31 December 2022
Know What To Look For When Buying A Used Car

The used car market is a treasure trove that many are able to score a bargain with. However, as with all things used, what would you need to look out for in order to snag the best deals?

Have no fear, AutoApp has you covered on that. This article breaks down the common aspects you can look out for when shopping for that next set of wheels. Make an informed decision, and you’ll be smiling all the way to the bank with your new ride.


The engine is the very heart of the car and is obviously a key component. Over time, stresses induced when driving will invite huge amounts of wear and tear, particularly if an engine hasn’t been regularly serviced.

When dealing with a used car, it is a good practice to turn the engine over and let it idle for a short duration. This enables you to hear for any potential defects that might exist. Odd sounds are not something that would come from a prim and proper engine.

As an additional safety net, when possible you can also have a mechanic look over the engine bay, to ensure that all is in good order before committing to that big purchase.


One of the easiest things to spot on a used car are fluid leaks. There are numerous fluids that run in, around and under the engine, and a well-maintained car shouldn’t spring a leak. 

When you view a used car, check underneath for signs of any fluid leak. If there’s oil on the ground under the car or lots of sludge under the car, chances are an oil leak has occurred.

It’s good practice to open the bonnet too and check all around the engine for other leaks. Oil leaks are usually brown or black in nature. Coolant, also known as antifreeze in some countries, is usually green, pink or yellow, often denoted by their almost fluorescent-like appearance. Gearbox and power steering fluid are both reddish brown in colour. How to tell them apart? Well, gearbox fluid is usually thicker in consistency, while power steering fluid is more viscous.

If you see any such leak on the car, it’s worth getting it seen by an expert so you know the exact problem, and what it’ll cost to fix. Fluids may seem like a trivial matter, but can sometimes cost a bomb to repair.


Apart from leaks, checking the oil in an engine is an extremely easy task that shouldn’t be forgotten during the buying process. Pop out the dipstick, and check if the reading is at the correct level. The oil shouldn’t be discoloured or has the wrong consistency too.

If it’s possible, check to see if the oil filter has been properly serviced, and not something that has been left there since the car left the showroom.

Head gasket

This one is a little more advanced, but it’s worth a read if you want to make sure an engine is in proper working order. The head gasket is a thin engine component that sits between the lower and upper parts of the engine. Its purpose is to prevent coolant or engine oil from entering the engine’s cylinders, much like a seal.

A blown head gasket is never a good sign, as this can cause a variety of problems. Cars suffering from this may experience a smoky exhaust, loss of power, a rough-sounding engine, or even total engine failure.

So how do you go about examining this? Make sure the engine is cool, then proceed to remove the oil cap from the top of the engine. If you see white or light brown sludge with a sauce-like consistency, you’re probably looking at the aftermath of a blown head gasket. At that juncture, it’s probably worth walking away from the deal. A blown head gasket may conceal a lot more problems underneath, and it’s hard to know what other damage the problem has caused.

Exhaust smoke colours 

Turn over the engine and walk to the exhausts of the car. A little puff of smoke when cold starting an engine is usually nothing serious, but watch the exhaust for a few minutes as it’s a telltale sign of a problem if it remains. 

Blue smoke means the engine is burning oil, which could indicate a blown head gasket or problems with the internal engine seals. 

White smoke can be harder to spot as it is hard to distinguish from steam, but excessive white smoke can also point to a head gasket failure. Unlike blue smoke, it is now coolant entering the cylinders and being burned with fuel.

Black smoke, the least concerning of the three, is usually caused by the engine burning too much fuel. It’s usually easier to rectify than the other two, but should be addressed too regardless in order to get a healthy running engine.


Examining the exterior of a car is one of the easiest visual inspections you can do. What you’re looking out for are any signs of repainting or replacement panels that might suggest the car has previously been in an accident.

For older cars, it is also a good practice to check for rust on all metal body panels. An early indication is bubbling under the paint but it can lead to visible rust if untreated. 

Wheels and tyres

Check all four wheels, plus the spare wheel if the car has one, and look for signs of damage to each wheel. Kerb rash is a common sight and isn’t usually a serious problem, but wheels that are bent or have large dents in the rims will need repairing or replacing.

Check all of the threads of the tyres too. They should be free from cuts, splits, gouges or bulges. Tyres are the only thing in contact with the road, so keeping them in good condition is essential for safety. If you see any of these signs, they’ll need replacing. 


One good tip we can give is to inspect the condition of a car’s interior. This is a good indication of whether the car’s mileage and odometer are genuine. A car with 20,000 kilometres on the clock should have an interior that looks almost like new. If the car looks tired and worn, you know something is up.

Of course, checking for rips or tears in the upholstery and cabin is good. But, what’s more, important is to check that all of the equipment works, from the lights to the HVAC system. All electrical features should be in working order. Budget for repairs if you spot anything amiss. 

Mileage and warning lights

While performing the other engine checks listed above, it is also good to check if there are any visible warning lights on the car.

Cars that have dashboards that light up like Christmas trees are definitely a sign you should probably stay away.

Take a test drive

You can only know so much when the car is static and parked. Whenever possible, request to take a test drive. Some buyers may not entertain this option, but be firm with them. Any reputable dealer will be happy to accompany you on a drive.

Try the car at a variety of speeds, and listen out for engine noise and any irritating rattles. Make sure the brakes and clutch are responsive and in full working order, too.

Used car documentation

The holy grail of used car purchases is a folder with all of the car’s documentation. This enables you to check the car’s history for any work carried out and all parts fitted. Plus it allows you to check the mileage against what’s displayed on the dashboard.

A service book is a valuable document too, as you can see who has serviced the car, and when.

If you are still not sure, fret not! AutoApp is here to help. Our team of experts can help assess your car, and determine any faults that may be present. Our trusted service translates to peace of mind for you!