Do the body panels align neatly (especially the hood and trunk door)? Is the gap between the panels equal on either side of the car? Place your finger between two body parts. Do this at the same point, but on the other side of the car. The gaps between the panels should be equal for all points. Is not the case, then the vehicle could have a bent frame as a result of an accident.

Is the hood on one side lower than the other? This may be because the hood supports are not properly adjusted. This is not a problem and can easily be fixed.

Check the panels / doors for color differences. A color difference indicates a replacement or repair. The colors red and black have a tendency to fade in sunlight.

If the whole was car repainted, is could be revealed in the engine compartment. Are the body parts spotless but is the car a couple of years old? Or do the body parts shine much more than under the hood or in the boot? Then the car probably has had a new coat of paint.

Check for irregularities. If you’re at the front or rear of the car, look along the car to see if there are small dents. These can be seen as distortions in the reflection. If the paint is not smooth in one place, then this could be a place where there has been some damage. Dents as large as a coin can be restored by a panel beater. Dents that are not thoroughly repaired are often filled with polyester resin or fibreglass paste. Tap the surface, or go along it with a magnet. Know whether the panel is made of steel, not plastic, fibreglass or aluminum. If there are places where the magnet will not adhere, then in all likelihood, the panel has been repaired. Ask the owner why the part has been repainted?

Look for damage around the locks due to theft. Check whether the door locks have been replaced recently. Check for signs of paint on the locks due to repainting.

Car manufactures line the interior of the trunk with carpet. Especially the floor of the trunk. Lift the carpet and look for condensation, corrosion, welded panels and color differences relative to the body. This may indicate improper repair of the rear of the vehicle after an accident.

Look under the car to see the state of the bottom plates. Due to road salt, these can rust and corrode. Other places to check for rust:


  • bottom of doors
  • wheel wells (front and rear, difficult corners, especially at the shock mounts)
  • bottom of hatch
  • bottom of windshield
  • blisters in the paint (rust from the inside)
  • under the floor mats
  • headlight rims
  • lock mechanism
  • inside of rain gutter
  • around gas cap



A visual check of the tires starts at the side of the tire. If the sides are too convex, the tire is not inflated enough. This is also indicated by uneven wear of the tire profile. The outer edges of the tire may be worn while the middle may look as new. If the air pressure is too high, the tire shows predominant wear in the middle of the contact surface. Both cases are not good. Ask the seller at what pressure the tires should be inflated to.

If you can see scrapes on the profile of the tires of the driving axel there’s been lots of slipping in corners. The owner has a very sporty driving style.

Assess the tire tread. For the MOT the minimum is 1.6 mm profile, but safety wise at least 2 mm. The thickness of the profile is easy to measure using a match on which millimeter marks are drawn. Check the profile across the whole width of the tire. Where there is a noticeable difference in wear between inside and outside of the tire there is a misalignment. In case the owner claims that the tires have recently been aligned, while the tires clearly show signs of wear, beware! Under no circumstances buy a car that is aligned with worn tires.

Make sure the tires are not dry and cracking. Don’t forget the spare! Replacing tires will set you back about $500.

Check the rims. Pieces off the rims mean careless driving and a lot of contact with the pavement. The question is then whether the tires are properly balanced. You can feel this during the test drive. Vibration in the steering wheel could mean that the tires are degraded or poorly fitted.

A dirty, black rim is not really a concern. The black stuff is from the disc brake padding. Alloy wheels on an axle with drum brakes give virtually no dirty wheels, as the powder from the wearing of the brakes remains in the drum. Note that brake dust causes corrosion of chrome rims and will require maintenance.

Feel inside the wheel well for sand and mud. This retains moisture and causes rust.

Under the hood

The engine is the heart of the vehicle and should be carefully examined. Before you start the vehicle, open the hood and examine the general condition of the engine. There should be no oil on the engine. Check the side and underside. Also examine where engine parts are joined together.

Look for an oil slick on the street or driveway where the car is parked. Many owners wash dirty engines with a high pressure hose using degreaser or warm water. If the engine is the only clean part of the vehicle this calls for more attention to what you can not see. Check if the engine is still cold (you would want to start a cold engine to detect starting problems).


The internal engine components are dependent on oil to keep functioning. Check the level and color of the oil. Twist the oil filler cap off and look on the inside. If there is a cream-colored substance on the inside it means that cooling water has entered the oil system from leaking gaskets. Forget about the purchase! If the oil smells burnt, this is also a sign of problems in the engine.

The dipstick is usually recognizable by its bright color. Check the level and color of the oil. New oil is light in color. Older oil is darker. Oil generally turns dark fairly quickly. Black oil requires a change. If the oil has recently been changed but is still pretty dark then this is a sign of wear in the engine. Check the oil level again after the test drive to see if excessive oil is being used.


The battery has a lifespan of about three years. Ask when it has been replaced and check this by looking for a sticker with a date. The battery is almost always in the engine compartment. Other places include the trunk and under the back seat.

Timing belt

This is an essential part of the engine. Amongst other functions, this belt drives many important pumps. It is difficult to determine whether it needs replacement. In general it needs replacement between 60 to 90 thousand miles. This depends on the brand and model of the car. If it is not clear when it has been replaced, it is best to replace it.


This is the transmission between the engine, alternator and starter motor. Check tension and condition. Worn belts should be replaced.


Unscrew the radiator cap and have a look at the liquid. Make sure that the engine is cold. Otherwise you could burn yourself due to the considerable pressure of the hot water. Pink and green coloration indicates good maintenance by use of liquid coolant from the store. Water however, indicates that the reservoir is filled just to be filled. welding hose manufacturers

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