Buying a second-hand car? Remember these facts before signing the cheque

Gitanjali Diwakar | Updated on March 09, 2021

Here are a few aspects that could you make the right choice

Life seems to have returned to a relatively normal state after many months of lockdowns and numerous restrictions.

Yet, many are still hesitant to use public transport systems.

Does owning your own vehicle resolve these issues? YES – to a large extent.

Now, amid pay cuts, job losses and a rather unfavourable financial scenario – brand new cars might be a bit heavy on the pocket. So, perhaps second-hand vehicle would be wise choice!

Here is a question: Aren’t secondhand vehicles the scrap that people discard? Not exactly. 

The value of most vehicles depreciates the moment they leave the showroom. For the sentimental, the vehicles continue to be in their possession (till it is ruined in its truest sense). For the practical, the vehicle is eventually sold off as it begins to become a burden to maintain or service as time goes by. 

Interestingly, many even sell off their vehicles for reasons like upgrading to car with a better stereo system or even a sunroof!

But, like any major purchase, you must do your research and be smart.

Here are a few aspects that could you make the right choice.


The paperwork 

A) Registration papers: Ensure that the registration papers of the vehicle are in the name of the original owner. In other words, he or she should be the FIRST owner. This is applicable even if the vehicle’s number has been changed upon moving to another state. More importantly, check as to who is selling the car. Unless it is the original owner, the details of the ownership have to be checked even if you are going through a reputed dealer. 

B) Hypothecation: Ensure that there is no pending Hypothecation and purchases on the loan. In other words, ensure the car should no longer be an item that has been pledged to the bank for getting a loan. Such cars must have the original "cancelled hypothecation" sticker on the registration card. Also, make sure that there are outstanding traffic violation tickets.

C) Insurance certificate: Check the details of the vehicle's insurance cover. You may ask the owner the following queries: 

Is there comprehensive insurance? If yes, how many days is it valid for?

Is there 3rd party insurance? If yes, how many days is it valid for?

What were the claims made against the car? (The higher the claim the riskier)

D) Pollution certificate: Check if the vehicle has a valid pollution certificate.

E) Service papers: Look at the service papers and check if the regular company servicing has been done at the recommended distance. (often it is approximately 5000 km or 10,000 km)


Find out about the distance travelled by the car over the specific period of them. That is the car could have travelled 16,000 km in six years or 45,000 km in six years. An average of less than 10,000 km per year is good. It is advisable to not choose a car that has run more than 50,000 km.


Check the date of manufacture of the car’s battery. This would be etched on the top of the battery. It is ideal if it is less than two years old. A battery that is more than three years scores a negative point.

Clutching it right

If you have driven long enough, you would know that the car has to move smoothly when you shift to the first gear after starting your engine. If it doesn’t, then you need to think twice because a failure in the mechanism could make life quite dangerous on the road. For those of you who are buying a gearless car or an AMT, see how the vehicle functions each time you press the throttle and let go.

Open the engine and take a look at its interiors. The engine must look clean and dry (dusty is fine). It should not have any oil spills inside or at the base of the engine. Check if the radiator water is adequate. Ask an expert to check the quality of the oil by looking at the oil dipstick. The dipstick should be wiped clean after pulling it out initially. It must then be re-inserted and checked again. This will let you know more about the oil levels and the transparency of the oil. Golden yellow to brown and transparent oil is a good sign. But if the oil is black, translucent or opaque, it's bad and implies that the engine is bad or poorly maintained.


The exhaust

Take a look at the exhaust. See if there is any smoke coming out of it when you accelerate, if the car is in the neutral gear, or if you are about to start the car. All smoke is bad but WHITE smoke is a huge NO.



The upholstery and seats should not be torn or cut anywhere.

Lift the floor mats and watch out for patches that rusty or with a difference in the paint used. 

Open the doors and look at the panel as well as the edges of the doors. These should be uniform and smooth, even on the edges where the door panel meets the body of the car. If there is a difference in quality between the doors, it is likely that vehicle has been banged or has had some major repairs. The surface must be smooth. You can do so by merely running your hand on the car.

Lift the bonnet and look for the same roughness and re-painting marks. The radiator should look ‘normal’ for the age of the car. If the radiator looks disproportionately NEW ask if it has been changed at any point in time. If it has been changed, it is would be wise to not purchase the car as it is likely to have been in a crash. 

Do the same for the boot of the car

The AC should be cooling reasonably well. All the lights - including the dim, flash, park lights, brake lights and indicators must be working perfectly. You can check the lights by requesting somebody to turn them on while you assess them from the outside. Check if the wipers work too. But do so ONLY AFTER ‘watering’ the windscreen


Check all the four tyres, and the stepney

There should not be any retreading on the tyres. Ask the owners if any tyres have been retreaded. You could check for yourself by taking a look at the edge of the tyres.

These treads must have a depth of at least 5 mm.

Each tyre should have been uniformly and evenly worn out. That is the outer edge treads and the inner edge tyres should look similar. If there is dissimilarity, then ask the owner about it. It may mean that the wheels have to be balanced and realigned. 

Often the stepney is not of very good quality. But as long as it is not flat, you are safe.

Check if all or at least twp tyres are of the same brand. Eg: Two MRFs in front and two JKs in the rear etc. This is to ensure a greater degree of comfort while driving you car. So long as the tyres are of good quality, your drive is bound to be a smooth experience.

Most importantly, TEST DRIVE the car. Fancy features like an expensive stereo system or a sunroof should not steer you away from the basics. Also, it is important for you to set a budget as always. Don’t jump to the costs quoted. Remember with each average or below average feature or modification, the price of the vehicle comes down. So, unleash the negotiator in you. Today, there are numerous platforms that can help you give an estimate for second-hand cars. Use those sources and enjoy the experience.

Published on February 18, 2021

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