How to inspect a used car before purchase.................


Once you have found a suitable car is when the challenge and our Tips begin.

1. Contact the seller, yes, but DO NOT ask questions or you will be mislead. Unless it is a confirmed one owner car, salespeople/sellers do NOT know what the previous owner did or did not do with, or to that car.

2. Look at the car? NOT YET, first check the Service Book. The Service Book will tell you whether the car has or has not been serviced. Disregard what the seller tells you. If there is no Service Book, look for a Windscreen Sticker, ff there is no sticker and no Book the car most likely has not been serviced well. Check the details on the sticker ((if there is one) against the odometer.

3. Confirm that the Service Book belongs to the car you are looking at. Do this by verifying that the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) in the Book has not been altered and is the same as the one on the car. Service Books the way they should and should not look like VIN Selling Dealer, Original Owner All service entries are genuine. Service Book with an altered VIN Replacement Not Original Book  

4. Check the first page entry. The selling Dealer should be noted and also the first owner. If neither is noted it is probably a duplicate Book, obtainable from most Parts Departments of franchised dealers. If the seller is the same as the first owner you may be on a winner.

5. Services should be documented in the Service Book and be carried out in regular intervals, at least every 15,000 Km or once a Year. Disregard what the salesperson/seller tells you.

6. Check the Engine Oil, by removing the Dipstick, and look at the colour of the oil. The colour is of clean oil is like Golden Syrup, slight discolouration will take place over time. Once it is Black, it is overdue to be replaced, no matter what the salesperson/seller tells you. The colour will also allow you to confirm whether or not the last Service Book entry is genuine or a fake. IF NO OIL REGISTERS ON THE DIPSTICK DO NOT DRIVE OR START THE CAR – DOING SO MAY CAUSE DAMAGE TO THE ENGINE!

7. Remove the Oil filler cap, usually black in colour and located on top of the Valve/Tappet cover (which is on top of the engine). The cap can be easily unscrewed by hand. Look underneath the cap, the part which faces into the engine. A well serviced engine will have an oil filler cap that is clean (no sludge or residue) inside. A not so well maintained engine will have a built up of sludge there. If the sludge is milky white BEWARE, the discolouration is caused by water/moisture. Payment shows that Certificate is current Name and Address Concession is shown here PNS= Pensioner Disregard Year Engine Number Vehicle Identification Number

8. Check the Registration Certificate, make sure it is the original and verify the registered address against the address where you are inspecting the car. It should be the same. Ask the seller whether he or she is the same person shown on the Registration Certificate. If not have they got written authority to sell the car? Any discrepancies should ring alarm bells. BEWARE. Check the registration status. On top about centre of the registration certificate you will see either a P for private use, a B for business use or PNSR which stands for Pensioner. Pensioners do not have to pay for registration, if you are not a Pensioner you will have to pay the RTA pro rata for the balance of the registration remaining.

9. Confirm that the identifiers of Registration Certificate match the car. Verify the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) against the Built Plate and the Compliance Plate, (these plates are either in the engine bay, some times in the boot where the spare tyre is) or in the door jamb. Check the number stamped on the car itself. Usually the VIN is stamped on the Firewall (the area in front of the Cabin facing the engine bay, or sometimes (BMW) it can be found on the Shock absorber tower. Also verify that the Registration Number Plate on the car matches the Certificate. In the Picture to the right there is the Plate with the number that matched the Registration Certificate over the original number that is stamped on the cars Firewall. Only one can be right. BEWARE.  

10. The Built Plate date is affixed to the car the day the engine is dropped into the chassis in the home factory. It is the date the car comes first into existence. The Compliance Plate is affixed the day the car first complies with Australian Design Rules (ADR’s) that can be months or even years later. Not all cars are built for the Australian market and so need often some minor modifications which are generally not attended to unless the car can be shipped (sold) to a Dealer. You need to be aware of the difference. Sellers will use the latest date when selling the car and the earliest when buying a car. The difference normally does not exist for Australian made cars. A Typical Built and Compliance Plate Built in May 2008 Compliant with ADR in 06/08

11. Imported cars are often sold and advertised as being of a certain Model Year (MY). In Europe the long summer school holiday, usually from August to September (as opposed to our December to January) lends itself for factories to shut down and make changes to the production line and restart with the following year’s model. These cars are built as early as 08 or 09 (August or September) of one year. If it is a slow moving model it may be stored in an Australian warehouse (or worse open yard) awaiting a Dealer order and may not be compliant with the ADR until sometime in the new year. It is quite conceivable that it could be 08 or 09 (August or September) of the following year before that actually occurs. The car will be presented as a current MY car and sold as such. At time of you collecting the car the actual built date will be noted down somewhere. So, it is possible to buy a 12 months old car as brand new, or in the case of a used car, it could be 12 months older than expected.  

12. Only now is there any point in looking at the car itself. First open the Bonnet,

13. Boot/Hatch and Doors. Check the area where the mudguards meet the body (there may be a black rubber or plastic dust strip covering a series of small bolts/screws. If you can see even the smallest amount of paint that has come off any of these bolts/screws there is every chance that the guards have been removed and replaced (these are spanner marks) during repairs. Sometimes you can see that the washer which is between the bolt/screw and the guard is not in exactly the original position, which is another sign of repairs. If it is obvious to see, it’s a bad repair, good repairs are usually difficult to see, especially for a novice buyer.

