You’ve scoured the newspapers and internet for your dream ride and are ready to lay down money for that shiny hatchback which has been carefully driven by one elderly owner.

But before you commit to that ‘deal of a lifetime’, make sure you’re thoroughly informed about the car’s condition and ensure you don’t end up buying a real skorokoro.

It’s the stuff of nightmares that too many South Africans who’ve bought a second-hand car have been through, says insurance brand Virseker.

"You could be buying yourself anything from a major repair project, to an accident waiting to happen, if you’re not careful," says Virseker spokesperson Elmarie Twilley. “When buying a used car, it’s essential that you are thoroughly informed and maintain a healthy sense of scepticism to ensure that you don’t end up buying a real skedonk.”

Virseker recommends 16 smart steps to follow when buying a used car:

1. Do your homework: Read reviews and online forums to make sure that the car you want to buy isn’t prone to problems and get a sense of a reasonable price for the exact vehicle you wish to buy. 

2. Background check: Buying from a reputable dealer with a solid aftersales record is first prize. In the event of a private sale, ask as many questions as you need to make sure that you don’t end up with trouble-on-wheels.

3. Shop around: Don’t settle for the first seemingly great deal you come across. Visit other dealers or private sellers to view and test drive similar cars. When searching online, use the “favourites” tab that many websites offer to narrow down your search to a handful of cars, which you can then easily compare.

4. Check the mileage: High mileage cars generally have higher maintenance costs and are more prone to costly repairs. While it might seem like a saving in the short term, the long-term costs could hit your wallet dearly.

5. The importance of FSH: Cars that have a Full Service History with agents or reputable, RMI-accredited service centres generally make for a better buy. If the car’s service isn’t up-to-date, insist that the dealer service the car as a condition of the sale. 

6. Accident and theft report: Accident-damaged cars, or those that were impacted by a crime, like theft, are a high-risk buy. This is especially the case if the car’s engine or electronic components were compromised. Confirm that the car is accident and incident free and make use of a car history checking service like www.firstcheck.co.za here.

7. Check for leaks: Oil and other fluids leaking from a car, however slowly, is a tell-tale sign of poor maintenance or damage. Be sure to check underneath the car, and also in the engine bay. A dirty, oily engine is one you should rather steer clear of.

8. Check the tyres: Tyres that are smooth or unevenly worn could mean anything from bad wheel alignment and balancing to worn shock absorbers, to a collapsed suspension system.

9. Cabin check: Be sure to look out for any chips, cracks and tears in the interior panels and seat fabric. Normal wear and tear consistent with the age of the vehicle is acceptable, but a cracked dash board, or missing panel, for example, could indicate a much bigger problem.

10. Start and test drive the car: A well-maintained car shouldn’t have any trouble starting or running smoothly. It shouldn’t smoke excessively and the ride should be smooth and free of stutters, gear problems, vibrations, brake noises, turning noises and excessive rattles. Taking the car for a proper test drive on a variety of road surfaces and in different traffic conditions is strongly recommended. Be sure to switch the radio off to make sure that you can listen out for any worrying noises.

11. Safety check: Safety systems like seatbelts and airbags are an absolute must to check. If any of these systems aren’t functioning, rather steer clear.

12. Test the tech: Make sure that all electric and electronic systems are working. Test the lights, the wipers, the heating and cooling system, the GPS system etc. to make sure that everything works and check the instrumentation panel for errors or abnormal gauge readings.

13. A test worth paying for: You can also ask for a thorough check to be done by a reputable car inspection company like Dekra here, just to make sure that the car is mechanically sound. These could set you – or the dealer who is prepared to do it – back a couple of hundred rand, but it’s well worth it for added peace of mind.

14. Take out an extended warranty: Various companies offer extended warranties for second- hand cars and, if the car is serviced according to the manufacturer’s specifications, they can provide you with cover ranging from the bare essentials to more comprehensive cover.

15. Beware the “bargain of a lifetime”: If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. 

16. Be prepared to walk away: Avoid the temptation of buying a car on the spot, especially when it comes to bargains. Rather give yourself the time to make an informed, rational decision and avoid buyer’s remorse.

 "A rushed and impulse decision when buying a used car is almost always a costly one. Spending more time on research, asking the right questions and speaking to the experts will all contribute to a more informed decision, and will give you a sense of comfort and confidence when driving off in your new ride," concludes Twilley. 

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