Buying guide: 5 things to lookout for when buying a used car

Zamil Syaheer · May 15, 2020 06:00 PM

Buying guide: 5 things to lookout for when buying a used car 01

Want that dream car of yours but can’t afford to buy new? The used car market is one solution. 

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Toyota 86 for as low a RM 108,000?!

If you are shopping for a used car, here are the list of things that you should look out for.

1. Check paintwork, body panels, engine bay, and underneath of the car

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First impression matters. The outlook of the car is what makes you attracted to it in the first place, so naturally, this will be the first thing you should look at. Always inspect the car in daylight, because the sun's reflection can tell you a lot about the condition of the car's body.

Minor scratches, wear and tear stuff are fine.

Look for uneven gaps in the body panels, as well as uneven reflection, because this might be a sign that the car had been in an accident. Instead of looking at the paint directly, place your eyes in parallel with the car's body, and take note of the reflections. 

Look at the condition of the rubber strips along the door area - are they cracked or in a poor state. Some are easily replaceable, but others like windscreen rubber seals are expensive.

Rust spots are a major problem so avoid such cars. Common rust spots are along the roof, the bulkhead area in the engine bay, and wheel arches, and underneath the floor carpet.

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Go underneath the car and look for visible damage on the floorboard, chassis rail, mechanical parts.

Check for tyre and wheel condition. Look out for uneven wear, mismatched tyres. The make/quality of the tyres fitted also says a lot about the owner's maintenance habits. 

Turn on the headlamps and signal lights. The headlamps and tail lamps should not have any major damage on them. Uneven discolouration is also a sign that it's been involved in an accident and the part was replaced with a cheap non-original item. 

Check also for cracked hoses in the engine bay, rusty looking water in the radiator or any fluid leaks.

2. Find the one with comprehensive service history

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This one is pretty much self-explanatory. A full-service record and history is a good indicator of how well the car was taken care of by its previous owner.

Look out for the date of servicing, because from there you can determine whether it was done on time or overdue, another good indicator on whether the car was properly maintained.

A car that comes with a thick file of receipts for work done is usually a good sign. It's one of the perks of buying a used car directly from a private owner. Used car dealers often won't give you any service history, usually because they have rolled back the car's mileage. Avoid cars that don't come with a service history.

On the upside, buying from a used car dealer is a simpler, more straight forward process.

3. Test all the interior features

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The most important thing in our hot climate? Air conditioning! If the air-cond is not cold, emits bad smell or makes funny noises, then forget about it. Air conditioning repairs can be expensive and unless it's a really rare car, it's just not worth the time.

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Proceed to check other interior features - power windows, windscreen wipers, signals stalk, instrument panel lights, hazard lights, cabin lights, door locks and, audio system. Look around the cabin for any major scuff marks, because some bits can be a little pricey to fix or replace. Sometimes, fixing a car's interior can be more expensive than fixing mechanical problems.

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For cars equipped with intricate electronic features such as touchscreen infotainment and digital displays, go thru all the functions one by one. The car salesman can’t throw tantrum at you if you’re taking your own sweet time to inspect everything, after all, you’re the buyer.

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Check for any signs of mold or moisture as it could indicate water leaks, which is troublesome to fix. Pull away the carpet mat and feel for damp spots on the cabin's floor, boot and seats. Water leaks along the doors can also be a sign that the car has been in a serious accident and should have been written off.

4. Take it for a test drive

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The most anticipated part is test drive. Granted, you are not able to take it for a long drive, but a short test drive can reveal other problems or issues that the car might exhibit, such as worn out absorbers, rough engine sound, steering out-of-alignment, any creaking or odd sound and such.

There's no need to drive the car hard or fast. Instead, check if the car starts up smoothly, idles well, no abnormalities in the power steering. Make a slow, tight U-turn, as this is the easiest way to uncover any faults in the steering and suspension. 

If your salesman refuses to let you test drive the car, walk away from it, as there might be a bigger underlying problem that he/she is not telling you.

5. If you’re buying a reconditioned unit, the verified car report is your lifesaver

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Sample of Japanese Auction report. Picture by eliteautoexportjapan.com.

A reconditioned car is just an imported used car. Recond dealers offer many models that are not available from the official distributor. Think the official UMW Toyota Alphard looked a little too tame? Recon dealers have the much more aggressive-looking Modellista or TOM’s kitted Alphard on sale, and its cheaper too.

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As good as they look, some units might have been involved in a major accident before, and restored to ‘look and feel’ of a new car. Most recond cars also have mileage on the odometer rolled back.

Fortunately, you can get a verified and untampered report straight from its country of origin, with the introduction of a third-party app such as SCRUT and Recond.my. With 50 credits (one credit equals to RM1), a user is able to get a report on the vehicle's condition, pictures of the car's original condition, mileage, modifications, year of make. All you need to provide is just vehicle identification number (VIN/chassis number).

Conclusion

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Buying a used car requires a bit more homework. If you're not confident to do this yourself, bring along your trusted mechanic. Personally, I have owned various cars throughout my lifetime, and I can vouch for the satisfaction of being able to own cars that you’ve always dreamed of. Depreciation can be a wonderful thing if you are positioned at the right side, but make sure to avoid cars with high repair bills. 

Zamil Syaheer

Editor

More than 10 years experience, specialising in Motorsports, Advanced Driving, Event Management & Creative Design. He enjoys driving (drifting, actually) anything RWD with a proper LSD over the limit. Versatility is his motto and mantra.

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