Buyers' Guide: Check what’s within your reach
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When you’re on the hunt for a used car, there are many things to check to avoid big bills and headaches.
Today’s cars have a host of mod cons that can easily be overlooked — but it’s important to understand all the features so you can ensure they work.
Most are in plain sight so, before you decide to buy, make sure you hop into the driver’s seat and get in the perfect position to check them all out.
Light it up
Even in today’s used car market, plenty of vehicles have advanced computer controls for engine management and managing safety systems, such as anti-lock braking system and supplemental restraint system.
These devices have lights to warn drivers about any malfunctions with the vehicle. They should illuminate after starting the car and switch off shortly after.
If these lights remain illuminated, the system has detected a fault.
And if the light fails to illuminate after the vehicle has been started, then it may either indicate a problem with the system or that it has been disabled.
This could affect the operation of what you’d consider to be key safety features, such as your car’s airbags, so it’s important to get behind the wheel and test they’re operating correctly before you buy a car.
Some faults can end up costing a lot. Though you might find a low-cost vehicle that appears to be immaculate, a missed illuminating engine light could lead to $200 for a new sensor or $3000 for a timing chain replacement.
If you do spot the light, don’t dismiss the warning signs. Even if the seller says the light has always been on, it’s still vital to get the vehicle’s onboard diagnostic system checked by a professional.
The gauges are also important to monitor. When these fail, they can be expensive to fix.
Keep an eye on the temperature gauge and watch its behaviour.
For example, a temperature gauge with an erratic operation could mean you need to do something as simple and cheap as replacing a $50 thermostat, or it could be a major fault with the head gasket that can set you back thousands of dollars.
It’s also vital to check the speedometer while driving. If the vehicle speed isn’t reading correctly or fails to register any speed, the mileage the vehicle has travelled will be inaccurate.
If the odometer has been tampered with, it’s difficult to gauge the true mileage.
A vehicle history report will help you to assess the approximate mileage.
Dials and controls
While you’re in the driver’s seat — and we’d recommend everyone takes a car on a test drive before they hand over their money — get familiar with the rest of the functions available.
Test the air con and heating controls, and turn on the radio and crank up the volume to see if there’s any crackling in the speakers.
Ensure you’re comfortable with the position of regular features. For example, if you’re transitioning from a Japanese vehicle where the indicator stalk is usually on the right, to a European make, it may take you a few drives to get used to the indicator being on the other side of the wheel.
In some newer models, a gear stick may no longer exist. Instead, the gear selector can be where the indicator traditionally was.
This takes some getting used to and you wouldn’t want to accidentally select neutral during right-hand turns.
Taking the time to get to know a vehicle from the driver’s seat can pay dividends in the long run.
After all it’s where most people spend their time inside the car.
A vehicle can tick all of the boxes but, until you get behind the wheel, you can’t determine whether it’s a comfortable place to be.
Plenty of information can be gathered by just sitting in the driver’s seat, so take your time to inspect and familiarise yourself with the cockpit.
Grasp every lever and turn every dial, making it the biggest workout you’ve done while sitting.