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The Niccars guide to thoroughly checking out a used car

Buying a used car is a brilliant way to get a great vehicle for less. With that said, there are risks and, if you’re not careful, you could buy a lemon and end up breaking the bank on maintenance and repairs.

To make sure that doesn’t happen, you need to take the time to thoroughly check out any used car before you buy it.

Research online

Before you consider a certain make or model. you should research online. A simple Google search is a good way to start. Check its fuel efficiency, safety rating and look for any common problems that the car has. Take a look at a couple of reviews to find out more about how the car drives and how comfortable it is.


A little Google research goes a long way when buying a used car.

Inspect on your terms

You have the right to inspect the car from top to bottom at a time that’s convenient to you. If you don’t know much about cars you’re also fully within your rights to bring a knowledgeable friend or family member to help you make the decision.

You should also be able to test drive the car, look under the hood, inspect it closely and get quotes for any work that needs doing. If the seller says no to any of these requests, it’s usually better to walk away.

Here’s what you should look out for:

  • Rust: particularly on main structural supports of the car, under floor mats and on weight-bearing parts.
  • Paint: look out for any ripples in the paint or different shades of colour which could indicate damage that’s been covered up.
  • Tyres: tyre tread must be at least 1.5 mm deep across ¾ of the tread pattern. Look for the wear indicator in the centre of the tyre’s groove to check.
  • Doors and panels: open and shut all doors and including the bonnet and the boot to ensure they are aligned.
  • Dash: check that all the knobs, dials and buttons on the dash work including wipers and adjustable mirrors.
  • Lights: test the lights and have someone confirm that they work.
  • Seats and belts: check that the driver’s seat is comfortable and that all seats and seatbelts are in good condition.
  • Engine: take a look under the bonnet and check for any obvious signs of frayed wiring, oil leaks or drips around the radiator or under the car.
  • Dash lights: when you release the handbrake, the light goes off. There should be no warning lights on the dash.

Take your time when inspecting and don’t let the owner or salesperson rush you. You might feel a little awkward doing it but it’s a good idea to take a checklist to the inspection to make sure you don’t miss anything.

If you don’t feel confident looking the car over yourself, your other option is to get a professional inspection and report.


Going for a drive before you buy is always a good idea.

Check the paperwork

Before you buy, it’s always best to check that all the car’s paperwork lines up. First, make sure that its certificate of registration matches the identity of the seller. Next, if you’re at a dealer, they’ll have to provide you with a sale agreement – make sure you read this thoroughly and understand it. If you’re unsure, don’t hesitate to take it away and read it over.

Before you complete the change of ownership, you should also check that there’s no money owing on the car and that it hasn’t been reported stolen.

Last of all, you’re going to have to complete a change of ownership, which can be done online through the NZTA website or in-person at an AA centre. If you’re buying from a dealer, they’ll handle most of the paperwork for you but it’s still worth double-checking everything.

Go for a drive

If everything looks good, your final check should be to drive the car. Take your time and make sure you pay attention to all the details during the drive as this is a great chance to spot anything wrong.

  • Listen for clanging, squeaking, grinding or whining noises particularly when you change gears, apply the brakes or come to a stop. These could indicate mechanical problems.
  • Be aware of any smells in the car. Dampness could indicate that the roof is leaky while petrol or oil may indicate an exhaust leak.
  • Make sure that the car accelerates and brakes smoothly and can stop smoothly without veering to either side.
  • Gears change smoothly without any grinding or bumping sounds.

Buying a used car is a smart way to get the car you want without paying new car prices. If you take the time to inspect the car closely and make sure you know exactly what you’re buying, you could find a used car that’s as good as new.

If you’re ready to start searching and checking cars out or you need a bit of advice on what to buy, drop in to your nearest Nicholson Auto. We’ve built our reputation on great service and integrity, so you can be sure we’ll see you right.


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