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Buying a used car may be easier than ever now but people are still apprehensive about the whole process. Why? Because they are often kept in the dark about “how to buy”. We try to alleviate that by discussing ten vital things that must be kept in mind while buying second-hand/pre-owned cars.

Starting with the most basic one:

Inspect in broad daylight

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The thing with cars, like your favourite blend of silk fabric is that the colour varies when viewed under artificial light. And like the intricate work on the silk ‘kurta’ or ‘sari’, it’s vital to see the microscopic details under the ‘right’ light. Now by right, we mean sunlight, because carrying an industry-grade LED torch and developing an eye for detail aren’t the easiest of tasks. Instead take the car out in the sun, have a good look for paint quality, corrosion, and every small detail under the sun — quite literally.

Never forget your mechanic

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If you’re going to physically go and check out a used car, don’t forget to request your mechanic to tag along. While his presence might not make a difference when chit-chatting with the seller but he’s the best guide to tell you about the car’s condition and the possible expenses that you might need to incur soon. On the other hand, it must be kept in mind that the said mechanic is well-versed with the car that you’re about to buy. If not, then his presence will not be as valuable.

Never shy from extended warranty

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Not only for an added peace of mind, the extended manufacturer’s warranty on a used car can also save your backside should something go wrong. So when you’re doing your research, look for the ones with an extended warranty. Also, as a rule of thumb, check with the policy whether the extended warranty and the maintenance contract are transferrable — in most cases they are. Also, if there’s a slight premium on a car with an extended warranty, weight your options well, because a manufacturer’s warranty makes all the difference.

Always take a test drive

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No matter what the advert read, no matter how cool the owner sounds, a test drive is the true litmus of gauging a car’s health. Of course, it’s not the only way — far from it — but never, ever skip driving the car. Not only for its health, but by driving, you’ll also understand if you’re comfortable with the car. Apart from the things (placement of buttons etc.) that grow on you, things like the driving position and comfort can only be gauged by being in and then driving the car. Always shut the stereo while doing so and don’t indulge in talks because this is the moment of truth, soldier! You miss a squeak and rattle here and there can be a huge bill headed towards you once you buy the car.

Don’t trust the odometer alone

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One of the most tampered car parts, the odometer also happens to be the one trusted a lot. Sadly, it shouldn’t always be, because brokers, car dealers, and even individual sellers can doctor the reading, to increase the vehicle’s value. Look at the vehicle’s condition, check the papers and service history (more on that below), and consult the mechanic even if you don’t feel there’s a discrepancy. Be vigilant, that’s all. Read more about detecting tampered odometers here.

Rust and cover-ups

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While at it, don’t miss thing like rust and patchy paintwork. Most salesmen won’t tell you about rust; in fact a lot of owners don’t know about rust in their cars, either. But that’s not to say rust can be ignored. A damp carpet can lead to rust in the floor, a badly done touchup can also lead to rust, etc. So while it’s easy for the car to catch rust, it’s equally important for you to find such spots and take the decision on buying/chucking the idea of buying accordingly.

New parts

There’s always a reason to buy new parts for your car, and apart from the regular wear and tear, it’s mostly the fact that the vehicle has been involved in a crash or has been recently repaired. Look for new parts that don’t gel well with the others as the latter must have aged. It can be anything and everything from a new engine cover to new tyres, rims, bumpers… Feel free to ask the owner about why the new part was put and your mechanic to check if there are any signs of repair etc.

Non-endorsed conversions

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Certain conversions need to be endorsed by the RTO on the vehicle’s papers, like conversion to alternate fuels, modifications made to the structure, etc. Keep an eye for those, because most things non-factory need to be on the vehicle’s papers. Failing which, you can be dealing with the authorities (cops, RTO officials) at a later stage.

Another thing is that non-factory items like bull bars (on monocoque structure vehicles), badly mounted roof carriers, etc. could have caused a damage to the structure of the vehicle. Steer clear of such examples, especially those with a monocoque chassis, because structural damages are harder to repair in those case.

Bank Loan

The general notion about car finance is that it only works with new cars. Thankfully that’s not the case! You can get a loan for a pre-owned vehicle, too, although there are a few caveats. And the biggest one is that the loan is only applicable for a car of a certain age, for instance, SBI (State Bank of India) will only give you a loan for a car that’s not older than five years. Most banks can cover up to 80-85 per cent of the vehicle’s cost — on-road cost which includes registration — and that’s making the process of buying a used car very easy. Unlike what most of us thought!

Name Transfer

Yes, you would want to ensure that the car is under your name, as soon as you buy it, but did the previous owner do the same? You see the cost of the vehicle varies inversely with the number of owners: more the number of owners, fewer are the digits on the cheque. And a common way to beat the trend is that, in case of multiple pre owners, those who want to sell the car in a few months don’t get the name changed. Stay away from such examples, because you never know what the vehicle went through — and whether it’s legitimate or not!

These were a few points that one must know while buying a used car. If you have any suggestions/points to add, please mention them in the comments section below. Also, here are a couple of common things that shouldn’t be forgotten, either:

And before all this: Do your homework

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Before buying or even venturing out to buy a used vehicle, do your homework. It may involve hours of research on the Internet, in the magazines, on forums, etc., but do not skip it. Have clarity on what you want to buy beforehand.

Don’t run for bargains

There are some cars that don’t command as much value in the used car market. These, or ‘depreciation disasters’ as they are infamously called, might be available at dirt cheap prices, but don’t chase bargains. There can be some gems but there’s a reason why a car is going for cheap. And while you can still find good examples of depreciation disasters and live happily ever after, but when a popular, otherwise expensive, car goes at low prices, it’s always better to play safe and let it go.

Check all electricals, spark plugs, etc.

Take your mechanic along, but don’t forget to check the vehicle’s electricals (wiring etc.), equipment (lights, stereo, etc.) for normal functioning. Under the bonnet, check the spark plugs, because they can represent the true state of the car. Same goes for the exhaust. Oil leaks, traces of oil in the exhaust, etc. can mean a lot of ‘kharcha’.

Don’t think twice before saying NO

The salesmen, the sellers, and even the middlemen (if any) will want you to buy every car they show — it’s their job, after all. But if you find something odd, something that you feel isn’t right, or even a small discrepancy, do not refrain from saying no. Unless you’re after a particular rare item, there are thousands of cars in the pre-owned market, and you’re less likely to regret saying no to a possible ‘lemon’ than banging your head against the wall because of the same car.

Source: 1, 2, 3, 6, and 9

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