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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
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Buying a used car

checking the outside of the car

You don't have to be an expert to give a car a revealing going-over and
get a good idea of its condition.
But if you're not confident doing this, take
someone who is. Very expensive mistakes can be made if you don't do this
properly. Organisations like AimVI and the RAC offer expert inspection services
costing from £100.

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

Dress in old jeans and take a torch, tissues and a tape or CD to check the stereo. Bring a friend. Inspect the car in broad daylight on a dry day, never when wet or under artificial light. Make sure the car is parked on a level service and hasn't just been driven. Be suspicious if it's parked hard up against anything, like a wall or another car. It may be deliberate to hide something.

First thing is: watch your attitude. Don't under any circumstances be enthusiastic or complementary about the car, even if you adore it at first sight.
If the seller knows you love it, you're less likely to cut a good deal.

So on your inspection, be sure to point out all the things wrong with the
. Prod any scratches, dents or spots of rust, even if they're not too bad or
don't concern you greatly. Don't be too theatrical - you just need to let the seller know you've noticed lots of little things wrong with the car that could
put you off.

Make comparisons with other cars you've seen, real or imaginary. Wave a copy
of AutoTrader. And make sure they are better equipped models than the one
you're looking at; "that Mondeo Ghia we saw this morning didn't have chips in
the paint like this. And it had a sunroof".

To set yourself up for the deal, you've got to knock the seller's
confidence in the price and likelihood of a sale. When you get to haggling, you need to have let the seller know that you're not that impressed by the car - there's lots you'd want to sort out - but it might just do for the right price.

See the previous page for questions to ask while viewing. Start by walking around the car from a short distance away, taking in its general
Is it standing level or sagging to one end or side? Could be a suspension problem.

check each body panel and the roof for scratches, paint ripples,
dents or rust spots. Look for unusually large gaps between panels, or gaps that vary in size down the length of the join. For example, does one side of the
bonnet fit tighter than the other? More than likely a panel has been replaced sometime.

The colour and finish of the paint should be the same everywhere. Mismatched colours or stray paint on the rubbers around the doors and boot, on wires and hoses under the bonnet or inside the front or rear wings, on the boot floor or
under the petrol flap mean a respray, most likely due to accident or corrosion. Cracked or ripped rubbers will lead to water leaks, drafts and wind noise. See if there are any stone chips on the car's nose, which points to lots of miles.

Every car will have minor cosmetic flaws, but the real danger is rust. It gets
worse very quickly. Look particularly for blistered paint or rust spots around the wheelarches, door bottoms and bootlid. Use your torch to have a good look
inside the wheelarches. If you can see plenty of rust, you can bet there's plenty more underneath where you can't see, which will need expensive welding
repairs in the near future. Walk away.

Wheels & tyres: These will tell you a lot about how a car has been treated.
Turn the wheels as far as possible each way to get a good look at the tyres.
Wear should be even across the tyre - same on the left and right of the car. Aggressive drivers put more wear on the outer shoulder of the tyre, at the edge
of the sidewall. If that's badly worn, assume the car has been hard-driven.
Check there's plenty of tread left - you might need this as a bargaining tool later. Examine the sidewalls for scuffs, cracks or bulges and look at the wheel rims
for dents or cracks. Dents in the rims mean they've been driven hard into a curb
or pothole. It's another indicator of a hard-driven car, and the suspension could
well have been damaged too.

Brakes: use the torch to peer through the front wheels at the brake discs. Don't worry about traces of surface rust on the discs, but they should be smooth with
no deep grooves. Damaged discs indicate contact wth the caliper when the
owner has continued using the car with low or expired brake pads. It's a sign
of neglect, and those grooves will mean future pads will wear down much

Glass: look carefully for scratches and cracks, especially on the windscreen. It's expensive to replace and some cracks and chips within the sweep of the wipers could fail the MOT. Small cracks can grow worse very quickly. Also check if the window are etched with the car's number plate and...is it the same as the plates on the car?

Shocks & suspension: bounce each corner of the car. Any creaking? Does the bouncing stop quickly? If it keeps bouncing more than once or twice, it'll need
new shock absorbers. Use your torch to look up the length of the shocks - can
you see any fluid leaks evident down the side? If so, they'll need replacing, and
that's not a cheap job.

Grab the top of each type and tug it back and forth. Do you hear clunking or feel any play? There could be a problem with the wheel bearings or suspension

Lights: enlist the help of your friend to ensure they're all working: side and headlights on main and dipped beam, indicators, fog and brake lights. In particular check the light lenses for cracks, chips or moisture - new headlight units can be surprisingly expensive.

Doors: are they creaking or loose? It might be they've had plenty of use or been yanked open too violently by the wind sometime. Worse, they (or the bodyshell) could have been bent out of shape by accident damage.

Tax: check the disc. Is it genuine? Does it say the right number plate, car make and model on it?

Next page:
checking the interior for faults >>


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