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Donít Buy a Lemon

Many South Africans have bought used vehicles which have turned out to be less than they expected. The AA offers some advice on how to avoid buying a lemon.

Today, more and more consumers are turning to previously owned or used vehicles when they are ready to purchase a car, recreational or sports-utility vehicle. They choose a used car for its indisputable advantages: lower price than a new car, slower depreciation and greater flexibility in cost and availability.

Of course, along with these advantages, there are certain risks. A used car may have mechanical or structural problem, replacement parts may be hard to find, the seller may misrepresent the carís mileage or condition and warranty coverage may not be available.

The consumerís challenge is to make the most of a used carís advantages, and minimize the risks.

Before launching your search for a good deal on a used car, spend some time considering many of the same factors that would apply to a new car purchase: how you will use the vehicle; how long you plan to keep it; the size, style, features and appearance you need or prefer; and your budget or financing options for the purchase, as well as for operation, maintenance, and repair costs. Know your financial limits and secure any needed financing before beginning your search.

How to choose:

Shop around. Check car buyerís guides and the classifieds section in your local newspaper to establish what a fair price is for the make, model and mileage you want.

Take a good look. Make sure you see the vehicle in the daylight, take it for a test drive and get someone who knows about cars to look it over.

Hot tip: The AA offers full bumper-to-bumper examinations at eleven Technical Centres countrywide.

What to look for:

The AA has put together a list of pointers to help you choose a used car and avoid duds

The Engine:

  • A dirty engine and ďfrostingĒ around the battery terminals could mean the engine has not been carefully maintained.
  • Rumbling or knocking noises from the top or bottom of the engine when you start the car could indicate expensive problems.
  • Thick blue smoke from the exhaust when you start up and rev the engine with the gear in neutral or park is a bad sign - stay away from this one.
  • Check the water in the radiator, this should be clean and oil free.
  • A low level of oil or sludgy, black oil on the dipstick suggests infrequent oil changes and a lack of TLC (Tender Loving Care).
  • Let the car stand for a while and check for puddles of oil or liquid.

The body

You canít expect a used car to have a perfect body, in fact small chips in the paint or on the windscreen may even prove that the car has not been in a major accident and needed body parts replaced, but there are things you should look out for.

  • Check for mismatched paint on adjacent body panels, this could show that it has been in an accident.
  • Peeling paint could later lead to rust.
  • Check that the gaps between the body panels are equal in width and that any edges are flush with each other.
  • Look out for obvious over-spraying - take a peek at the wires in the engine compartment or behind the door or window rubbers. This could mean that the car has accident damage.
  • Uneven wearing of the tyres or ďfeatheringĒ is a sign that the wheels are off-balance, the suspension is not aligned or the shock absorbers are worn.

Interior

  • Unscrupulous sellers could turn the speedometer back to make the kilometres appear less. Check that the speedometer digits arenít crooked or scratched or that screws havenít been tampered with.
  • Wear and tear on the carpeting and rubber of the brake, clutch and accelerator pedals should be consistent with the age of the car.

Taking the car for a test drive:

  1. Make sure that the engine power is adequate for its size.
  2. Keep an eye out for over-heating.
  3. Check that the car follows a straight line and brakes in a straight line.
  4. When you go around a corner the car should not pitch like a yacht and the steering wheel should straighten itself.
  5. The gears should change smoothly and easily.

Eight tips to save you trouble:

  1. Always ask to see all the carís paperwork and check the service record.
  2. Pay for a mechanical check to be carried out. The AA can do this.
  3. Beware of dealers advertising as private sellers. Check that the address on the registration document is the same as the address where you saw the car. If you answer a private advert and say that you are ringing about the car and the person says ďwhich car?Ē you may be talking to a dealer.
  4. Always try to negotiate a lower price.
  5. If you are not feeling totally sure and happy walk away. There are plenty of second-hand cars around.
  6. Shop around for the best financial deal.
  7. Set up a budget and stick to it.

Health warning

A roadworthy certificate (RWC) is not a guarantee that the car is problem-free. It is simply stating that the vehicle meets the minimum statutory requirements in terms of safety, such as brakes, suspension and lights. It could have a RWC and an engine knock indicated a major engine breakdown.

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