Five ‘Under The Hood’ Secrets You Must Read Before Buying A New Car
When buying a new car, it’s easy to examine its physical appearance and get a feel for how it drives. However, what you really need to be assured of before you make a purchase is how mechanically sound the vehicle is. As most consumers walking into a car lot have no mechanical background, it is this aspect of a car purchase which can be the most unnerving. A car might look great on the outside, with awesome interiors too, but under the bonnet could be hiding some undesirable secrets.
However, you don’t need to be trained mechanic to check out some of the key signs of mechanical damage, issues or wear and tear. All you need to know is what to look for. A short examination under the hood could tell you a lot of the vehicle that you are thinking of buying and save you a lot of money.
Here’s five things you need to examine:
- Oil contamination
The first thing you need to check is the level and quality of the oil in the car. You can check the oil by pulling out the long dipstick.
What you want to see is clear, brown oil deposits on the end of the dip stick – any signs of a milky or cloudy residue is a problem. Likewise, unscrew and check the oil cap for the same residue. The presence of such residue usually indicates that the oil has not been changed in a long time, and therefore may not have been properly cared for or that the coolant is running into the oil, which indicates the head gasket is blown and the car is nearing a very expensive fix.
- Originals bolts, parts and chassis components
A crashed vehicle is unlikely to ever be the same again mechanically and structurally. However, you can do some checks to help you identify if the car has been crashed.
If a vehicle has been involved in an accident, especially a head-on collision, the vehicle repair team will likely have had to replace or at least some of the original parts to try and fix the damage. Look out for any signs that original bolts have been removed or replaced – is there a line where they previously sat? Are any of the bolts off-colour in comparison to others?
Has the crossmember that supports the engine been repainted or does it look bent or damaged in any way? Does any aspect of the chassis look newer? Has the chassis been repainted?
Check fluid levels – especially the coolant level – before test driving, monitor again afterwards and again on a return visit. Once you take the car for a test drive, check the area where it was originally parked for any signs of fluid leaks. Examine the oil pan under the car for any leaks and check the seals around all fluid containers under the hood.
- Check the condition of hoses and belts
Check the hoses and timing/fan belts under the hood for visible signs of wear and tear such as cracks and worn material. Also, check for “patch-up” jobs where a hose has been taped or glued to fix damage temporarily. If the dealer is claiming these have recently been changed, ask to see receipts.
All too often car owners drive out of their garage with their new vehicle only to discover weeks or months later that hoses and belts were never fully replaced and are presented with a huge cost to fix them out of the blue.
- Check for unusual scents/smells
Some signs of mechanical issues or wear and tear are not always visible to the naked eye but indicative by certain scents that are omitted from the vehicle. After you take the car for a test drive, turn the engine off and pop the hood to observe for any tell-tale scents or smells. If you smell burnt oil, this can be a strong sign of an oil leak. Is there a smell of antifreeze? This can be a huge red flag that there may be a coolant leak.
We always highly recommend that you have a mechanic check out any used vehicle you intend on buying. However, the five key checks highlighted above can unearth some of the most significant vehicle issues and can enable you self-assess a vehicle’s mechanical condition quickly on your first visit to the lot.