Checklists to tick when assessing your car’s condition
Checking the condition of a used car can be daunting — especially if you don’t know much about cars, but there are a few basic things everyone can look out for, even if you have no experience.
Use our car purchase checklist to help you check exactly what you should be looking for, and what to walk away from. You should carefully check the entire car, inside and out.
Outside the car
1. Visible signs of damage — check for dents, scrapes, and panels or doors not matching up evenly.
2. Broken or cracked lights and marks on bumpers. If light clusters are not the same make, they may have been damaged and replaced after a crash.
3. Other signs of damage, wear and tear such as rust under the sills or wheel arches.
4. Tyres that are different makes or unevenly worn. This could well mean they may have been replaced following damage.
5. Are there signs of leaks on the ground where the car has been standing for a time? There could well be a simple explanation for this, but you should always ask.
6. Check the spare wheel and full wheel replacement kit. If the car has alloy wheels, make sure you get a “key” to release and secure them.
Check the oil— there’s an oil dip stick and an oil filler cap. Have a tissue at hand, pull out the oil dip stick, wipe it off, and insert it in again. And now pull it back out and see where the oil comes to.
At the end of the stick about an inch up you should see two markings, one for minimum and one for max. The oil should be up near the max, not very low and not over filled (both are as equally damaging).
If there’s no oil, then don’t buy the car.
If the oil is as black as coal it will indicate the car hasn’t been serviced in a while. If it’s golden it normally indicates clear oil and it’s just after being serviced ( most diesel oils will be darker, and the colour may not indicate recent servicing).
If the oil on the dipstick is creamy or coffee colour, this normally indicates that the oil is mixing with the water and the head gasket is gone. If this happens, don’t buy the car.
The oil filler cap may have this creamy residue on it but that’s normally due to condensation in the engine and is fine.
Inside the car
Check how many airbags the car has and ask if they are in proper working order.
Ask if the car has other safety features such as a three-point centre seat belt in the back, secure fixing points for a child seat (IsoFix), Anti-Lock Braking system (ABS), etc.
Check and take a note of the reading displayed on the odometer.
It will be displayed in miles or kilometres. If you think this has been tampered with or ‘ clocked’, for example, i f the mileage seems low compared to the condition of the car, you should contact the gardaí.
The average annual mileage of petrol cars is about 17,000km (10,500 miles). Diesel cars, if they have been used for business purposes, could have an average of about 24,000km ( 15,000 miles).
Ask the seller to confirm in writing the correct mileage reading before you buy the car.
Check the wear and tear inside the car on the seat covers, pedal rubbers, gear knob, or steering wheel to see if it is consistent with the displayed odometer reading.
Start the car — turn the ignition onto the first click and all the warning lights should flicker on.
Make sure all these lights come on ( airbag, etc.) and that they go back off again. If they don’t come on it could mean the bulb has been removed to try and hide an existing, expensive problem.
Ask the seller i f they would leave the car sit for half an hour or an hour before you come so that you can start it from cold. Starting from cold can highlight some problems which starting from warm wouldn’t.
Never examine a car at night or in poor light conditions. Always do it during daylight hours and try to view the car when it’s dry as rain can hide scrapes or scratches.
Test drive the car
Always try to take the car for a test drive before you buy it.
During the test drive, turn off the radio and airconditioning, and make sure:
■ There are no strange noises or rattling.
■ There is no strong smell of oil, petrol, or diesel.
■ It accelerates comfortably and the brakes don’t squeak or squeal.
■ The gears shift comfortably and smoothly.
■ You drive over a reasonable distance on different road surfaces to fully test it.
Paddy O’Connor, sales manager, centre, with sales executives Marc Gallagher, left, and Pat Gowen, at the Kellehers Ford dealership, Macroom, Co Cork.
If you really have no idea about cars, then perhaps you should ask a mechanic to have a look for you.