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Guide to buying a second-hand car

Guide to buying a second-hand car

Our guide tells you how to verify the claims of the seller and the car's quality, while listing the pros and cons of the four routes you can takes to find your used car.

As cars lose much of their value in the first year, buying a used car makes a lot of sense. But it requires much involvement from you. You need to understand the car, know what maintenance costs you’re looking at, check if the papers are in order, and figure out what the seller is just making up, aside from bargaining on the price. It’s a hassle, alright, but well worth the effort if you can find the right car at a good price. Here’s what to look for while buying a second-hand car, followed by where to find the car you’re looking for.

What to do?

Do a magnet test: Magnets can pinpoint corroded and rusted parts of the car body which have been repaired or find if any work has been done to fill up holes in the body. If you move a magnet along the body of the car, you may find that it doesn’t stick to a particular spot. These are spots on which a touch-up job has been done. If you find too many of them, avoid the car.

Ask for NCB certificate: A no-claim bonus (NCB) certificate from the insurer is a good way to know that the car has not been involved in a serious accident. If the bonus for a year is zero, it means that the car was involved in an accident big enough for the owner to make a claim. If you’re still suspicious, you can hire a person to do a background check for you by checking RTO records. You could also check the suspension. The suspension is mounted on metal plates called aprons. The company seal missing from the area indicates that the car has been in an accident.

Don’t fall for the paint: A well-painted car is nice to look at, but don’t judge a car by the quality of its paint job. Experts say that advances in painting technology mean that it’s now easy to replicate the look of a company paint job.

Odometer check: Odometer tampering is one of the most common ways in which car dealers inflate the price of a used car. One solution is checking the reading with the service records, but these aren’t always available. Also, the car should have done no more than 50,000 km.

Examine rubber lining: Check the rubber lining on the insides of the doors for slits. Too many cuts mean that the body has been cut open to carry out repairs underneath the rubber lining. You also need to ensure that the quality of the new lining is proper.

Check wheel alignment: You can check the wheel alignment by looking at the edges of the tyres. Any uneven wear-and-tear suggests the wheels are not properly aligned. Misaligned wheels can put you at a risk of accidents in the future.

Oil condition: If the oil level is below normal and/or the oil contains impurities or sludge, it means that the owner has not taken good care of the car. Stay away from such cars.

Test electrical parts: Electrical components, such as the headlights, are expensive to repair or replace. Have a mechanic test each and every electrical component of the car to make sure that it is in working order.

Where to buy?

Personal network: The first step, and this would come naturally, is telling a few friends who are more familiar about cars – and perhaps their mechanics – than you. These leads may not be very good, and may take much time, but you never know what you could find. Deals won’t come pouring in, though. In any case, you need to be very careful about what you’re getting yourself into. Make sure you have a good mechanic and an RTO contact to help you with the necessary checks that need to be done.

Web portals: Portals such as and charge sellers a fee for putting their ad up, but you can view it free of charge. These can be convenient, as you can check by brand preference and budget. Also, you’re likely to find a wide range of cars, as compared to the personal network route. Alternately, you can go through websites like and to find cars. However, these transactions are also based on trust. The websites only put you in contact with the seller, so you’ll have to be very thorough when you check the car.

Private dealers: Dealers also sell cars, which they usually advertise as pre-owned. Expect to pay more than you would if you’d found the car yourself. You must pay the dealer his margin. But there isn’t any reason to be less cautious. Remember that a car is easy to make good-looking externally; you’ll still need to perform all the checks. One good thing, however, is that the dealer will be able to arrange for financing, should you need it. The bigger the dealer, the more likely you’ll see a good range of cars.

Organised dealers: If you’re not sure of what you’re doing, your best bet is the organised sector. The better-known options are Maruti True Value, Hyundai Advantage, Mahindra First Choice, Carnation and Dr Car. These dealers hold a considerable advantage over private dealers, but they won’t be cheap, particularly given that these dealers are known to purchase only accident-free cars, which are then checked by professionals. These dealers also provide warranties on their cars, but you must pay extra for this. Either way, it does signify that the dealer has confidence in the condition of the car.

For more on organized second-hand car dealers, go here.

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