Avoid buying a bad vehicle from a dealer

Begin with the Seller

When on the market for a used vehicle, an internet search often yields results from various car dealerships.
Typically, car dealers conform to codes and practices which reduce risk for the buyer. 
Buying privately usually seems to carry a better looking price tag, it unfortunately comes with higher risk.
This does not necessarily mean that you're safe from buying a bad vehicle if you buy a car from a dealer. Like vehicles, car dealerships come in all shapes and sizes. This means that along with shopping for a quality used car, you need to shop for a good dealer too. To avoid buying a bad vehicle, a dealer should offer:
  1. The option to take out a mechanical warranty for a period of time;
  2. The vehicle's service history;
  3. A system of checking each vehicle thoroughly for faults and fixing them;
  4. Backing from the dealer should anything go wrong or the vehicle somehow does not meet your expectations.
If you do decide to go with a private seller, invest a good amount of time in checking and rechecking that both the seller and car itself are trustworthy. If something doesn't look, smell, or feel right, walk away.

Avoid Buying a Lemon

Take a History Lesson

Looking into the car's past will help you to figure out what kind of future you'll end up with it. The more owners the car has had, the more difficult your task.

A car that has been used to commute 80km a day every day in peak traffic may not be such a good buy when compared to the same model that spent most of its time in the garage and was only taken out on weekends.
Car records don't tell the whole story, so you'll need to keep a sharp eye out for signs of accident damage, flooding, and other tell-tale no-no's.

Push All of the Right Buttons

Go for a test drive but before you turn the key, be sure to twiddle, tweak, and twist everything that there is in that interior to make sure that everything does what it is supposed to.
The test drive itself should not just be a little cruise around the block. It's a test drive. Put the car through its paces in an open car park. Test the brakes, take sharp corners, drive in tight circles, and drive without hands to see if it pulls in one direction.
Needless to say, if it smokes, walk away.

Accident Damage

Here are some quick ways in which to check for accident damage:
  1. Check that body panels are original, smooth and join evenly;
  2. Check suspension by leaning on the bumpers - on letting go, the car should bounce gently once or twice;
  3. Check that the tyres are not unevenly worn;
  4. Check for frayed seat belts, as well as any cracked components in the interior.
If major accident repairs have been done on the car, unless you're really strapped for cash and it's a real bargain, walk away. There is a vast array of good quality pre owned cars for sale on the market - why take the risk?

Start with a Clean Slate

Make sure that the vehicle has been fully paid off by its previous owner, that there are no fines outstanding, and that it has been continuously registered for its full life. If there is money owed on the car, you could be in for a nasty surprise and left stranded without a vehicle.
Ask as many questions as you can think of, and if there's any notion that the seller is not willing to offer an answer, walk away.

Avoid buying a Stolen Vehicle

Generally, if the car is financed, the bank will run a history report. If buying privately and/or cash, these basic precautions could save you from falling victim:
  1. See that the engine number and VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) code on the physical vehicle match those on the registration papers.
  2. Ask for a police clearance certificate, especially when buying from a private seller.
  3. Obtain a car check report of the vehicle through http://www.transunion.co.za.
  4. Run an online check on http://www.autobid3.co.za/, for a list of stolen vehicles. Though not a comprehensive list by any means, it gives details such as the make, model, colour, VIN number, and/or registration number of the stolen car.

Needless to say, even if you suspect that the vehicle is stolen, walk away.