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Car-buying advice: Avoiding a clunker

New research from the UK suggests that four out of five used cars bought have at least one hidden fault.

"Too many used car buyers are falling foul of dodgy cars from shifty sellers. Don't be hoodwinked into parting with your cash without conducting rigorous checks," says Shane Teskey of vehicle information company, HPI.

Here are his top tips — just as relevant for us South Africans — for avoiding a wreck...

1. It's just back here...
Are you viewing the car in full light, at the registered keeper's address? Or is it parked against a wall, undercover with dim light, in a backstreet alley? Scratches and dents are harder to see in poor light, or if the paintwork is wet. A common scam is to sell vehicles from car parks — don't fall for it.

2. It's been spruced up just for you.
Beware a clean engine bay. Most sellers will clean the car from top to bottom as they want to display it in its best light. However, sometimes this can be a ploy to disguise things such as leaks.

3. It looks just like new.
And some parts might be. New fittings that are not appropriate for the age and mileage of the car should make you take a second look. If the car has had new pedal rubbers fitted, or a brand new gear-knob, is excessive wear and tear being hidden?

4. She's ready to go out for a spin.
Be wise to the warm engine prior to the test drive. Ideally, start the car from both hot and cold. If the engine has been running prior to your test drive, there may be an issue around cold starts that is being hidden.

5. I'll show you that...
Beware vendor demonstrations. They know just how to flick a switch, turn a knob or pull a handle to ensure correct functionality of a system. Best try the item yourself.

6. A tyre-d old tale.
Replacement tyres may have been fitted because of uneven tyre wear and may be masking the presence of steering, suspension and alignment concerns. New tyres look good but can mask significant defects.

7. Know your history.
Ensure the maintenance book refers to the vehicle you're looking at. One should be cautious if details appear to have been altered or show signs of being tampered with.

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