We chat with mechanic Bill Gardiner from Motoring TV about resale vehicles. Here are his 5 tips for buying a used car and what to look for.
Buying a second hand vehicle makes economic sense.
New cars depreciate in value, and in a used vehicle, that loss has likely been absorbed within the first three years.
And according to Bill Gardiner, mechanic and tech guy from Motoring TV, there are usually plenty of kilometres left to be added to a three-year old vehicle.
“If the service work has been done in the first three years, there will be a lot of life left past that point, and there’ll be a lot of retained value,” Gardiner says. “The overall quality of vehicles has come up so far, and a vehicle is viable for so much longer. If it weren’t for road salt and our climate there’d be a lot of mechanics like myself looking for work.”
Gardiner is talking mostly about vehicles that have been leased from new. At the end of three years, those vehicles can be purchased outright, or returned and auctioned off.
“We’re seeing really good value in off-lease cars that were corporate vehicles, and that were maintained in accordance with the manufacturers service intervals,” Gardiner says.
Regardless of how old or where a used vehicle is purchased there are several items to which attention needs to be paid.
According to Gardiner, here’s his advice and tips for buying a used car:
1. Look at the overall condition of the vehicle.
Does it appear to have been driven hard and abused, or does it look like it has traveled further than the indicated mileage? “If the odometer reads 150,000 km and the rest of the car looks like it has traveled 300,000 km, that’s a warning sign,” Gardiner says.
2. Check for signs of collision damage, or poorly repaired body panels.
This sometimes requires a bit of a trained eye, but in good sunlight sight along the length of the body. There shouldn’t be any waves or wrinkles in the panels, unless they are part of the overall design of the vehicle. Check to see that all of the paint colours match – often a repaired panel will be a slightly different shade than the rest of the car. Check the gap around doors, hood and trunk, the space should be even all the way around.
3. When you first start the vehicle, listen to the engine from cold.
It should be quiet without a great deal of clattering noise. Then, take the vehicle for a really good test drive. Don’t just go around the block. Pick a time of day when you have the opportunity to get the vehicle out on a highway, and travel at highway speeds for 10 or 15 minutes. “After you’ve driven at highway speeds, find a safe place to pull over and listen to the engine again. Does it rattle, or clatter, or sound significantly noisier than it did when cold?” Gardiner asks. “If it does, that’s a good indication that the engine has a lot of wear on it.”
4. On the test drive, pay attention to how the transmission shifts.
In an automatic, the shift points should be crisp, not slippery or mushy. In a manual gearbox, there should not be a lot of play in the shifter mechanism.
Also, pay attention to the car’s road holding ability. Does it pull to the left or the right while driving, or while braking?
“And if the vehicle is a front wheel drive, pull a U-turn and wind the steering tight to the left. Unwind, and go straight. Does the vehicle feel like it still wants to turn left? Do it again, but go right this time. If it feels like it wants to continue going right, the vehicle has a condition we call ‘memory steer’,” Gardiner says. Memory steer is often caused by a problem with the upper strut mounts.
5. If you can, get a mechanic to put the vehicle up on a hoist.
Gardiner says to check for signs of any localized rusting in the undercarriage, and for any fluid leaks in the powertrain.
Lastly, Gardiner says driving habits play a large role in how long a vehicle lasts. While it is sometimes not possible to tell whether a vehicle has had multiple drivers — say a second family car or a company car that all of the employees are allowed to drive – a single driver vehicle will usually be in better shape.