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The KwikGuide to
Buying a used car
Section 1: The Search
what to look for
check the costs
where to look
where to buyarranging to viewSection 2: The Car

oily bits
test driving
Section 3: The Dealhagglingarranging to payI've been conned!
useful links
Kwik checklist
back to main index



Buying a used car

checking the car's oily bits

Now's the time to venture under the bonnet. First have a tentative feel. How warm is the engine? Obviously you don't want to get burnt when feeling around,
but how hot it is also tells you how much the car has been run by the seller
prior to your arrival. It's always more revealing to start a car from cold. They
may only have taken it out of the garage, but be suspicious.

General appearance: all engines are dirty places, but look in particular for
oily gunge on the outside the engine, around the engine joins and indications
that it may have been splattered about in places where it really shouldn't be -
eg. on water bottles or the underside of the bonnet. It could indicate a past leak. Be worried if you see a corroded battery or wires or hoses hanging loose and be suspicious if it's just been steamcleaned. Might be the seller's trying to hide something.

KwikTip: always get a car insurance quote from Direct Line too,
as they don't take part in the price comparison websites.

Hoses: try to squeeze the various hoses around the engine bay, particularly
those running to the radiator. When squeezed, look closely for cracking or
splitting. This shows the hoses are old and need replacing before they split mid-journey and leave you on the hard shoulder. It's also another sign of neglect - clearly the car hasn't been serviced for a while.

Fluids: check all fluid levels. Oil: grab those tissues you brought and take out
the dipstick. These usually have a mark to indicate the proper level. The lighter
the colour of the oil, the better. Honey-coloured indicates a recent change.
Should normally be dark brown or black, but not too dirty and certainly not
gritty. Remove the oil filler cap, normally somewhere on the top of the engine,
and inspect underneath. White foam indicates water is present in the oil, which
is a strong clue to excessive wear and a potential expensive head gasket
change. Water: don't remove the radiator cap until the engine has cooled off. Is
it full to the proper level? It should be greenish or bluish, not a rusty or milky colour. Green stains on the radiator are signs of pinhole leaks. Squeeze a
couple of the radiator hoses and see if the water level moves as you squeeze. Brake fluid: is there fluid to the proper level in the brake fluid reservoir? Power steering: Gearbox: some cars need warming up before checking the gearbox
oil. It should be pinkish in colour, not dark brown or black like engine oil. It shouldn't leave metal grit on your rag - a sign of serious problems.

Wiring: feel the plastic outer-coating on electric wires. If it is brittle or cracked,
the wires have overheated at some point. Look at the connections between
wires - you want to see neat plastic connectors, not joins wound round with
black electrical tape.

Belts: look closely and feel any drive belts that you can see for tightness and fraying. Are they slack - do they look worn? The most important one in many
cars - the timing belt - may not be visible. If the car has done over 40,000 miles
- replacement schedules vary on different cars - ask if the timing belt has been replaced and check for service receipts that prove it. If this belt fails, the consequences for the engine can be very expensive. You need to know the
timing belt is relatively fresh, or factor in the often high cost of replacing it.

Underneath: use your torch to look up at the engine from under the front.Oil
or water drips or leaks aren't a good sign. If you can see where the car is
habitually parked - in a garage or on a driveway - check to see if it is covered
with puddles or oily stains. If you can see them, examine the constant velocity joints between the front wheels and the engine - normally covered by round,
rubber bellows at the end of the driveshafts. If these rubber boots are split or leaking grease, assume the car has, or soon will have, bad CV joints - an expensive repair. Just the rubber boots being split is an MOT failure point.

Look underneath around the rest of the car. Look for leaks around the fuel tank
and filler pipe - check for rust, dents and welds in the sills and floorpan, and
look at the exhaust. It's bound to be pretty dirty with some light rust, but heavy
or flaking rust indicates it will soon need replacing. Mention that when it comes
to haggling. Look at the residue in the end of the pipe(s) - normal should be dry and dark grey. If black and greasy, the car isn't properly tuned.

Next page:
buying a used car: test driving >>


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