When purchasing a second-hand car or motor cycle it is important to inspect it thoroughly. Vehicle inspections can help you identify problems and assess a vehicle’s value more accurately. They can also provide some room for negotiation on the sale price. There are details that are easy to check yourself.
It goes through all the checks described on this page, and shows you what to look for when thinking about buying your next used car.
VIN is an International system of identifying motor vehicles and is required under ADR's. It is a combination of letters and numbers to identify its individual characteristics, for example model code, series, luxury level and body style.
The numbers shown on the Certificate of Registration must match the engine and VIN numbers on the car. Be wary of any signs of interference such as scratches, grind marks or drill holes. These may indicate illegal tampering with the numbers and the vehicle.
A motor vehicle's built date is the date during manufacture when the engine is fixed to the chassis. This is usually determined as the date of manufacture. This date is usually stamped on a metal plate fixed to the motor vehicle.
A motor vehicle's compliance plate will define the date on which the vehicle was confirmed to comply with certain Australian Design Rules (ADR). With some imported vehicles the date of compliance will vary from the date of manufacture.
A build-up of dirt may suggest poor maintenance or mechanical problems.
Dirty/thick oil and a build-up of sludge in the engine may suggest poor maintenance. Grey or milky coloured oil may suggest the presence of water, which would indicate serious problems.
The engine should idle smoothly. Listen for irregular running or any unusual noise such as any knocking or rattling noises.
Remove the oil filler cap while the engine is idling. Fumes may signify worn piston rings or cylinders. Thick, black smoke coming from the exhaust can signify problems as well.
Should be clean and brightly coloured. Oil in the coolant may indicate a cracked cylinder-head or a leaky gasket.
Check for corrosion or damage.
Check for acid corrosion.
Check that the odometer is working during the test drive. Note the number of kilometres travelled which can indicate when a major service will be required. The Motor Dealers Act (The Act) makes it illegal to interfere with an odometer. It states that the following actions are deemed to be interference:
A dealer is also prohibited from advertising or specifying that the reading of an odometer is accurate if the dealer knows or has reasonable cause to know that this is not the case.
Uneven wear may indicate worn or misaligned steering or suspension. Check that there is at least 5 mm of tread.
Check the engine, transmission, axles, brakes, power steering and shock absorbers. A leak in any of these areas could indicate a problem and could possibly be a danger.
Fumes or excessive noise may suggest there is a hole or rust in the pipes or the muffler.
Check inside the boot, the floor wells, doors and lower sills for red or other dark stains, dimpled or bubbled paint. Use a soft fridge magnet to check panels for plastic body filler.
Hail damage makes a car difficult to insure. Check the horizontal panels such as the bonnet, roof and boot lid.
Loose panels may indicate accident damage or that the car has been driven over rough roads.
Catches should close firmly and lock. Rubber seals can perish over time.
Look for colour variation, overspraying, dents or ripples. These may indicate that the car has been in an accident.
Check for wear and tear.
Check that the belts are not frayed or damaged, and that the belts, buckles and adjusters and child restraint anchorage points are in good condition.
Check that all lights, both inside and outside the car, are working. If the car is fitted with ABS and/or SRS (air bag), check that the dashboard warning light/s illuminate for a short time when the ignition is turned on.
Check air-conditioning, ventilation fan, electric windows, sound systems, horn, windscreen wipers etc. Inoperative items can be expensive to repair or replace.
These items should be in place and in serviceable condition.
As part of a thorough inspection many people test-drive the car. The following are some things to check when test-driving.
Excessive ‘free travel’ or wandering on straight roads can indicate worn suspension or misaligned steering.
The car should stop smoothly and in a straight line. The pedal should not sink to the floor or feel spongy and the steering wheel should not vibrate.
Blue smoke indicates oil is burning.
Should run smoothly (accelerating, decelerating and cruising) and the water temperature gauge should stay in the safe range. Rattling or knocking could mean incorrect tuning or excessive wear.
Gear changes (manual and automatic) should be smooth, without any rattles or knocking noises. On front-wheel drive vehicles, these noises could indicate worn constant-velocity joints.
Listen for rattles when you drive over bumps. It is also wise to have the car inspected by a reputable mechanic.
Note: Before taking the car for a test drive, check with the seller that the seller has an insurance policy that covers you if an accident occurs.
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