or stains due to excessive brake dust residue, which is also an indication that the used vehicle was not maintained well.
When looking at the tyres, try to notice any uneven tread patterns. This does not necessarily mean that the used vehicle was poorly maintained, but it could be a warning sign that could prompt you to inspect the rest of the vehicle more closely. At best, it could be mentioned in your price negotiations, because badly worn tyres will have to be replaced and could cost you, as the new owner, a lot of money.
Shocks, suspension and general ride quality
A thorough inspection of the suspension and shock absorbers is best left to the specialists, like the technical team at a Toyota dealership and the Automark specialists, but you can perform a few quick tests on any used vehicle to get a general sense of the condition of the shock absorbers, suspension and ride quality.
The first step would be to push down on the wheel arch just above the front wheels. If the nose of the used vehicle bobs up and down, it is a sign that the shock absorbers are worn and that they should be replaced. Well-functioning shock absorbers return to their original position without bobbing up and down.
When pushing down on the nose of the vehicle, also listen for any sharp sounds, creaks or rattles. While some rattles are expected when buying a used vehicle, excessive noise from the suspension is indicative if bigger problems, which you should ask a dealer to check out, before committing to buying the vehicle.
Lastly, when you take the used vehicle for a test drive, make sure you pay particular attention to the ride quality. Does the nose pitch and dive under hard braking? Does the front of the car travel wide around a corner, despite your steering inputs? Do you hear sharp sounds when you go over a bump? Does the used vehicle wander across the road or stay in its course and, when you let go the steering wheel for a moment, does the car veer sharply to the left or right?
All of these abnormal behaviours could be a sign that the shock absorbers are worn and that the wheels are not aligned. These problems can be fixed quickly by an approved service centre but have them checked out before committing to a purchase, because in some cases they could be indicative of bigger concerns, such as a damaged steering rack or worn suspension components.
Remember, if you pick up any worrying signs during your vehicle inspection, ask the seller of the used vehicle for a verified test by an independent specialist, such as a Toyota Approved Dealer or, if the signs are more worrying, look around for another used vehicle. Remember, buying a car is a big investment and you shouldn’t feel pressured into making a quick decision.
Also keep in mind that Automark has specialists that inspect every vehicle on their showroom floor and they will guarantee quality of every used vehicle that they sell.