February 18, 2022

The Good, the Bad & the Ugly of Choosing a Used Car

Brand new isn’t always the best choice. There are many benefits to buying a second-hand vehicle, but there are also some traps that unsuspecting buyers can fall into without even knowing. This guide will walk you through some of the real upsides to buying a used car, as well as highlighting a few areas you should be careful to consider closely.

The Good

The “new car feeling” is something every car owner can relate to. The first time you grab hold of those keys, the first time you take it out on your favourite road. These feelings are a source of much excitement and joy for many of us. 

Buying a new car is an exciting moment in your life and there are many reasons why a second-hand car could enhance this for you;

  • Cars are more affordable – prices drop dramatically once used, meaning your budget can stretch further than ever before. Hidden dealer fees and other bogus charges aren’t added on to these cars.
  • Lower insurance rates – whilst not a guarantee, in most cases a used car will attract lower rates from companies due to the overall value of the car.
  • Better for the environment – over 25% of a car’s lifetime emissions are created during manufacturing and shipping. By buying pre-owned, you’re extending the life of the vehicle and reducing overall emissions.
  • Freedom to alter it – while alterations are possible on any vehicle, many significant changes could void the factory warranty and so many owners wait 3-5 years until the warranty expires.
  • Reliability – The ‘old rust-bucket’ car of yesteryear is a thing of the past. Most cars are built to last and many will long after the first owner has moved on. If treated well, these vehicles can safely carry you for 10+ years.

The Bad

Whilst there are many benefits, it should be noted that not everyone’s dream car was owned before them. There are certainly some downsides to shopping the pre-owned market, and those are;

  • Cost – While the upfront cost is lower second-hand, the later costs can be much much higher too. If you unwittingly bought a lemon, or maybe there’s just something not quite right, it falls to you as you’re likely outside the manufacturer’s warranty.
  • Choice – Buying pre-owned inherently offers you less choice. While you have a wide variety of vehicles, once narrowed down, you can only choose the ones available. This may mean the colour or add-ons aren’t quite right.
  • Availability of parts – Depending on your choice, the less popular or available this car is, the harder it can be to find the needed parts. Especially an issue with more unique vehicles compared with to those more global car types, such as the Toyota Corolla.
  • Outdated technology – This isn’t just about GPS or other fancy features but more importantly safety. As cars improve so do the protections they offer. An older vehicle will likely be less safe than the newer version, and so this is something to consider.

The (potentially) Ugly

Let’s be honest, unless you’re an amateur mechanic or studied some version of engineering at school, you likely haven’t got much of a clue on even what to look for when buying a car. 

That’s where we come in! 

We’re here to offer you a simple guide on the things to look out for and to help you spot any ‘red flags’ that could be a bad sign that the car isn’t a good one.

With the car turned off, open the hood/bonnet and visually inspect the engine for: 

  • Fluid leaks, 
  • Corrosion, 
  • Cracked hoses and belts, 
  • Check the oil and transmission dipsticks for discolouration — oil should be light brown, transmission fluid should be pink or red, 
  • Oil level,
  • Head gasket condition and, 
  • Exhaust smoke (car needs to be running for this one) 

Bodywork & Frame

Walk around the vehicle. Check the outside and underneath. Take a walk around the car and keep an eye out for; 

  • Any rusty spots or paint chips – small, localized rust patches aren’t necessarily a deal breaker because they can be fixed fairly easily. If there are places where the metal is totally rusted through however that is likely a bad sign.
  • Does the car look right? 
    • Is the car sitting level on the ground? 
    • Is there anything hanging from the undercarriage?
  • Tire tread should be worn evenly and all four should match – uneven tread or extra wear on a few of the tires often means poor alignment, which can be a symptom of steering, suspension or frame issues.

Be sure to; 

  • Check the boot – pay close attention for new bolts or warping that could indicate a recent accident.
  • Check the dash (for mileage and warning lights),
    • The average car will rack up about 20,000 km each year. To figure out if the car you’re looking at has high or low mileage, divide the number on the odometer by the vehicle’s age.
    • Mileage isn’t a standalone factor, as the overall maintenance and upkeep should be carefully considered too
  • Check the electronics thoroughly.

Test drive
Don’t hold back here, drive it until you have checked everything you want to. Some aspects to look for include;

  • The Gearbox and clutch
    • A very important step for manual cars – feel and listen to the smoothness of the gear change, and test the clutch biting point. For automatic engines – when you’re driving, take a moment to pay attention to how the car moves through the gears.
  • Does the car pull left or right?
  • Any warning lights or signs?
  • Any strange sounds when going over bumps or stopping?

Request as much information as you can about the car’s history including the last maintenance report. Additionally, you should also do your own research into the vehicle brand and type to understand what issues may be present.

There are a lot of different things to check as vehicles are a complex machine that could have a variety of things that could impact it’s longevity, safety and performance. This is simply a guide and it is always recommended for a professional to review any vehicle prior to you making the purchase.

Getting to know the vehicle remotely

Should you decide that a pre-owned car is the right choice for you, you’ll begin the search for your perfect match. There will be a lot of options out there, and many of us have only a small amount of time to dedicate to inspecting a car to see if it is even worthwhile considering. Many pre-owned vehicle owners will tell you how frustrating and time consuming the process is with bad images, obvious lemons and not genuine people looking to take advantage of your lack of knowledge.

DriveX is now offering their vehicle pre-inspection reports to the second-hand vehicle market offering a clear and simplified overview of the vehicle health including detailed pictures showing you all of the key aspects noted above. These reports now give buyers the ability to quickly filter out obvious lemons and give you clear information ahead of your physical inspection of the vehicle.


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