Purchasing a car can be a little confusing, especially with the number of brands and models available today. It gets a little trickier when buying a used/pre-owned car. At times it can feel like a daunting experience and even more so if you’re making a purchase for the very first time. There are several things to consider but the most important factor in making a purchasing decision is to physically do a car inspection yourself.

Here are some other tips that will help in your car buying journey with a pre-owned vehicle:

Finding a trouble-free car or a solid buy has nothing to do with luck and everything to do with investigative skills. Being able to spot potential problems with a pre-purchase car inspection can save you from expensive headaches in the long run.

car inspection

Do your homework

Begin with identifying brands and models that are less prone to problems and breakdowns. Keep those with a good reliability record at the top of mind. Speak to owners and scroll through the conversations of open forums. If there’s a car you’re interested in that has common trouble areas, then you’ll know where to pay attention when inspecting.

Window stickers

Some sellers may state details such as warranty in fine print, for example if a car’s motorplan was cancelled by the manufacturer for some reason. Or if a car is on sale “as is”. Sometimes dealers have repairs to make on a certain vehicle but haven’t done so yet and have the vehicle on display. This may also be listed on the window sticker. Once purchase is made the obligations can be thrown out the window. Read and question all details about the car you’re interested to ascertain there’s no hidden conditions.


It’s always good to take someone along with you when you go to see a car or for assistance with car inspection. Better yet, if you can get a mechanic to accompany you then he can do a full inspection. Do an inspection in the day and preferably not under floodlights as cars look shiny and body defects can be hidden. Also, inspect on a level surface and when the car hasn’t been driven for at least an hour.


When doing your car inspection start by checking the body condition of the vehicle on every panel. Take note/ check for the dents, scratches and rust. Examine the lines of the doors and fenders. Misaligned panels will indicate sloppy work and/or replacements. Examine the paintwork – the colour and finish should be the same on all panels. Remember to also inspect wheel wells and door panels. Open and close every door, including boot and bonnet, to check the hinges. This will also indicate long or hard use on the car.

Inspect the glass around the car for cracks, holes and/or stone chips. This is for repair cost purposes.

Check that all the lights work and that no fittings are fogged from moisture or missing.

Suspension – Take a walk around the car and look at its standing level. You can attempt bouncing each corner. The car will rebound once if the shock absorbers are in good shape.

Inspect tyres. The thread against the mileage of the vehicle is a good indicator of the driving the car underwent. A car with around 30,000 kilometers on the clock should probably still have original tyres.

A low mileage car with brand new tyres could be an indication of a clock that was rolled back.


In your car inspection, have a look at the interior. In the cabin check the seats, pedals, odour, instrument panel and infotainment system. Checking the lighter will indicate if the car was used by a smoker – if there’s an odd smell in the car. Some odours, including cigarette smoke, can be difficult to get rid off.

If the radio has a CD player or connectivity ports, test these to see if they work.

Roof – check for leaks especially if there’s a sunroof. Also, check the maneuverability of the sunroof/moonroof.

Boot – check for dampness/musty smells and whether there is a spare wheel.

Engine Bay

Checking the engine bay is important in a car inspection. It’s always best to check an engine when it’s cool. Inside the engine bay, dust and dirt are normal but look for oil splatters. Check the battery to see that it’s not covered in corrosion and that no wires are hanging loose.

Hoses and belts – all rubbers should be firm and supple and not cracked/torn/mushy. Drive belts shouldn’t be frayed either.

Check the different engine fluid levels and their colours. Also, inspect the radiator and battery.

Under the vehicle

Have a look at where the seller keeps the car usually parked to see if there are any spills on the floor. These would indicate leaks related to the oil, coolant, or transmission fluid.

The exhaust – heavy rust or damage will indicate a replacement.

Welding on the frame of the car would also suggest damaged sections that were replaced. Any fresh undercoating may also hide recently done structural repairs.

Buying from a private seller

It is unlikely that a private seller will let you take the vehicle for a private inspection or even to an approved inspection center. Although, you can request the seller to provide an accredited inspection report. However, the seller is under no obligation to pay for the vehicle inspection. So it is possible that the seller will ask you to sort the bill for the report but you can always try and negotiate the dealings around the inspection.

Buying from a dealership

When purchasing a vehicle from a dealership you should always request an inspection certificate or report. Dealers are likely to accommodate buyers more than a private seller would, as they are in the business of selling vehicles.

Dealerships will also not release the vehicle for you to take it for an independent or third-party inspection without any payment. However, they are able to provide an inspection report which you can request a copy of.

Dealers may include the car inspection report fee in your “On-the-Road” fees which may add to your finance/purchase price. So check your paperwork for these and try negotiating with your salesman around this.

Buying from an auction

Vehicle auctioneers don’t offer inspection reports so it is up to you to attend the viewing day. Attend the viewing day with your mechanic or someone who knows their cars well and inspect the ones you are interested in. All cars sold at an auction carry an inherent risk.

Inspection centers that can help you:

Bosch Service Center: https://boschcar.co.za/

Dekra (AA Certified): https://www.dekraauto.co.za/