14. Check the Boot/Hatch and door bolts for the same “Tell Tale Signs”.

15. Check the cars outside panels for “Orange Peel” effect, a sign of inferior paint quality, usually following repairs, but also some times on even expensive new cars like BMW, VW and Holden. NEVER INSPECT/LOOK AT A CAR OTHER THAN IN BROAD DAY LIGHT! NOT IN THE EVENING AND NOT IN CAR PARKS. EVER. NO MATTER HOW GOOD THE LIGHT!

16. Inspect all the Glass, especially the Windscreen, look for small chips and cracks, check Tail and Head lights as well as Mirrors and Fog Lights.

17. Check the Tyres. There are actually several tread depth indicators on each tyre which show the remaining legal tread. Make sure all tyres are of the same brand and check the spare. At minimum you need 3 mm (1.5 is illegal) tread. Both front tyres and both rear tyres should match. Tyre tread wear indicators Rim and Tyre wall damage

18. The side wall of each Tyres has a coding, providing a host of information including the age. Look for “DOT” followed by numbers, the last four numbers are the week of the year and the year the tyres were made. Tyres should be less than ten years old. Check the tyre wall for damage.

19. Look inside the holes in the wheel rim, you may need a torch, stick your fingers through the holes in the rim, (they will get dirty – and it is difficult where standard type wheel covers are fitted and easier with alloy wheel rims). Sliding your finger(s) towards the outside of the disc you may be able to feel a lip, indicating wear. A new car/disc has no lip. On a well worn disc/car there will be a quite obvious lip. A “Tell Tale” sign which helps verifying the Odometer reading. The disc wear should be commensurate with the Odometer reading.

20. The check the wheel rims or wheel covers for damage.

21. The best you can the other fluid levels (Brake and Power Steering) are usually easily visible through their plastic reservoir.

22. Look deep into the Coolant reservoir and if possible the Radiator, by removing the cap (not all models provide access to the Radiator). Make sure the engine is not hot. WARNING: STEAM AND/OR HOT WATER MAY CAUSE SEVERE BURNING! BE VERY CAREFUL WHEN REMOVING THE RADIATOR CAP

23. Coolant should look Emerald Green or Pink/Red. If the fluid looks clear or rusty (it’s simply water) and a sign that no additive is present. A rusty radiator will be the precursor to early repairs.

24. Look at the engine bay and check for any fluid leaks. Fluid leaks are not visible when the car/engine has been detailed. The engine bay should be clean, any dirt or dust near the air filter inlet is not good!

25. If you got a Torch, bring it and a towel (to lay on the ground to avoid getting dirty) along and look underneath the front of the car and check for engine oil leaks (or any other leak of course) in the lower engine area.

26. Check the rear as well and look whilst down there at the tyre wear. Excessive wear on either tyre edge is not good and will require attention to the suspension or a wheel alignment.

27. Inside the car check the Air-conditioning, check the Temp adjustment (Climate Control), Fan speed and direction (face level, demisting etc.), working of Lights, Windscreen washers (do not assume it is lack of water if they do not work) it could be the pump. Check the indicator lights, they should make a regular and even sound, if one is not working properly (usually because a Globe is broken) they will blink very fast. Check Seat Belts, Steering Column adjustment, Mirror adjustment (adjust to suit – ready for a test drive) and Power Window operation, close windows. Check the Radio/Sound system reception and turn off when done.

28. Start the engine with the bonnet still open and at start up observe the engine. Excessive start up vibration may indicate broken engine mounts. Listen to the engine and close the bonnet if all sounds fine.

29. Whilst releasing the parking brake note whether any adjustment is needed, engage the first gear and note Clutch play and feeling, carefully move from the kerb and into the traffic. If turning turn to the left so that you do not have to move across traffic. Drive as long and far as is reasonable.

30. With Air-conditioning Fan off or on low, the sound system off and windows closed listen to any abnormal sounds, rattles etc. Worn shock absorbers make a thumping sound, notice steering feel/play,

31. Observe whether the car pulls to either side (a wheel alignment issue), the pulling to one side or another is amplified when applying the brake firmly. Be careful of following traffic!

32. Change Gears as often as possible to get the feeling of the Clutch and the Gear synchronisation. Gear changes should feel smooth. If grating can be felt it may be a sign of worn Syncro rings, and they are expensive to replace.

33. When stopped check the steering, turn hard right and left and listen for abnormal noises.

34. Feel the brakes, any metal on metal sound is bad, squealing less so, it usually goes away with dusting the brake pads.

35. On return leave engine running and see whether smoke is coming out of the Tail pipe. A smoky engine is likely to cost a lot to repair. The smoke is usually caused by burning oil and found in car with high odometer readings (usually over 150,000 Km). Observe the area around the Tail pipe end, if it is stained, it may well come from a smoky engine. BEWARE.