An idiot’s guide to buying a used car in India: 5 pertinent points

Needless to say, just like any other purchase, be prepared to walk away if something does not feel right. You would do this a few times before you hit the bullseye.

BHPian hothatchaway recently shared this with other enthusiasts.

I was on the lookout for a used car recently and did some reading up on the subject to come up with a guide. Sharing it.

Identify your need

First things first, identify your needs ie size, performance ease of ownership and your budget. If it is 3 lakhs then do not quote more than 2.75 if you are talking to a dealer. Try to keep a buffer for immediate after purchase repairs and do overs. For a Japanese hatch, this should not exceed 25-30k (including tires) if you have done your evaluation well. For sedans especially the temperamental European ones, this could be upto 10% of a car when bought new. The car may be available at a mouthwatering price but spares will not come at a discount. This is especially true for lux models.

Unless you are hung up on a particular make/model, do not be constrained by body type/make/model. You may want a sedan but if you are looking for a daily drive and are a family of three, a well kept hatch may serve you better. Try to ensure that the car has at least 4 years left before registration expires. That way, even if you trade it in after 2 years, you will still have decent resale. I did not consider diesel options. I was wary of costly repairs if my evaluation went wrong and was wary of an impending ban on diesel cars. Cars are more expensive down south than elsewhere so bear that in mind. The Japanese makes are more expensive than others for reliability and easy availability of spares. So if you know a good garage and are confident that you can pick up a ride in decent shape, you can consider the Fiats and Skodas which have bad resale. They are not bad cars and not everybody has a bad experience provided you know a good independent garage. The money you can save while buying one will help when you spruce up your ride. I almost picked up a used Linea Tjet at a mouthwatering price. The trims needed some work but the car was mechanically sound and drove like a dream. But fate willed otherwise.

Scouting for a deal

Unless you have a good source who can sniff out deals, you will sift through the usual suspects ie FB marketplace, OLX et al. Most of the options I found were just hustlers who posted cars at inflated prices on behalf of the actual seller and talking to these chaps are a waste of time for the most part. You will have to be patient. The belief is that its always better to buy from a direct seller but that is not always the case in my opinion. You can avoid unrealistic quotes which come from the emotional attachment of ones pride and joy by dealing with someone who earns his bread by plying this trade. Of course, it is on the buyer to do his due diligence. In my experience, the actual dealers (not the time pass hustlers) will inflate the intended sale price by 15% and will immediately reduce that the moment he senses that the buyer is genuine. They also have an urgency to move inventory.

So once you have zeroed in on options which seem to fit your need, you could do the following preliminary checks solely basis the information included in the classified ad –

Number of kms on the Odo (either extremes are red flags, I prefer a car which has done 75k in 5 years than just 15. Cars are meant to run and are often in ship shape when they do)

Number of owners (for every additional owner, you could try to haggle the price down by at least 10%)

Insurance validity – To me, a car with valid insurance indicates its roadworthiness. The copy of the current insurance reveals valuable clues like its IDV (great for a baseline to start negotiations for non popular models) and the NCB % which may indicate if any claims were made recently. Renewal requires reinspection and no RTO process can happen with a lapsed insurance. In fact, you cannot even do a legal test drive!

State of registration – Unless you are well hooked up with RTOs, avoid buying lets say a MH registered car in Hyd. The bargain offered is for a reason

Traffic Offences – If the ad reveals the registration number, check online if any challans are pending. In Telengana for eg, the challan also carries a photo of the car which will reveal the current exterior condition. Classified ads often carry images from the car’s better days in the past.

The call

Once you have identified options worth pursuing, its time to make the first call. I tried getting as many details as possible at this stage as I did not want to run across town through mad traffic running after every red herring. This is what I tried verifying during the call.

Owner or poser? For individual listings, this was my opening question, the hustlers would usually get filtered out at this stage if you probe further.

