Common Faults When Buying Used Cars and How To Avoid Them

Written by Danny Collins
Last updated: September 21, 2023

Are you planning to buy a used car? There are a couple of options you have when buying a car. You can either get it new or used, but there are advantages and disadvantages of both options so you have to be smart about your decision.

First things first: Let’s get one thing straight here – there is nothing wrong with buying a used car! Even if someone were to tell you that it is better to buy new cars instead of used ones because they are more reliable. Well, that may be true but there are always exceptions to the rule and if you do your research properly then buying used cars can save you quite a lot of money!

However, to avoid any trouble with it in the future -there are many things to consider when buying a used car. From the cost of the vehicle to the history, there is much to think about. But before you start researching vehicles, it’s important that you understand how not being careful can lead to problems later on with your purchase. In this blog post, we will discuss some common faults when buying used cars so that you can avoid these mistakes and find the right vehicle for your needs!

Most Common Faults When Buying Used Cars

#1. Car suspension components

The most common cause of vehicle headaches is suspension components, such as broken or malfunctioning springs and dampers. Our study indicates that it affects a whopping one in 10 drivers of vehicles over nine years old.

Aside from having it inspected by a professional, the best method to detect possible suspension difficulties is to put the car on a drive on many routes.

Bumps and uneven terrain are also causes. The suspension is probably in need of repair if you experience any of these: You can hear thuds or knocking as the vehicle goes over bumps The handling feels loose and sluggish When the car goes over speed bumps, it tends to bounce around a lot.

#2. The vehicle’s alternator

The alternator is a component in every vehicle’s charging system. Most car drivers are familiar with the term, but few understand exactly what it entails. The alternator is responsible for operating the dash, battery, air conditioning, and other critical functions in the automobile. Because it is an important component, replacing it after purchasing the part and having it serviced may be quite expensive.

The alternator needs to be in good working order if you are going to make long journeys or drive at night. If it isn’t, the battery could run flat within an hour of starting your trip. In a used car, a faulty alternator is something that you should check before buying it.

If the alternator isn’t charging properly, there are usually telltale signs such as:

  • Dim headlights after starting the engine
  • The battery warning light is on while driving and when not in operation
  • A dead car battery

#3. Flat batteries

A flat battery is one of the most common problems that motorists face. It’s not just an annoyance, but it can also be dangerous. Battery problems are quite common as car ages, but detecting them early before having a vehicle that won’t start is rather simple. This is particularly vital during the current winter lockdown when inactivity and chilly weather play major roles in determining your battery’s charge level.

It’s easy to tell when a car’s battery is healthy: simply start the car. If your engine has trouble starting, the starter motor isn’t working as hard as normal, or the inside or outside lights dim significantly while you start it, there may be a battery problem.

To keep the charge in your battery, try to run your automobile for at least 10-15 minutes each week for a minimum of ten hours. Try not to return the engine immediately after stopping or restarting it. This will require even more power and will deplete the battery further.

If your battery is unable to turn the engine over, you’ll need to jump-start it. Find out how to jump-start your car safely in our video. Depending on the age and condition of the battery, you may be able to replace it completely. The battery will be tested during your car’s MOT, but if you don’t want to wait, several garages in the UK provide free battery inspections.

#4. Vehicle Sensors

Sensors are an integral part of your vehicle and should be checked before buying any pre-owned car. Another concern that has arisen among car owners who bought used cars is the short life expectancy of various engine and electrical sensors.

Over the last decade, all auto manufacturers have added a plethora of sensors to their vehicle lines. This increases electrical usage and dependence, necessitating more component replacements on an ongoing basis. Look for indications of failing systems on the dashboard during the inspection, such as indicators that a warning light is illuminated.

Many modern cars come with sensors that are covered by the manufacturer’s warranty. However, if your car is older than three years or has more than 60,000 miles on the clock, these warranties may not be valid. So, before you buy a used car, it’s important to check whether you will need to pay for the sensors in full.

#5. The Car’s Exhaust & emissions

The exhaust and emissions system on a car is one of the most important, but least understood systems. It’s also one of the most expensive to repair. The catalytic converter is a key part of this system, and it can be very costly to replace if it’s not working properly.

