Checking out a Second Hand Car’s Engine – What you Need to Look For

13 06 2013

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Image via Flickr creative commons from accretion disc

The market for second hand cars is always growing – but along with it, so is the number of people who might be willing to rip you off.

Cars are expensive and when you’re not in a dealership, it is especially important to make sure everything is above board. That includes checking the engine. Not everyone is a petrolhead, but there are certain things you should look out for. These are rules you should abide by whether you’re with a respected dealer – like buying used cars from Renault Retail – or purchasing from a man on the street.

Buying a used car can be a confusing process. This is especially the case when you’re buying a car for the first ever time. Try not to be daunted, it is not a decision that should be rushed into. If you feel you are being hassled by the seller, it most probably means they are not someone you want to do business with.

Once you get under the bonnet the first thing to cast your eye over is the VIN number – make sure it is the same one as in the vehicle’s log book. Then go through all your standard checks such as oil, water and whether there are any fuel leaks anywhere.

For oil, remove the dipstick and wipe it, before replacing. Pull it out again and make sure the oil level is on or around the maximum level. If the oil needs changing it could be an indication the car has not been looked after as well as it should have been. At the same time, check fluids elsewhere. Engine coolant is often in a large round tank with a screw top – the fluid here will be pink. At the rear of the engine in a small bottle is where you will most often find brake fluid.

Next, have a look at the top of the engine. For this, you may need to unclip the plastic cover on the top to do this. If there is a white, gloopy liquid this is a sign of neglect. You should also check under the oil cap for this as it is an indicator of a damaged head gasket.

While you are going through all of the engine’s most obvious points, check every area for signs of rust and neglect. This could show if the previous owner has not looked after the car as well as they should have. All of the pipes and hoses should not have any cracks in them or look worn. The same applies for hoses.

There are a lot of other things you should be checking elsewhere in the car, but perhaps the first one you should look at is the V5C registration document. This will show you if the person selling it is the real owner of the car. If they are not, you may need to ask yourself why. In situations like this it is better to be safe than sorry. Similarly, it will show details of those who have owned that car before – if you have any misgivings there is no harm in contacting them.

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