Year and month of manufacture. Some sellers mention Dec 2010 cars as 2011 registered

Both keys available? Remember that in the case of theft, the insurer will ask for both keys. This may not be a deal breaker if the car is a decade old but remember to factor this in when its time to negotiate the final price.

Validate facts – Insurance validity if not mentioned, try and get a copy if its a dealer as the RC could be dated. When was the last service done and any major repairs. Ask if the vehicle is stationery and for how long. Always better to get a car which is running as thats what they are meant to do.

If you are after a particular model, like the VRS or the Tjet, research for common issues. So on the call you could check if the alternator or the mounts are still good.

Availability of original documents, especially the RC. Check if the car has a loan running as that would add a step to the final documentation

Reiterate the quoted price and see the reaction. Some sellers (especially dealers) may revise immediately by 10-15%

Schedule a visit asap if everything checks out. You have to move fast as good deals won’t wait for anyone.

Visit and test drive

There are videos on YT and I found the series of videos on buying a used car by ChrisFix to be informative. This is what I followed

Visit during the day and in sunny weather – This is self explanatory and minor scratches and scuffs don’t show up when the car is wet.

Walk around the car and get a good eyeful of it. A bad exterior may mean a badly kept car. though not always.

Check the windscreen, window and rear glass. If they do not bear the manufacturer logo on the corner then they have been replaced. You will have to find out why.

Check the condition of the tires and date of manufacture (1512 means 15th week of 2012) I preferred at least the front tires to be of identical make and manufacture. That indicates regular replacement of equipment. They are also clues to the genuine miles the car has done (a 6 year old car with 30K on the odo may not have needed new tires a couple of years back)

Check the bottom edges and under the beading of all 4 doors. That is the area where rusting usually turns up. If you find cars in coastal areas with some age and without rust, consider it to be a great starting point

This is the time to verify common issues which plague the particular make/model if you have done some homework. Like rusting issues for Jap cars or AC/electricals for certain others.

Pop the hood and check for any body lines that seem to be bent. That may indicate a shunt. Next, check the fluids and the belts for any wear. Then request for the car to be cranked while you stand next to the engine bay. Check for abnormal vibes and whining sounds. Check for leaks once the engine has idled enough to reach its operating temperature. If there is one, it will show up once the system is running and under pressure.

If the battery. tires and the suspension have at least another 2 years of life left, then that is some $$$ saved at least immediately. Check the interiors, they offer clues on how the car has been driven and how much. Check the boot under the spare if your city has experienced flooding recently.

Start the test drive. Do have the dealer/owner with you when you do that. Ease the car out and see how she feels. I would turn the audio off to listen closely for anything unusual. Drive slowly over potholes and listen to the sounds the suspension makes. Turn the steering wheel from lock to lock at low speeds. Turn on the AC/CC after the engine has warmed up. Do all buttons incl the power windows work as intended? See if you can include stretches where the car can stretch her legs. Is the engine smooth or is there hesitation? Does she pull to any one side upon acceleration or braking?

Sealing the deal

If should have a good sense by this time if you have been able to put the car through her paces. While some would suggest that you get the service history vetted by the Auth. SS, not all cars which have seen more than just a few years have a complete record. That does not necessarily mean that they lacked care. Try to take a friend or family who are a little less passionate about the whole exercise can remain more objective. I trusted the wife with that. I have nothing much to add about the price negotiation as it is no different from any other big purchase you would make. Depending on your gut feel, you may hold back 15-20k if any work is promised before delivery or for ownership transfer documentation to be completed but don’t do that as a point on your checklist. If you have a trusted mechanic, you could have him accompany you.

Needless to say, just like any other purchase, be prepared to walk away if something does not feel right. You would do this a few times before you hit the bullseye.

I am not including ownership transfer documentation as there are many threads on TBHP which chronicles the points very well. Do watch out if there is a loan running and ensure that the seller closes that and gets the NOC from the bank. In case you are exploring any out of state option, just research the process well.

Read BHPian comments for more insights and information.

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