Consumer Advice | Part I | Want To Buy A Car? Here’s How To Examine Its Exterior

How to buy a car - exterior examination
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Not all of us prefer or can afford to buy a car that’s brand new.  The Pakistani market is flooding with Japanese cars, which are indeed quite expensive. There are even 1000CC cars in the market which cost close to one and a half million.

So, most of us opt for used cars. There are several old cars which may come in almost everyone’s budget but they come with a great deal of worry.

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Matters like vehicle registration verification to paint job, body repair and engine health is a great deal of concern for the buyers.

Here are some tips, which can help you a little in identifying the right car if you are unable to get professional help.

Exterior Examination
Paint Job

Now, the most important part is that the car you have seen in the advertisement should look good. We obviously wouldn’t want to buy a car that has faded paint.

If the paint looks fine, then there’s another concern, “Does the vehicle have its original paint?”

I personally feel that this is a useless rule as long as the car hasn’t been in a major accident.

Major accidents are of multiple types. e.g. – Head on collision, severe trunk area damage, pillar repair or car being flipped over etc.

Identifying if a vehicle is repainted is easy and difficult at the same time and there are multiple ways to find out.

Get the vehicle parked in direct sunlight and observe the reflection of the vehicle. Repaired vehicle in almost every case will have an uneven reflection. If you are looking at another vehicle in the reflection, then you will find the reflection going up and down or maybe curving in and out.

If the above doesn’t work for you then inspect the car thoroughly. Painters while painting mask off the areas which they don’t need to paint. Hence leaving clues for us to identify. There is always a roughness due to over spray and smooth movement on the inner panels and then the exterior body will identify the difference in the surface smoothness giving away the paint job.

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Every time a vehicle is repainted, putty is used. This material helps in filling the small holes and cracks. Since its layer is quite thick, we can identify if a body part is painted or not by knocking on the body part. A repainted body part will produce a deep or heavy sound however a body part with its original paint will always produce a light sound with a hollow effect. It is in fact physics, tapping on a thick or heavy layer creates a deep sound and this is exactly what putty does to the body part.

Pictures below clearly show that the red car has an uneven reflection whereas the black car shows an even reflection.

Repainted cars and accidents
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Body Work

Identifying if a vehicle has been into a major accident or not or does the car have a rusty body again calls for good observation and there are clues for us to identify.

A vehicle has an identical left and right side. It is like two pieces have been put together and glued from the center. The only difference is the left or right. Now, it is very easy to check for panel gaps.

Clearly monitor one side of the car, observe the body gap between the fender and doors, then gap between the door and passenger cabin. Check the lining of the vehicle as every vehicle has body curves going from front to back, also check gap between the trunk, hood and the body. After a complete observation proceed to the other side of the vehicle and compare your findings. If both the sides are identical in gaps and body curves, then it’s a good news.

Now keep in mind what we said in the beginning, both sides of any vehicle’s body are identical. The only difference is that one is right and one is left. Any vehicle involved in an accident which might have resulted in a damage to structure of car is identifiable. This goes from fenders, doors, pillars, roof, engine compartment to the trunk.

Pictures below clearly show there is a huge gap between the door and the fender in the picture on the left. This vehicle actually sideswiped and the entire front end has shift to one side.

Large Gap
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To find out rust in the body, we may need to dig deeper in the vehicle’s body. By lifting floor carpet to check the condition of the floor, looking under the hood to see every part is rust free. Looking in to the trunk and even under the car. This completely depends on how easily can we access the hidden areas of the vehicle without offending the owner of the vehicle.

Inspecting Tires

This is probably the easiest one. Every tire company is liable to put the month and year of manufacture so we know exactly how old is the tire.

Ideally, tires should be replaced in 3-4 years as the rubber gets harder with time, which results in poor handling, braking and also starts damaging the suspension.

Secondly every tire comes with an indicator telling us how close are we to wearing it off. It is a swollen line in the thread of a tire which serves as an indicator to the life of the tire.

A tire’s sidewall also tells the quality of the rubber. Old tire cracks easily and the sidewall will have visible cracks. If you are about to buy a car with worn out tires, then do keep in mind that new tires are quite expensive and is an added cost to the price of the car.

Below, we have a used Yokohama tire in good condition. We can clearly see that the tire has a long way to go since the rubber doesn’t seem to have a lot of cracks and the tire has a good thread left before it’s worn out.

Inspecting tires before buying car

All the information above is only useful information for the beginners. It might not 100% work for everyone as some paint jobs and body repairs are impossible to catch. It is highly recommended to take along professional help whenever opting to buy a used car. We will be continuing in the upcoming episodes where we will discuss a vehicle’s engine quality and some tips about interior.