Used-car Warning Signs

Woman driver buying a second-hand used car


Looking to buy a second-had car? Here's how to make sure the deal isn't too good to be true.


Despite the tough economy, total domestic car sales hit 227 514 over the first six months of 2021, up 40% on 2020's sales. South Africans love their cars, and the prospect of picking up a low-mileage bargain on the back of the lockdown lull clearly held some appeal... But sometimes that bargain is as shifty as a 10-speed clutch. Here's how to tell if you're picking up a peach or driving away in a lemon.


Warning! Trouble ahead


There are a few simple things anyone can check before making a purchase. Oil leaks, for example, are easy to detect (just check the tar under the car). 'Large wet stains under the vehicle are a sign that an engine, power steering, brake or transmission seal or gasket is leaking, and that the fluid is probably low, presenting a real safety hazard,' says Auto Services Director Gustav Erlank.


getWorth Operations Director Luci Williams adds that it's easy to spot obvious issues – if you know where to look. 'On the bodywork, look out for shoddy spray work on the outside of the vehicle. If you look closely, you will be able to see imperfections in the paint. Look out for any panel-alignment issues. All panels should be flush,' she says. 'Stand in front of the vehicle and look at the gap between the bonnet and the fender panels. Judge with your eye or run your finger along the edge of the panels. The gap should be uniform all the way around.'


Under the bonnet, Williams says it's easy to spot if work has been done simply by looking at the bolts on the engine. 'Also check for structural damage inside the bonnet itself,' she adds. 'Look out for anything suspicious that has been used to keep things in place, as well as any welding work that is not factory standard.'


Her advice is to then start the car, listening for any odd noises and checking for warning lights, and then going for a test drive. 'On the test drive, test the brakes, clutch and gearbox. Listen for any strange noises coming from these items while driving. Ensure you reach a fast enough speed that will allow you to drive through all the gears. Make sure the gears don't stick and that there are no "grinding" sounds,' she says. 'When braking, ensure there is no shudder.'


Go with a pro car inspection before buying


Erlank says that it's best to insist on a 75-point inspection of a potential purchase, executed by an accredited workshop, to cover the most important components of a vehicle and ensure that the vehicle is running at optimal levels.


'This kind of inspection covers the most important components of a vehicle from bumper to bumper. Accredited workshops look over the engine, transmission, fluids, wheels, tyres, brakes, suspension, exhaust, cooling system, air-conditioning system and more,' he says. 'Having a vehicle inspected, ensuring it is running at optimal levels, gives would-be buyers peace of mind.'


When shouldn't you buy a second-hand car?


Don't settle for any mechanical issues on a second-hand vehicle, even if it means you lose out on what looks like a bargain. 'A vehicle in good running condition shouldn't have any oil leaks, unusual noises or strange smells,' says Erlank. 'What may seem [like] small mechanical issues can result in major expenses over time, whereas bodywork issues are often cosmetic. That said, vehicles with rust and severe body damage should be avoided.'


Williams agrees: 'Never settle for any issues on a second-hand vehicle. These will always end up costing you money further down the road. If there are any cosmetic defects, always ask why this work was done, as there may be a more serious underlying issue.'


Post-purchase regret on your new vehicle


'It is very important that car buyers rather know their rights prior to making a purchase,' says Erlank. If your second-hand purchase does turn out to be a lemon, the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) provides some peace of mind. 'Should you experience serious mechanical issues after purchasing a vehicle, but during the six-month CPA warranty period, it is very important to not let any mechanic or workshop repair any issues without the knowledge or approval of the second-hand car dealership to avoid any warranty issues,' Erlank advises


Got your pre-loved chariot and happy with it? Make sure it's properly insured. Use our free online tool to compare Car Insurance quotes on used or new cars.


This article is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as financial, legal or medical advice.

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