7 things to look out for when buying a car

12 May 2021

If you’re in the market for a new car, finding options is very simple. All you need to do is open a new search window and type in “cars for sale near me”. Alternatively, you can look at sites that specialise in reselling used cars, such as Autotrader or Cars, to name just a few!

But finding a used car to buy is easy. The hard part is knowing what to look out for to ensure you find the best deal for the best price. If you’re looking for top tips for choosing your best first car or you’ve already purchased a vehicle or two, and are looking to brush up on the basics, here are seven things to look out for when buying a car.

Check if the car you want to buy has a troubled past

Even if everything looks perfect, that’s all the more reason to be sure to do your homework before you buy.

Be sure to ask for the VIN, or Vehicle Identification Number, from the owner so you can run it through a paid service such as First Check which will be able to tell you if the car has been in an accident, if there are any outstanding liens, or if there are currently any recalls on that particular model.

And if you’re thinking about skipping this step, there are plenty of horror stories about car buyers who failed to look into the car’s history and lived to regret when their new ride turned out to be a lemon!

Take a 360 view of the exterior

Once you’ve established the car’s history, you’re free to move on to the next step.

Take your time walking around the car’s exterior, looking for any scratches, dents, or rust. There’s no need to be overly concerned about small dings or scratches, which are to be expected with a used car (and hopefully the owner will have taken them into consideration when naming the price). You should be on the lookout for large amounts of rust or body panels that don’t line up evenly, as that may indicate that the vehicle was in an accident and not repaired correctly.

Open and close the doors, bonnet, and boot to check their mobility — look for any awkwardness or stiffness which again, might indicate they were damaged and only partially repaired.

Also look for overspray or mismatched paint, which indicates that particular section likely had repaired bodywork. Make sure you also check underneath the vehicle for leaking fluid.

  • Black fluid will mean the vehicle is leaking oil.
  • Green, yellow or pink fluids indicate an antifreeze leak.
  • And reddish fluid means there’s a leak in the transmission or power-steering fluid.

Finally, check the tires to ensure that the wear on all four wheels is even. If there is extra wear or uneven tread on a few (but not all) of the tires, that can be a sign of poor alignment. A car that’s out of alignment points to steering, suspension, and/or frame issues.

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Take a peek under the hood

Everyone knows that when you’re in the process of buying a new car you should look under the hood. But knowing what you’re looking for is an entirely different story!

Turn the car off and then pop the bonnet and look for any leaks that you may not have noticed underneath the car. Look for signs of corrosion and rust, as well as cracked hoses and/or belts. Check both the oil and the transmission dipsticks (long thin rods that monitor fluid levels) for any signs of discolouration.

Motor oil should be light brown and transmission fluid should be red or pink.

Check out the interior

Climb inside the vehicle and take note of any damage to the upholstery, specifically tears, stains or cracked leather. If there is any musty smell, check the carpet and floor mats for signs of water damage or leaks. Worst case scenario, the car may have been in a flood which can cause all sorts of problems down the road (literally!).

Inspect the dashboard

Make yourself comfortable in the driver’s seat so you can check the dash, specifically the odometer.

While low mileage certainly isn’t everything when buying a new car, it is certainly a key component in the asking price and can also help you get an idea of where the car is in its natural lifecycle. A car with higher mileage will have more wear and tear on its mechanical components and require more upkeep (and more money to pay for the upkeep).

To gauge whether the car has high or low mileage, divide the number on the odometer by the vehicle’s age in years. For reference, the average car will typically accumulate around 20,000 km every year.

Take note of the dash and make sure there are no scary symbols — such as a check the engine light which indicates big trouble ahead. And while you’re at it, check out the electronics, including the radio. It would be a shame if you had to take your new car out for a ride in complete silence.

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Take it for a test drive

If everything looks to be in good shape then it’s time for a test drive!

Take it down some back roads and side streets, but also be sure to take it out on the highway, as some issues won’t become apparent until you’re driving at an accelerated speed. Take note if the car seems to “pull” to the right or to the left, as that will be a major sign the car is out of alignment.

Make sure the overall manoeuvrability is to your liking, and when possible, take an opportunity to put the brakes to the test. If possible, try pulling into a parallel parking spot to see if the car has any blind spots you should be aware of.

Call in the pros

So the car handles like a dream. Should you sign the papers? Maybe… But then again, maybe not.

If you’re worried about that mysterious rust patch or the slight vibration coming from the back right side of the car when you take a tight turn, you’ll want to get a second opinion. Take it to your local mechanic and ask them for their opinion or to come for a test drive with you. This service won’t be free, but their expertise will be worth every penny. And if the seller tries to pressure you into making a quick sale, know that that’s a major red flag that this may not be the car for you.

Once you’ve made your purchase, if you’re looking for an opportunity to spend more time in your new ride and make some extra income, becoming a Bolt driver might be just the opportunity for you!

Put your new ride to good use: sign up as a Bolt driver today!

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