One of the first things you learn when becoming a car trader is whenever possible you should always, always take a potential buy out for a test drive. Not only can you use this time to do a little research on the car’s market value and previous history, but this is also a great opportunity to get a feel for the car and how it drives. This article and more essential information regarding becoming a car trader can be found within ‘The Fast Lane System – How to become a car trader’ eBook, available to purchase from this site.
First of all, make sure that it starts up fine first time. Do not buy the car if it starts with a rattling noise as this indicates that there is an issue with the big or small ends.
Preferably the engine should be cold before you start it up ‐ you can check this by feeling the bonnet. If it’s already warm then the seller could potentially be trying to hide a starting problem by warming it up before you arrived! For example, the car may emit excessive exhaust fumes or make unusual noises that may “settle down” when the engine warms up.
Assessing a vehicle is the first important step in becoming a car trader
A small amount of white exhaust smoke is normal when starting the car for the first time, and be aware that there may be more smoke on particularly cold days. Look out for exhaust smoke that’s blue, overly white or black. This can indicate a number of problems such as a problem with the head gasket, worn piston rings or an internal oil leak. There shouldn’t be too much noise from the exhaust ‐ if the exhaust makes a roaring sound this suggests a problem with the silencer. This often gets corroded and will cost you money to replace if a hole has been worn in it.
If you hear a loud metallic vibration, this usually indicates that a support bracket is worn or that the mounting is loose, causing the exhaust pipe to touch against something and makes a rattling sound. Brackets that are cracked or corroded are quite cheap to replace, but bear in mind that this represents extra work and cost for you. You should negotiate some money off the price of the car to cover the cost of repair.
The engine should run quietly and rev smoothly. As a motor trader always listen out for any unusual sounds and make sure that you can’t hear any tapping, knocking or rattling sounds, particularly when the engine is slowing down. A rumbling sound might suggest that there is wear to the main bearing, whilst rattling is more indicative of wear to the big end. In a manual car, make sure that it goes into gear smoothly without any crunching noises from the gearbox.
If the car is an automatic, check that there isn’t a clunking noise when switching into “drive” or “reverse.” The automatic gear change when accelerating and decelerating should be smooth and quiet.
If you can get the chance to warm the engine from cool to warm (with a test drive, for example), you should do so.
TRADERS TIP: The oil is thicker in a cool engine, and this can disguise problems such as serious wear to the bearings. Only when the engine warms up and the oil thins out does the rumbling sound begin to be heard and the problem becomes apparent!
If the car shows signs of any of these problems, you shouldn’t buy it. These issues can be expensive and troublesome to fix ‐ and unless you are confident that you can fix them yourself, or you think you can still make a decent profit from the vehicle following repairs, then it’s probably not worth your time.
Test the brakes with the engine on and off. When the engine is off, press the pedal fully down to the floor in one smooth motion and hold it there for a moment or two. It should stay still and in position. It should not weaken beneath your foot or “give” and sink any further – this could suggests a leak in the brake system.
When going on a test drive, test the brakes carefully in a quiet area (obviously whilst paying careful attention to your surroundings!) Check that you can’t hear any squealing, whining or crunching noises. There shouldn’t be any vibration or “pulsing” sensations from the pedal, and the car should not pull to one side. It should break swiftly and smoothly.
Check that the steering feels the same when turning both left and right corners. If it feels uneven this could indicate a problem with the car’s suspension. It might also suggest that the car has been in an accident and been damaged in some way ‐ this is something that you will hopefully have eliminated when examining the bodywork and panelling of the car.
Also make sure that the steering is nice and responsive ‐ if you can turn the wheel a little and nothing happens then there may be some wearing to the steering system or the suspension. Make sure that you can’t feel or hear a clunk before the wheels start to move.
Issues with steering can be complicated and expensive to fix so be very wary of buying a car with any perceived steering issues.
Also check the suspension while you are out on a test drive. Finding a residential road with some speed bumps is a good way to get a feel for the condition of a car’s suspension system. It should absorb the bumps smoothly and quietly without producing a juddering or overly bouncy motion. It should also be quiet ‐ if it’s overly noisy or creaky then it may need replacing. When the car is parked up you can also test the shock absorbers at each corner for yourself.
Push down firmly on the corner of each car and then release the pressure. The car should return to its original position smoothly with minimal “bounce” – what you don’t want to see is the car rocking up and down until it eventually settles back to its original position. This would indicate that the shock absorbers are damaged.
TRADERS TIP: It’s very important to become proficient at this test as it is both dangerous and illegal to sell a car with damaged or worn shock absorbers.
If you need to get them replaced, be aware that they must always be replaced in pairs – i.e. both front shock absorbers need to be replaced even if only one is faulty.
Check that mileage on the odometer is consistent with the mileage advertised by the seller as well as consistent with the car’s own documents.
Check each MOT certificate and you should be able to see at a glance that the car’s mileage is increasing at a steady rate during each service. In the UK, an average mileage of a used car is something around 12,000 miles per year. Small cars will have a lower average annual mileage ‐ something closer to the 9,000 miles per year mark.
What you are protecting yourself against here is buying a vehicle that has been “clocked” – tampered with so that the odometer reads fewer miles than the vehicle has actually done.
As mentioned already, it is worth glancing at the screws on the instrument panel casing to check that they are not scratched or graunched. This would suggest that they have been tampered with and that someone has removed the casing for some reason.
Bear in mind that if you are purchasing a vehicle from a company car fleet (as discussed on page 21 of ‘The Fast Lane System Manual – How to become a car trader’) then you should expect the car to have a significantly higher mileage. Check that the car has a full service history, and ideally you will want to see receipts for any work carried out on the vehicle. If no receipts are available, you can always contact the garage to check that the work was actually carried out if you have any reservations about this.
It is preferable that the service has always been carried out by the appropriate main agent dealership for that model of car. However, this is not important as it used to be. Mainstream cars can be serviced at any garage, as long as they use the correct parts for the work.