Buying a used automatic-transmission car: What to check for?

With increasing city traffic congestion, many buyers are considering looking at cars with automatic transmissions for city use. However, there are not many new automatic transmission cars that come cheap, and hence one needs to look at the used car market.

Among hatchbacks there are only about three cars that have automatic transmission options. However, among sedans and SUVs there are a sizeable number of cars that offer automatic transmission options – mainly in petrol cars, while a few larger diesel cars and SUVs also offer automatic transmissions. Also read: Automatics under Rs 12 lakhs

CarToq looks at some of the things a buyer must be aware of while buying a used car with an automatic transmission.


Used automatic options

Popular choices of automatic cars in the used car market include Hyundai i10 and Maruti A-Star among hatchbacks, as well as the older Santro Xing automatic and Wagon R automatic. A popular automatic sedan in the used car market is the old Honda City automatic (CVT). Then there are luxury cars with automatic transmissions that are going cheap as well such as the Honda Accord automatic. Enthusiasts may want to look at cars with DSG (dual-clutch) automatic transmissions such as the Skoda Laura or Superb. Also read: Four luxury cars you can run cheap

What to look for?

Now cars with automatic transmissions are usually bought by buyers who want the sheer convenience of an automatic for city traffic. They also are probably owners who don’t want to pay much attention to a car and just want a mode of transport from point A to point B. It’s this set of former owners that you need to worry about when looking for a used automatic, as chances are they wouldn’t have bothered much with the car’s upkeep. Also read: 5 affordable automatics in India

Here are a few checks you need to carry out, besides the usual checks when buying a used car.

Transmission fluid quality

Automatic transmission cars are very sensitive to the quality of oil (transmission fluid) used in the automatic transmission. Open the bonnet and locate the dipstick/filler for the automatic transmission fluid. You can unscrew and open this by hand. Automatic transmission fluid is red in color – check if it still is. If it has turned brown, it’s time to replace it. But if it is almost blackish, stay away from the car as it’s likely that there is transmission trouble as well – and the fluid has burnt up. This can happen if the transmission overheats in situations where there’s excessive wheel spin or hard driving. Related: New Maruti Ritz gets AT

Fluid level

Check the level, it should be at the maximum mark when hot or just below when cold. If it is lower, there could be a leak. Check under the car for any visible wet patches of transmission fluid.

Check engagement

Start the car with the transmission “Park” mode. It should start and idle without any undue transmission noise. Then pull the handbrake, press the brake pedal and shift the transmission to “D” drive mode. The lever should shift smoothly. The engine should sound a little strained. Release the handbrake and as you release the foot brake the car should begin to creep forward smoothly without a jerk. If there’s no immediate movement or the car suddenly lurches instead of creeping, you could be looking at expensive repairs. Also read: How to pick a good used SUV

Check all the modes

Shift the transmission into each mode and check if the car moves smoothly. In cars equipped with a tiptronic / paddle shift function, check the functioning of the paddle shifts or tiptronic lever, and if the gears change correspondingly. In a car with a CVT (constantly variable transmission) the engine will rev a little higher before the car begins to move and the speed and rpm begins to match. This is normal, but if the high-revving continues for too long, it could indicate a slipping variator – and an expensive overhaul. In a car with a DSG, dual clutch automatic transmission, the shifts should be smooth and quick. If the car hesitates or is jerky it could be indicative of a transmission problem that’s expensive to fix. It could be a problem with the mechatronic unit – a problem that was reported by some Skoda owners. Also see: Honda Brio Automatic review

Check kick-down function

While driving the car normally, suddenly press the accelerator all the way to the floor. The car should automatically drop one or two gears and quickly pick up pace (kick down mode). If it does not, then the car will need attention.

These are some of the checks required when buying a car with an automatic transmission. Automatic transmissions are know to have a long life and don’t need frequent attention – once every 50,000 km or so is what most cars have, with Ford even offering a 10-year maintenance free assurance (or 2,50,000 km) on its dual clutch automatic transmission. Also read: Ford Fiesta automatic test drive

Share any other checks to carry out when buying an automatic transmission car.