Used Car Garage

Buying Secondhand Vehicles

The used car place
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Used car checks

Testing second hand vehicles

The process of buying used second hand cars is fraught with difficulties. If you get it wrong then there is a heavy price to pay. In fact you may end up spending more on repairs than the original price that you paid for the used vehicle. Here are some technical checks that should never be ignored.

ü  Manual transmission: If the car is designed with a manual gear box then you need to ensure that the clutch is smooth. If there is rattling or bouncing then you should ensure that the car is checked and repaired if necessary before making the purchase. A worn clutch will normally lead to rattling or stiff gear changes. Watch out for clutch slips when you are driving the car up a hill whilst engaging a top gear. During the test drive you should change each gear down form a higher speed than is normal. This will allow you to test the synchromesh operations. Watch out for crunches and baulks. You may need to replace the gearbox if there is excessive whining. Alternatively you may be able to negotiate an overhaul with the dealership prior to purchasing the used car.

ü  Automatic transmission: Check the transmission dipstick to ensure that it has the right fluid levels. These checks should be done while the engine is still hot and idling. It might be of benefit if you can smell the dipstick. If it smells burnt then you really need to avoid such a car. There is very little that you can do about it. The transmission should change down in each gear properly even when you are under full acceleration. The timing has to be perfect. Unfortunately automatic transmission cars can be hard to repair because they involve a different type of technology when compared to their manual counterparts. That is why some consumers tend to focus on manual used cars as the default. However there is no reason why an automatic transmission used vehicle cannot work for you if you know how to undertake some basic precautionary checks.

ü  The suspension: The dampers and shock absorbers are vulnerable on vehicles which are older than 5 years. Push down on the bodywork at the corners and then let go. A good used car should rebound once just above the level position before returning back to the normal level. This is the ‘one and a half swing’ test. If there is more movement then the shock absorbers will require replacing. Factor them into the price of the used vehicle or you may end up losing out. You should listen for any knocks in the suspension. Worn bushes, joints and dampers will make a lot of noise when you are travelling on a bumpy road. The used car handling is very important because ‘floaty’ bouncing could indicate that the dampers are worn. Likewise you should check for fluid leakages in the struts or dampers. Sometimes a good used vehicle will have slight weeping but anything more should be thoroughly investigated.

ü  The Steering: Check to ensure that the steering is not heavy and vague. This could indicate that the tyres are either under-pressurized or actually worn. Remember that tyres on a 4WD SUV van can be very expensive so you really need to ensure that things are done properly. Try to rock the steering wheel gently while watching the front wheel. If there is any noticeable delay between the road wheel movement and the steering action. In any case free play and a knock will fail the standard European test for roadworthiness. That used car is going to bring you more problems than solutions. Likewise you need to watch out for wheel wobbles when driving at high speeds. This could be an indicator of unbalanced front wheels. If you find that there is a wheel shimmy at low speeds then it could be a sign that the wheel rims are somehow distorted.

These technical checks are just some of the indicators of whether the used car that you are buying is good value or whether you are actually wasting your time on something that is not going to work in the long run. If you are not entirely sure about some things then it might be a good idea to liaise with your personal mechanic so that they can pick out the wood from the chaff.


  1. Extract,” Hints and Tips When Buying a Secondhand / Used Car”, accessed 28th May 2012, H&T

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