6 things to consider when buying a second-hand car

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With the high price tag and quick depreciation of new vehicles as soon as they drive off the showroom floor, a second-hand car is often a wiser and more affordable option. But for an unsuspecting buyer who may not know too much about cars, it’s important to know what to look out for to ensure you’re getting value for your money.

If you’re looking to buy a second-hand car, use this Battery Centre checklist as your guide:

1. Rev up the research
Shop around on car websites, source ads and consult car buying guides to find available vehicles that suit your budget or visit several dealers to compare prices of the vehicle you’re interested in. It’s important to conduct thorough research and not to jump at the first attractive deal.

2. Interior inspection
The condition of the interior will tell you how well the car has been looked after; you must also check the condition of the ceiling, carpets and seats for burns or flood damage. Additionally, cars usually come with a minimum of two key fobs: check if both the unlock and lock key fobs work, and make sure the seats are adjustable.

Don’t forget to check if all controls, such as the lights, air conditioner, radio and wipers function correctly, and test power windows, power locks and mirrors. Window regulator problems are common in older used models; sometimes a window lowers well but rises slowly or crooked. It’s important to test the handbrake on an incline too: the car shouldn’t roll back at all if the handbrake is up and the car is in first gear.

3. Exterior inspection
Never buy a car with frame damage. Check if the bumpers are well-connected and for unusual spaces between the bumper and body. If they’re not aligned, it could indicate a replacement or re-alignment after an accident. Inspect the exterior for cracks, dents and scratches – this could start rust which weakens the metal and looks unsightly. If the paint is different or worn off in some areas, it could indicate panel beating work – which could indicate repair work after an accident. Some second-hand car owners are willing to concede to a few minor and superficial bumps and scratches: decide upfront what you’re ready to accept and don’t waiver from it.

Check the car’s suspension and whether it’s standing level. From a distance, assess the car for slumping or sagging. Push the car down on every corner. If the shock absorbers are in good condition, the car should rebound only once. If the car moves up and down, there will likely be an additional cost in the short term for new shocks. Tug on the tyres for any movement or sounds as this could mean that the wheel bearing is broken. If tyres are worn out, it means they’re not properly aligned or that the car was poorly driven and may present additional problems further down the line.

4. Pop the hood
A quick look under the bonnet can tell a lot about the car. Check for leaks, smells of burnt oil or signs of poor quality repairs. Also, inspect the battery terminals for corrosion. If the car battery is badly corroded, it means the car needs a new battery and battery cable. You and the seller can take the car to the nearest Battery Centre to get it tested free of charge. Battery Centre conducts electrical battery testing in the form of starter, alternator and solenoid tests.

Use the engine oil dipstick to check the oil level and condition. If the oil looks dirty and the oil level is very low, it means either the engine consumes oil excessively or it’s been poorly maintained, both of which will lead to costly repairs.

5. Go for a test drive
Start the car with the lights on. If it doesn’t start immediately, there might be an electrical problem. When driving, test all gears to ensure they operate smoothly. Brake several times while listening for noises and making sure they work perfectly. Include a sharp incline on your route and flat spots for acceleration as this is where you’ll identify ignition or injector issues. It’s important to listen to the car as you drive it and determine if there are any unexpected noises as this will indicate hidden and possibly costly repairs. Most importantly, ensure that the drive is comfortable, smooth and safe.

6. Check the documentation
Call for all document information or a history report. This should show ownership history, problems, service intervals or previous car accidents, if any. You need to be wary of this as there are instances where used cars are sold because of past accidents or car problems.

Visit your nearest Battery Centre for regular battery care and reliable car advice. For more information about Battery Centre’s full range of batteries on offer, visit www.batterycentre.co.za or call toll free 0800 112 600.

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