Guide for buying a second-hand car

Guide for buying a second-hand car

If you are reading this article it is because you are clear, or at least you are seriously considering, that you are going to buy an old car and looking for buying an old car guide.

1. Body

The bodywork is one of the most forgotten elements when inspecting a car before buying it, and we always fall into the cliché “the important thing is that it has a good engine.” As for what to take into account, we can broadly distinguish two considerations. On the one hand, check that it does not present large and/or too much damage, such as bumps, buns, or areas damaged by prolonged exposure to the sun. Remember that painting a car completely with a certain quality can mean between 1200 – 1500 $ on average, much more than changing an engine.

On the other hand, and more importantly if possible, check that there are no traces of rust or corrosion on the body or the chassis. It is true that in the most current vehicles it is very rare to find this most common problem in the world of classics, but it never hurts. Places prone to the appearance of corrosion can be the lower part of the doors, side sills, sharp corners such as fins next to the headlights or on the ground, especially in the front where the passengers’ feet would be located. These corrosion problems are much more complicated to repair, even to the point that such repair is not economically viable, or even technically.


A body repair can cost the same or more than an engine repair. Is the engine still the most important thing?

2. Engine

With not only engine we refer to the engine itself, but also all the auxiliary elements that we find in the engine compartment, as injectors, turbocharger, EGR valve … First it is highly recommended to check the operation of the cold engine, holding the idle properly if it emits dense white or bluish smoke with a certain smell of burning oil. To do this, when I go to see a car I try as far as possible not to specify an hour if the seller is a professional, or to go directly home if it is a private person, to avoid that the engine is hot. During the road test, do not forget to check that the engine delivers power gradually and without “strange gaps” throughout its operating regime.

3. Gearbox

Any breakdown in a gearbox means going to a specialized workshop since in the so-called neighbourhood or trust workshops they do not usually carry out this type of repairs, and specialized is synonymous with large outlay, which does not mean expensive. Thus, in the case of manual changes, check that all the gears enter smoothly, correctly, and with precision; Also, the respective changes of the gearbox oil, have been carried out. A hydraulic fluid such as oil is not for life, it always loses its properties and degrades as a result of use, whatever the manufacturer of the box says, which is not the same that manufactures the oil.

Regarding automatic gearboxes, things get a little more complicated, but in general terms, it is advisable to check that the gearbox raises and lowers relations correctly in all its operating modes, that all its positions work correctly and that the oil has been periodically replaced.

In both manual and automatic gearboxes, it is necessary to replace the oil. No oil is for life.

4. Suspension System

The suspension system is one of the great forgotten cars that already have several years behind them. For the vast majority of them, the owner has not changed an element as important as the shock absorbers, which are responsible for maintaining contact between the tire and the road at all times.

This is because said owner has gradually become accustomed to the wear of the shock absorbers and does not perceive their loss of efficiency, recommending their replacement every 60,000 kilometres.

But in addition to the shock absorbers, it is also necessary to check the correct condition and operation of other elements of the suspension system such as the silent blocks of the different suspension arms and the stabilizer bars, connecting rods, or cups.

Thus, by way of general brushstrokes and without going into detail, it is necessary to check that the car does not bounce excessively or is uneven, as well as that it does not make strangers in curves or strong supports, nor does it present noises or bumps when going through potholes.

5. Maintenance

At this point, the fundamental thing is to check that the previous owner has carried out the relevant maintenance, and not obsess over that the car is up to date with everything and there is no glimpse of any element to be replaced: they are cars in years and it is normal that sooner that late is a change of tires or brake discs. It is also necessary that you realize that said pertinent maintenance has been carried out, either through invoices or visually by checking the condition of elements such as pads, brake discs or Air filter if it is accessible: if the car has too many elements to change, in addition to supplying a considerable outlay, it is a sign that the previous owner is a little careless with his car.

6. Visual inspection

It never hurts to inspect the engine, the underside of the car and checks for oil or other fluid leaks. To do this you can help yourself with a flashlight (the one on the mobile works), and if the car has a skid plate, check that there is no accumulation of oil in it, as this would reveal a possible loss.

Likewise, check the interior of the vehicle to observe that the wear of the upholstery, steering wheel, pedals, and controls is consistent with the mileage. Other points to check are the condition of the roof (if it is off the hook or shows signs of them with areas such as sunshades or interior lighting panels), door rubbers and sealing, as well as the correct operation of the seat belts.

7. Other Elements

Regarding the list of vehicle elements, do not forget to check that the headlights work correctly, and especially if it is equipped with xenon headlights, as well as the different comfort elements: electric windows, central locking, rearview mirrors, heating, and air conditioning. Another trick learned from experience, is to ask the passenger to get off and drive at about 30 or 40 km / h to make sure that the passenger seat occupancy sensor is working correctly. Add that some of these repairs are relatively inexpensive, but instead will help you negotiate the purchase price.

8. Documentation

Last, and not least, is to check that the vehicle is up to date with all its administrative and tax obligations. One of the easiest, most comfortable, and reliable ways is to request a complete report of the vehicle from the DGT where you can verify the existence of seizures, seals, bankruptcy procedures as well as the history of ITV, mileage, or several previous holders. This report can be obtained electronically with the electronic DNI and to request it you will only need the registration or chassis number of the vehicle in

Another important and very revealing document is the car’s technical datasheet. In it you can check data such as the mileage history according to the different ITVs, the date of the first registration, if that tire measurement or that striking modification is homologated and legalized or if the vehicle has provided, for example, taxi service or driving school: in the upper left corner of the technical sheet there is a field called “vehicle classification”.

If the code 1040 or 1005 appears crossed out in that field, you have provided taxi or driving school service, respectively. Code 1000 corresponds to the tourism classification. Another point to keep in mind is that the vehicle’s chassis number ends in “R”, which means that the chassis or part of it has been changed, probably due to a major blow or corrosion.

Hope our article on “Old Car Buying Guide” will help you to make a decision.

Ariel Danziger


leave your comment