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Checking a Used Car for Faults

By: Scott McBride - Updated: 24 Feb 2015 | comments*Discuss
Fault Fault Findingused Cars Problem

When inspecting a used car with a view to buying it do not, under any circumstances, kick the tyres. This does nothing other than inform the seller that he is dealing with a mug who knows absolutely nothing about cars.

Unfortunately, many people have such a limited knowledge of cars that giving the tyres a kick and checking that there are four of them is about as technical as it gets. But used cars can have countless faults and problems hidden away.

Remember that buying a car is a huge financial commitment - for many people it is the second most expensive purchase they will make after their house. Get it wrong and a load of money can be wasted and the regret will hit home every time the buyer jumps in and turns the key in the ignition. Luckily there are some straightforward steps a buyer can take to reduce the chance of being swindled out of hard-earned cash, so when inspecting a used car follow this fault-finding guide:

  • Look for rust. Some of it will be easy to spot but other patches can be hidden away. Feel under the doors, bumpers and wheel arches for rough edges. Any ginger-coloured deposits on fingers are a giveaway.
  • Carefully examine the car’s flanks for dings and dents, check the wheels for kerb contact and scan the bumpers for scrapes. Make sure the paint is a consistent shade all over and has not been patched up. Flaws can be proof of a careless owner and can be used as a bargaining tool when it comes to discussing the asking price.
  • It is nice to have a highly-polished car to inspect, but is the seller trying to hide a problem or fault? Perhaps it is a cynical view, but a little grime is not necessarily a bad thing. If the car is shining like a pin, look out for oil or fluid leaks.
  • Don’t kick the tyres, but do spend some time looking at them for signs of excessive or uneven wear.
  • Inside the car, make sure the general wear and tear is in line with the car's mileage. If the mileage is low, the seats should not be too worn. A shiny steering wheel and pedals on a low-mileage car can indicate there is something not quite right.
  • Take a deep breath and smell beyond the air freshener. It should be easy to detect the reek of smoke, which will be near impossible to get rid of once embedded in the upholstery.
  • Press every single one of the buttons on the dashboard to ensure all the electrics work.
  • Take the car on a lengthy test drive – after all the seller is paying for the fuel - and listen carefully for any rattles or unusual noises that may indicate a problem or fault. Get out on the open road and don’t be afraid to put the foot down and test the car at speed. Any unusual smell can indicate trouble.

Don’t be rushed into hurrying this check. An honest seller will have nothing to hide and will be happy to wait if it means clinching a deal.

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@Tony - sorry to hear this. Unfortunately, this is a case of buyer beware and the fact that you didn't get a receipt doesn't really help you. Buying a car from a private seller, means you don't quite have the same rights as you do when buying from a dealer. You may be able to take it to the small claims court if the ad described it as different from what it actually turned out to be. You should make as many checks as you can before handing over your money as if you get it wrong then there is not much redress. I'd ask for a refund and if he doesn't play ball, perhaps you could try to take it to the small claims court. But without a receipt and the fact you bought it at face value, doesn't mean you will win and then it may become an even more expensive mistake.
PH - 24-Feb-15 @ 10:44 AM
bought a audia3tdi£3500 less than 24 hrsfind it being faulty goes into limpmode from a private sellerno receiptsigned limp mode comes in after 70 mphplushad a dionostics testdone to confirminform previous ownerhe offered to pay £100 as good willto repair the car will cost morewhere do i standplease
tony - 21-Feb-15 @ 10:56 AM
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