Inspecting a Second Hand Car – An Exhaustive Guide

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350Z

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Previously, You have read the advantages as well as disadvantages and tips about buying a used car over new in The Automotive India, You also learned how it is possible to become a proud owner of Mercedes Benz with just Rs.5 Lakhs in pocket, but what you are going to read today is probably the most comprehensive article seen on any Indian automotive website yet, explaining how to inspect a used car thoroughly along with relevant images. Let’s read on.

Buying car is always a fun, be it Brand new or Pre-owned but it is always required to be aware enough in both the cases. However, in this article we will primarily focus about buying and inspecting a second hand car. To start off, after deciding which model you are going to purchase and now it is time to go for an inspection, call the respective seller to schedule an appointment at time which is convenient for both of you, and it should be on a day with proper sunlight. Also, search around our forums to get basic know-how about specific model, related troubles, maintenance costs etc. It is always better to take some one along who could either be a knowledgeable friend or family member and not to forget, a print out of this article too. :smile:
 
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350Z

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Inspecting the Exteriors.

Upon reaching to the seller, have a friendly general talk and ask them about overall condition of car, and availability of its service record etc. If there have been any repaired small dents/scratches/windshield replacements in past, a genuine dealer would truthfully tell you about same. Take your own time for inspection and do not hurry, now look around the car from all possible angles for any noticeable damages, corrosions or uneven paint job. Move onto the side area from front and slightly lean down to check whether the body lines go straight or not, any unequal body lines indicate that car must have faced some dents. Get closer to each and every part to see whether there are any variation in paint color, an even better method to confirm whether the car has been repainted is to open and check color difference between border lines of boot and fuel lid. In case you happen to find so, it’s reasonable to avoid the specific car, the damages however may be repaired to renew the looks but: First, You are unsure how much the damage was. Second, Specific area would have obviously become comparatively weak after facing an impact, doesn’t matter how much. Similar story goes with corroded cars too; You must avoid them at any cost since even after a perfect paint job, corrosion starts to re-appear very soon.

Apart from this, watch out for inconsistent panel gaps or any cracks on windshield or windows. All body panels should have equal gaps, if necessary; take a look at another same car for better comparison. Speaking about the tires, if they are already replaced much before than they should be, ask seller the reason for doing so, and when were they replaced. Pay a close attention to them; they should have sufficient tread which can be measured by using Re.1 coin method or at least 8mm to be precise. Being ignorant to check any cracks on windshield, windows or outside rear view mirrors (ORVM) can create a big hole in your wallet since these parts of some cars costs exorbitant, like that of an Accord’s windshield which goes up to Rs.28,000. Examine the front and rear windshields for any repair marks or wiper scratches, if they are, straight away get an idea that wiper was used to run on a dry windshield and if continued so, visibility would eventually become worsen. Also make sure to check head lamps and tail lamps for any crack marks, mist or water trapped inside, all lamps, including indicators should be functioning normally. Beware of busted head lamps or tail lamps, especially in cars like Toyota Innova or Skoda Octavia. In fact, that sunroof which you may find looking very cool can be prone to leakages during monsoons if not installed professionally.

Now, what’s next is one of the most important areas, i.e. underbody of car. Because it won’t be easy to push yourself under the car, make use of a car-lift in case it is available at any nearby work shop, which would help making the task much more convenient and also assure that everything is checked clearly. Once the car has been lifted up, use a torch and give close look in the wheel wells and other certain areas for signs of corrosion, any loose caps, leakages or dents. Always remember – Generally corrosion occurs on those cars which are left unused for long, and best trick to find hidden corrosion is to use a piece of magnet, hover it around suspicious areas where corrosion could easily occur, fuel lid or door corners for example, if the magnet refuses to stick easily, voila! You just discovered a corroded spot which is simply painted over. Reason? Magnet is attracted only towards metal, whereas if the car’s body panel was repainted after corrosion, magnet won’t cling because the specific area is filled with nothing but body filler.
 
Thread Starter #3

350Z

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Straight Bodylines indicate that this car is accident free.​

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Corrosion is biggest enemy of any car.
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Pay close attention to small dents and scratches, they may help to reveal an untold story.
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Avoid models with uneven panel gaps and dents.
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All tires must be of same brand and in healthy condition...
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...with sufficient enough of tread.
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Marks of an effort to repaint.
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Watch out for busted lamps, or with trapped mist/water inside.
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These are some smart spots to quickly identify if car has been given a proper wash or not.
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Match body paint color shade on either sides of boot / fuel lid boundaries.
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350Z

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Inspecting the Interiors.

