So congratulations on deciding to buy your first car! If you’re going the second-hand route (which can be a great way to go for first-time buyers) you need to know a few important things:

Firstly, you should always try to take a mechanic with you to check out the state of the car. Not your brother’s friend’s cousin who dabbles in fixing cars over weekends. No. We mean an actual mechanic who does this for a living and is knowledgeable about cars and their inner workings to the extent where you can guarantee that they’ll actually give you the correct advice.

But we understand that sometimes it’s not possible to have a mechanic with you. Either way, here’s what you should consider when you look at the car according to the AA and Wheels24:

When you test drive it

-    Do any of the warning lights go off?
-    Are the brakes effective or do you really need to exert yourself to get the car to stop?
-    Does the car pull to one side when you brake?
-    Are there any unusual noises?
-    Does the handbrake work effectively?
-    Does the steering wheel vibrate or pull to one side?
-    Try to start the car with the headlights on, if it doesn’t start immediately, there may be an electrical problem.

When you look at the engine

-    Are there any strange noises when the engine is started from cold?
-    Is there excessive smoke coming out of the exhaust when you start the car?
-    Is the clutch in good condition? Any strange noises?
-    Check the oil level – too low means the car could have been neglected, too high might mean that the car uses a lot of oil.

Locks, windows and controls

-    Does the car have central locking? Does it and the remote work properly?
-    Do all of the locks work properly with the key?
-    Do all the windows (including your sunroof) work properly?
-    Do things like the aircon, radio, and any other minor controls work properly?

Look and feel

-    Does the paint job look smooth? Has it been redone recently?
-    Are there any dents, rust spots or scratches?
-    Are the tyres evenly worn? Check for feathering or bad wheel alignment
-    Check the boot of the car for wear and tear or any cracks or holes


Wheels24’s Janine Van der Post says: “Buying a second-hand car is no child’s play. It’s a serious business and needs serious homework done. Research, compare prices and try to find out what a car’s book value and resale value is worth from any dealer – depending on the make of car you’re considering to buy. This is merely to give you an idea what a car is worth, so that you can negotiate a better price.

“Always take someone along who knows something about cars, not only for your own safety, but because an extra set of eyes will always spot something when you might be seduced by buying what looks like a good buy.

“Look out for variations in the body colour, and run your hands along the car to feel its texture and where there might be any differences in the body itself or in the paint – this indicates the car might have been in a crash. Open the boot and bonnet and check the rubbers for any bad rust spots too.

“Definitely check the tyres too, but in most cases I would recommend that a new set of tyres would be in order on any second-hand car as soon as you can afford to do so.

“Lastly, don’t be bamboozled by extra features like a sunroof – this too could be hiding bad rust or leaks; and don’t bat your eyelids for a fancy sound system or some hot wheels either – these are niceties that could make you overlook important issues.”

For more info on what to look for when buying a used car on Wheels24