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Buying a Used Car: What you need to Know Before You Go

We all agree that Buying a ‘gari ya Dubai’ or ‘gari ya mtush’ is a great way of cutting the cost of your driving as most new cars lose around 40% of their value in the first year.

Anyway, this kind of bargain has its own share of risks as there are never any guarantees. However, certain warning signs should have you moving on to the next vehicle or perhaps, another dealer.

There’s a lot to think about with a used car.  It is therefore important to take your time rather than rush into any deal. Taking your time before you buy could save you an awful lot more trouble and pain further on down the line, as much as possible, think with your head rather than your heart.

Checking the car for faults.
If it is possible, when going to buy any car, it is quite advisable to have an independent mechanic or automotive centre check it out properly on a hoist. It could save you thousands by revealing mechanical problems and previous damage.

First, have a thorough look round the car for any damage on the body: scratches, dents and so on. Look for those uneven gaps between the panels, as they could betray some problems underneath, such as poor repairs or damage from an accident. Uneven paint too could be a sign of a shoddy repair or rust. Fresh undercoating can hide a multitude of sins.

Check under the car, the bonnet and the interior carpet for rust welding marks, under the bonnet for signs of oil leaks on top of the engine, and underneath. Also check the amount of oil. If the level is low, the owner hasn’t been looking after the car properly.

A white mayonnaise-like substance around the oil filler cap is an indication of a damaged head gasket which can be very expensive to put right.

If both front wheels are not directly in front of the rear wheels, this could be an indicator that this particular car had been involved in a crash and ended up with a slightly twisted or `crabbed’ chassis. The tyres should also be in good condition and with plenty of tread. The gaps between the body panels should be equal otherwise this could mean that the car had been refitted badly or may have been in a crash. Another sign of a previous collision are bumpers and panels. If the two don’t line up, this can indicate a car that had been in a crash.

While checking the inside of the car, make sure that the steering wheel and dashboard are bolted on correctly, the front seats move properly, the seat-belts work correctly and all switches work.

Test drive the car.
When you are happy with the rest of the car, you can now hit the road…  Start the car with a cold engine, which will make is easier to reveal problems like poor starting or too much smoke. Before you set off, turn the steering wheel from one lock to the other to make sure there is no screeching, banging, or knocking. Test the handbrake by pulling it on and then try to drive off very gently. It should hold the car back

As much as possible, listen for strange noises from the engine and do not let the seller distract you by talking or turning up the radio. Drive on as many different roads surfaces as possible while using all the gears and checking to ensure that the gear change is slick and smooth. The clutch pedal should 'bite' between the top and middle of the pedal's travel.

All fluids should be on the inside. Sniff for anti-freeze leaks under the hood and for fuel leaks under the hood and near the tank. Beware also of too heavy air freshener smells inside the car.  That could be masking mildew from water leaks.

Remember, you should never examine the car at night or in bad weather since it is very hard to see the car’s condition properly.

Ask about service history
No matter how genuine the seller seems, you should always check the history of the car to make sure it’s not stolen, encumbered by an outstanding loan, or even a previous write-off. If you are buying from a Private Seller in Kenya, make sure you obtain copy of the logbook (Proof of ownership) from the owner, then go to Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) and, with a fee of Ksh. 500/-, undergo a search for the vehicle.

Make sure the seller’s name matches that in the package. If not, you may be dealing with a conman. The package will also tell you if the car was ever written off, if there are any outstanding liens against it, and if there is any reason why it can’t be licensed. Compare the mileage on the package with the car’s odometer to be sure it lines up. Beware too, if the seller cannot provide the vehicle’s service records, including maintenance and repairs, you may be in for a rude shock.

Do Not Buy a Car on Your First Visit
Use the first visit to look at and test-drive the car(s) you are interested in. Gather your information and then leave, and be adamant that you will not be buying a car today. This will communicate to the dealer that you are not going to be bullied. Watch what you say to the salespeople—especially if they ask you how much you are prepared to pay monthly—because whatever you say will be used as a starting point from which the dealer will go up when negotiations eventually start.

Do your homework
Check price guides and compare similar cars in the classifieds so you know as much as you can about the value of different cars to avoid being overcharged.

Be Warned!
Be wary of anything that seems like a real bargain, or has a very low mileage for its age.  There are bargains to be had but in general, if a deal looks too good to be true then it most likely is.

Time Your Purchase
Dealers run on a month-to-month basis. At the end of the month, many will accept lower offers to reach their goals and qualify for manufacturer bonuses. If you’re not picky about having the latest and greatest, the end of a model year is a great time to get good deals on remaining inventory. And December—particularly the last week before the New Year—is a slow time for car sales, so if you can hack some time out of your holiday-shopping schedule, it’s a wise time to buy.

Paperwork and payment
The first thing you should do is to write an Agreement of Sale, which should be signed by you, the owner and a witness. It is advisable to make your payments in the form of a banker’s cheque, which in turn act as a receipt. Obtain a copy of the previous owner’s PIN number and a copy of his/her ID card (The more information the better). Fill the Log Book Transfer Form and then go to KRA to register the changes on the logbook.  Pay the Purchase Tax and the Transfer Fee at the KRA complete this transaction by getting your own car insurance.

Before you hand over any money
Agree on the collection/delivery arrangements and confirm exactly what is included in the price. You should also confirm any work that the seller has agreed to do on the vehicle or in the sale agreement. Make sure you get a receipt showing vehicle details, price, terms of sale and the seller's details.

Please Note: Don't be pressured into buying
There are always other vehicles out there so if this one doesn't feel right in any way it's time to walk away. Be wary of and don't be swayed by  'sob stories'  like change of job, break-up of relationship, moving aboard, new baby on the way and so on.  The bottom line is that you're buying a car to help yourself, not anyone else.

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