Even if the car in question comes pre-fitted with central remote locking, we recommend to lock and unlock all doors manually with keys, the doors should not have an excessive play. Also, when you purchase the car, strictly insist the dealer to provide you both the keys of car, along with the key-code. After getting inside, take a quick glance all over the interiors, they must be clean enough to please you and free of any unwanted odor. Touch the dashboard to feel whether it is sticky or shows signs of melting, this is usually a rare case but as the saying goes, “Prevention is better than cure”.

Open and shut all the storage spaces and glove box, some of the cars like Skoda Fabia also come equipped with chiller box, cross-verify if it is working properly, including electricals like Air conditioner, Climate Control, Interior Map-reading lamps etc. Sit on the driver’s seat and until you feel comfortable, keep adjusting it in different positions. Turn on the car, and look straight behind the steering wheel at the instrument cluster, it should not have any of the warning icons lit, especially the engine malfunction lamp. If there is, you get a hint that something is definitely wrong with car, may the possible issue be a broken wire or requirement for complete engine overhaul.

Now, It’s time to examine rest of the interiors, sit on all the benches, front as well as rear, if they wear the seat covers, remove them and check for any bad stains, ashes or burn marks. Otherwise, if they are alright, a simple dry-cleaning would be enough to bring them back to life. Remove the foot mats and carpet to detect any corrosion, here the magnet method will again come handy. Open and close all the doors, and roll up and down the windows at least a couple of times to verify their fitness, not to miss the boot either, which must have at least the spare wheel and jack resting intact, However, with some utility vehicles like Tata Safari and Toyota Innova, spare wheel is fitted on the rear door and under the car’ rear end respectively.
 
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350Z

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Don't go by beautiful seat covers, find out what actually is under them.​

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Give a look under the dashboard too.

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Orange icon indicates Engine malfunction - it should not remain lit-up always.
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Stains would be easy to clean but white hairs tell that some pet too had a gala-time inside.
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Doors should not have an excessive play.
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A clean roof points towards a well maintained car.
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Spare wheel should be intact along with Jack.
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Remove carpet to check if body has any corrosion.
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Don't miss to check the map reading lamps.
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350Z

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Inspecting under the Hood.

This is one of the most crucial parts when it comes to inspect a used car, but a put-off for many who presume that it requires technical skills, however, the story is not so. With the car’s engine turned off, lift the hood and safely attach it over. A single glance will provide you a fairly good idea; engine should be clean since most of the dealers give a thorough mop-up before presenting the car to buyers, though, don’t immediately jump on the conclusion that now everything is alright. Pull out and clean the engine oil dipstick, and fix it, and pull out again. The oil on it should be brownish and not very dark in shade, and the car must have sufficient enough of oil available which can be seen through the “low” and “full” marks present on dipstick itself. Unscrew the caps of brake fluid and coolant reservoir and see if it appears normal.

Scheduled servicing and replacement of engine oil and other fluids is more important than it sounds, if previous owner hasn’t done so, most likely chances are that one day or another, major engine related issue would definitely crop up, and at the end of the day, it’ll be you whose going to be the bearer. If the car you are purchasing is over four to five years old, remember to confirm about the Battery replacement, otherwise it can soon conk off since an average life of car battery is about four years. The car’s battery apparently should be in a clean condition without any chemical deposits and if not the both, it must have at least the positive terminal covered.
 
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350Z

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Probably not the most favorite part, but thorough check-up under hood really pays-off later.​

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350Z

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Inspecting the Original Mileage.

With time, the second hand car market is only getting trickier to deal with, and so it is certainly becoming difficult to separate water from the actual milk. Many sellers are trying various unethical gimmicks to sell their cars, that is why, it is extremely important to be cautious, never be too much desperate, or stick to a specific car, because there’s a whole lot of variety available out there. One of the most common and traditional gimmick to sell a car is to reduce the Kilometers done by tinkering with odometer. Let me explain this through a short story, A person went to check out some cars on a reputed Pre-owned car dealer (Name censored), he came across a neat Maruti Esteem with only 30,000~ Kms on odometer, a day after, upon casually calling his friend to tell the details of car for final confirmation when he was about to sign the deal, alas! the friend was shocked to hear that because he sold the very same car just a month ago which had done approximately 65,000 Kilometers!

