The air bag: The importance of getting a used car checked
Even though I’ve been a motoring journalist for almost a decade, I’m not a mechanic. And never was that fact underlined more than when I bought a used car last week.
I wanted something small, cheap and fun, and settled on a Renault Clio 182 – an eminently chuckable, front-wheel-drive hot hatch of considerable repute. Hours were spent online, researching the car’s foibles to compile my own buyer’s guide. At the dealership, I was straight under the car, waving my torch around and checking all the things that I’d meticulously typed out. I saw two cars before I finally found the one that I wanted – a Black Gold model with very little apparently wrong with it.
I drove the car, and it felt good – peppy, fast, solid. A couple of things would need tidying up cosmetically, but it was 10 years old, after all. So I handed over my cash and drove away in my new little rocket ship.
To be on the safe side, I wanted to get everything completely shipshape with my new purchase before putting serious miles on it, so the following day I took it to a Renaultsport specialist. I was confident, having done my homework, that little would be needed but, hey, everyone needs peace of mind from time to time.
Fred, the Clio specialist, opened the bonnet of my car.
“The engine cover’s missing. That shouldn’t be routed through there, it’s rubbed on that, look. That’s the wrong bolt for that. And that looks like it’ll need redoing.
“Let’s get it up on the lift and have a look underneath,” he said, reversing my pride and joy into his workshop. He paused and listened to the engine note. “Your water pump’s gone,” he said. Noticing my glum face, he asked: “You say you got this from a dealer? He’s about to become your worst enemy.”
Up on the lift, the story of woe got worse. “What’s this doing here? That’s from a different model,” he said, pulling at a plastic cover beneath the gearbox. It fell away, followed by a deluge of oil that caused him to leap out of the way. “Oh dear.”
Over the next half an hour, Fred walked me around a model of car he’s worked on thousands of times, pointing out all the things that were wrong with it; things that I never would have spotted. In the end, the report of faults was two pages long and covered 22 separate problems. The estimated repair bill was almost what I paid for the car.
To the dealer’s credit, he gave me a refund, and a few days later I bought another Renaultsport Clio from a private seller – after I’d had Fred check it out thoroughly. So far, I’ve had no problems. It was a very lucky escape.
Even if you think you know cars, the chances are there’s someone out there who will know them better than you. If you can get them to look over a prospective purchase, it could save you an enormous headache and a hefty kick to the wallet. This is especially true of used cars bought privately, but you can play safe by buying from a dealer’s approved used scheme. Many of the major manufacturers offer this service in the UAE, which sees all models thoroughly checked over for faults before they’re put up for sale.
If you must buy privately, test-drive the car properly (not just round the block) and ask to get it looked at by a mechanic before you commit to buy. If possible, take it to someone who specialises in that particular car or manufacturer.
If the seller is reluctant, walk away – you have to question what they’re hiding. Doing what I did and thinking “Ah, it’s probably fine” is asking for trouble. A few hundred dirhams spent on getting a new purchase checked over by someone who knows what they’re looking for is much better than thousands being spent on correcting faults that you didn’t spot.
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Updated: September 11, 2014 04:00 AM