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How to Avoid Buying a Lemon Car

Posted on April 30, 2018 – Car Maintenance

If you don’t live in a town with an extensive public transport system, having your own car is often the only way to go from A to B. But even if you do, it is undeniable that cars are incredibly convenient and that we rely heavily on them to get us into work every day and to, well, pretty much run our whole life. This is why when cars break down unexpectedly it isn’t far from being a catastrophy. Not to mention the amount it costs to fix it.

New cars often come with a warranty for a few years so you will usually be safer buying one – for a few years at least – but you have to be vigilant when purchasing a second-hand vehicle, even from a car dealer, and do your homework beforehand.

1. Choose a reliable make

No make is infallible but it is true that some are more reliable than others. Even within the range of models offered by one car manufacturer, some will be better than others. Once you have decided on the type of car you need and your budget, make sure you do some research on what is on offer from various brands and read professional reviews on them. There is no shortage of websites to provide that type of information.

Some models age better than others so keep that in mind too. If a car’s lifespan isn’t great, you need to know at what mileage it is likely to start having problems to exclude older cars for example. On the other hand, with a good make, you can afford to buy a slightly older car.

2. Check the paperwork

By law, a vehicle for sale must have a Warrant of Fitness (WoF). A WoF test ensures that a car is roadworthy by checking tyres, brake condition, structural integrity, and that the lights, doors seats, belts and airbags are working. At the end of this test, a certificate will be issued if all is well. If not, the owner has to bring the car to standards first.

The WoF should be less than a month old when you inspect the car. It is possible to buy a car 'as is where is' but this means that you agree that any repair will be at your expense, which is a significant risk.

3. Things to look out for on the outside

Some things are tell-tale signs of serious problems:

  • Rust

Most used cars will have some rust. Whether it is an issue depends on how much there is and its location. If it is on the car’s structure itself, not only is it dangerous but it will also be costly to repair and the vehicle would most likely not be issued with a WoF in any case.

If a seller is attempting to hide the problem, they may try to paint over it. However, it is extremely difficult to match paints applied at different times so check whether you can see differences in colour. A rippled finish can also indicate body work.

  • Shock absorbers

They are expensive to replace so you want to make sure that they’re in good condition.

In some cases, you may be able to detect problems visually as the vehicle will sag where a shock absorber is damaged. In any case, you can ‘test’ them individually by pushing the corners of a car up and down then stop. If the car doesn’t stop moving immediately, then the shock absorbers are worn out.

  • Exhaust pipe

An exhaust pipe leak can be dangerous as it could poison the driver and passengers. To check for it, you can block the exhaust pipe with your hand – suitably protected- while the engine is running. The pressure should push your hand away. If it doesn’t then there is a leak somewhere.

3. Things to look out for under the bonnet

  • Engine

A dirty engine may be a sign of neglect, but a squeaky clean one could mean that it was steam cleaned to mask issues. Assuming it is ‘normally’ dirty, check if you can see any frayed or burnt wiring, oil streaks, petrol leaks, oil leaks or soupy oil. These are all indications that there will be costly repairs ahead.

  • Radiator

There again, the main thing is to look out for leaks. When the engine is cold, remove the cap to check the water. If you see any oil in it, this means a major problem.

4. Go for a test drive

Going for a test drive before buying a vehicle is always a good idea in any case, to see whether you feel comfortable with it - make sure you are insured though. It will also reveal other types of problems.

Don’t put any music on and limit conversation as you should be listening for noises.

When you turn the car on, all the warning lights should come on then disappear. If they don’t come on, they could be defective and hide problems. If they stay on, there is definitely a problem!

If you hear clanging or clunking when starting and stopping, there could be an issue with the engine mountings, the exhaust, the suspension, the transmission or the drive shaft – all of them expensive to fix. Grinding noises mean worn out gears or bearings and high-pitch noises when you break that the car will need new brake pads.

Where safe, drive at low speed on full steering lock in both direction. A rhythmic clunk at the front of the car can mean damaged drive shaft joints.

If at any point something smells like burning, it probably isn’t a good sign!

5. Have the vehicle inspected professionally

The safest option is to hire a professional to do a full inspection this way you won’t have any bad surprises.

If you are looking for a reliable company to ship your car to and from NZ, contact the friendly team at McCullough on +64 9 309 11 63 for advice and a free quote.

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