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checking a car for faults

checking the outside

Start by walking around the car from a short distance away, taking in its general condition. 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.

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

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.

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 quicker.

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 joints.

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 a car for faults: the inside >>

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