This is true. Such scams happen and it is required for us being attentive. Tampering is possible even on digital odometers like that of Hyundai Sonata. Although this factor depends more or less on your trust and luck too, but still there are a few ways to verify same. First, take a general look at the pedals, indicator stalk, and gear knob because they can be helpful in revealing an untold story. Apart from this, check the car’s servicing history record which mentions the exact mileage during when the car was serviced. Also, if tyres are not yet replaced, match their date with that of car’s manufacturing date. (Refer to this post to learn procedure of checking tyre’s actual manufacturing date)
 
Thread Starter #9

350Z

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What you see is not always true.​

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That is why, Take a look on pedals..
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...gear stick..
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...and on indicator stalk too.
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350Z

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Clinch the Deal with Drive.

Alright. You have now thoroughly inspected the car and already started lovin’ each bit of it; everything is top-notch in perfect condition, from Exteriors to under the hood. Negotiated with the dealer and that cheque is ready too. But now in order to finally clinch the deal, it is very important to exhaustively test the car, even more than what you examined when it was stand still. Start the car early during a cold morning, or for that matter, before any one else would have done so. The engine must start smoothly but any excessive smoke from exhaust pipe won't be a good sign. Now shift the gear, which should again be a smooth process, in both the cases, Manual Transmission as well as Automatic Transmission. Begin driving on all possible authorized speeds limits constantly and also on different type of terrains.

The car should not have any excessive jerks, rattles and also try driving the it on a straight empty road maintaining similar speed, where it should not move automatically on side, if it occurs, there’s a possibility of having misaligned wheels. At the end, Simply remember – Never hesitate to ask something about the car from seller, because you are the buyer and at the end of the day, if the seller fails to sell the car, loss is not yours. There are many cars waiting for you out there, and that’s what the fun is about buying second hand car, rather than considering as a burden, always enjoy it.

Sure. The back-breaking research may consume lots of time from two weeks to two month or sometimes even two years, but I assure – Extensive research would definitely pay you off and once you start enjoying the better car for less bucks, Probably, that feeling can never be described in words. Hope this straight-from-the-heart article from little of my knowledge helps you making that decision straight and accurate. Drive Safe!
 
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350Z

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What to Remember:

  • Firstly, ask the general details of car you are eyeing on from the seller in advance, so that you do not end up unnecessarily wasting time if car is of no interest.

  • I recommend reaching at seller’s place without advance notification, because it’ll give you a better idea, or atleast, reach an hour earlier to learn how the car is being treated.

  • Don't always rely on dealerships, sometimes, even authorized Pre-owned car dealers prove to be unreliable.

  • If dealer offers any warranties, promises etc. Make them write on a paper with signature.

  • Generally, automatic transmissions are costly to repair, so be well-informed.

  • This exhaustive article would help you performing overall car fitness checkup but it is highly advised to get the mechanicals checked through a reliable and qualified mechanic.

  • Disclaimer: Images for illustration purposes only. The car shown is Maruti Suzuki 800 DX, 2003 Model.

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Akash

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A very informative thread. Rated 5 star. The best part is the pictorial explainations of various points which must be kept in mind. And needless to say you have done an exhaustive study on the subject.
I would like to know how we can judge whether the odometer has been tampered. Also can the digital meter can be tampered too.
 
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Hey excellent write-up and compilation with a pictorial representation. Will be really useful to a first time used car buyer! Rated 5 stars!


BTW thanks for adding my car in the list![:D]
 
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350Z

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Thanks everyone for the appreciation. Our primary aim through article is to take out the fear of purchasing pre-owned car, since many people are simply afraid because of uncertainly about second-hand car's condition, but I’m sure that some small yet important tips highlighted in this exhaustive article which is based on an actual experience, would definitely prove to be helpful.

A very informative thread. Rated 5 star. The best part is the pictorial explainations of various points which must be kept in mind. And needless to say you have done an exhaustive study on the subject.
I would like to know how we can judge whether the odometer has been tampered. Also can the digital meter can be tampered too.
Yes, The buggers have not left the Digital odometers either. Please refer to post #8 for details. Apart from it, if the car is being purchased from a dealer other than car-manufacturer itself, it’s better to get the car very very thoroughly checked through its manufacturer’s authorized workshop. Some of them even perform bumper-to-bumper check up especially for second hand cars.

Drive Safe,
350Z
 
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