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Car Buyers' Guide: Avoiding lemons on the road
By Jack Biddle • 19/03/2016
Brooke has a budget of just $1500 to buy her first vehicle — preferably a manual. Though most of her driving will be around town, she does plan to undertake a regular three-hour drive every few weeks.
In this price range Brooke, be prepared to buy a car that will go to the scrapyard if/when anything major goes wrong mechanically. How long that will take is anybody’s guess. You may end up getting a great run out of a cheap car, or it could develop a major and expensive mechanical problem shortly after ownership.
Even if second-hand parts are used, it won’t take much to spend more on repairs than the initial buying price when labour is factored in. And don’t be fooled into thinking your repairs will add resale value to the vehicle.
The preference for a manual over an automatic is one blessing, but once again don’t assume a manual gearbox or clutch lasts forever. This price range is high-risk for several other reasons, but if $1500 is the limit, then you just have to keep things simple.
Here are some buyer’s tips that may help avoid buying a lemon:
●Avoid vehicles that have been heavily modified from standard, both mechanically and cosmetically.
●Reliability and safety doesn’t usually come in the same package. The European brands will have the edge in safety, while the Japanese tend to have an advantage in reliability.
●Stick with a basic non-turbocharged in-line 4-cylinder engine configuration and keep engine size to 2-litre maximum.
●Always ask sellers how long they have owned the vehicle. Short-term ownership can sometimes mean sellers have fallen into the same traps that you are trying to avoid and want to quickly flick the vehicle on. Or a quick patch-up repair has been carried out to make the vehicle mobile and the seller a little richer at your expense.
●Ask the seller if they can provide evidence of any past routine service history or mechanical repairs that may have been carried out.
●Check the windscreen for a label that may indicate a date for when past routine servicing was done.
●Check the engine bay for a label that confirms the date and odometer reading a cambelt (if fitted) was replaced.
●If you can’t afford a pre-purchase check, then ask around family and friends for somebody mechanically minded to have a look over the vehicle with you, including taking the vehicle for a road test,
●Check the registration expiry date.
●Always insist on the vehicle passing a new Warrant of Fitness as part of any final purchasing agreement, even if the WoF is still current but over a month old.