Visible smoke from the exhaust pipe of a car that appears to be operating properly might be an indicator of underlying problems. Exhaust/emission concerns might also be found by listening to the engine as it starts up for any strange or excessive noise. Is there a lot of or unusual noise if the engine starts up? This might be an indication of a ‘blowing’ exhaust, which is caused by corrosion causing little holes in the pipe.

When running a used car check, make sure the engine is cold when you begin it. When engines are warm, they run more efficiently and cleanly. If the gauge shows warm after starting it, the seller may have pre-warmed it and be attempting to conceal an issue.

#6. The Car’s Air Conditioning

The air conditioning in a car is often taken for granted, but it’s one of the most important features during the summer months. Faulty air conditioning can make a car unbearable to drive, especially on hot days. Air conditioners, like other components and systems in the automobile, wear out over time and require maintenance to function properly.

If the car you’re considering doesn’t have working air conditioning, this is a red flag and should be avoided. Air conditioners can be very expensive to replace or repair, and this cost should factor into your purchasing decision.

During a vehicle inspection, make certain to turn the air conditioner to its coldest setting. You should anticipate the air from the vents to be extremely chilly, perhaps around 60 degrees Fahrenheit as the coldest choice. Each vent should also be checked. Open them and see whether the airflow is consistent throughout the car’s cabin. If the car’s air conditioner or water pump isn’t working, there is a high possibility that the system needs to be refilled by a mechanic.

How To Avoid These Issues Before Buying Used Cars

When looking to buy a used car, it’s important to be aware of these common faults and how to avoid them. By being informed, you can save yourself time, money, and potential headaches down the road.

In addition to these tips, always have the car inspected by a qualified mechanic before purchasing. They will be able to look for any other potential issues and help you to negotiate a fair price for the car.

Be sure to do your research and check online for details of common problems with any specific model you’re considering buying. Personal recommendations from friends or family members who own a certain vehicle can also be very helpful in finding reliable cars that are worth purchasing.

The Benefit Of Running A Used Car Check

Before you start the process of buying a used car, it’s important to understand the benefits of running a car history check. By doing so, you can get an idea of the vehicle’s history and potential problems that may need to be fixed in the future.

A used car check will reveal important information about the car, such as its registration status, past owners, MOT history, and insurance write-offs. It can also help to identify any potential problems before they become expensive and time-consuming repairs.

If you’re looking for a used car, it’s important to be aware of the most common faults and how to avoid them. By following these simple tips, you can ensure that you make a safe and sensible purchase.

You may also like our article on How to Check if a Car Has Been Scrapped


Frequently Asked Questions

Are there specific car brands known for having more faults in used vehicles?

While some car brands may have a reputation for being more reliable than others, it’s essential to evaluate each used vehicle individually. Factors such as maintenance history, mileage, and previous ownership can greatly impact a car’s reliability. Conduct thorough research on the specific make and model you’re interested in to determine its reliability and potential faults.


Should I get a pre-purchase inspection before buying a used car?

Yes, getting a pre-purchase inspection is highly recommended when buying a used car. A professional mechanic can thoroughly examine the vehicle, identifying any hidden issues that may not be visible to the untrained eye. This inspection can provide you with valuable information about the car’s condition and potential faults, helping you make an informed decision.


Can I check if a used car has been involved in any accidents?

Yes, you can check if a used car has been involved in any accidents by obtaining a vehicle history report. These reports provide detailed information about the car’s past, including accidents, damage, and previous ownership.


How can I identify potential engine problems when buying a used car?

Identifying potential engine problems when buying a used car requires careful inspection. Look for any signs of excessive smoke from the exhaust, abnormal engine noises, or leaks under the vehicle. Additionally, check the engine oil for any discolouration or contamination. It’s also recommended to have a mechanic perform a compression test to assess the engine’s overall health.


What are some common electrical faults in used cars?

Electrical faults in used cars can vary, but some common issues include malfunctioning power windows, faulty wiring, non-working lights or indicators, and problems with the audio system. During a test drive, ensure that all electrical components are functioning correctly. If you notice any issues, it’s best to have them inspected and repaired by a qualified technician.


How can I determine if a used car has transmission problems?

When assessing a used car for potential transmission problems, pay attention to signs such as delayed shifting, slipping gears, or difficulty in engaging gears. During the test drive, check for any jerking movements or unusual noises while shifting. If you suspect transmission issues, it’s advisable to have a mechanic inspect the car’s transmission system thoroughly.


Are there any specific signs of suspension problems in used cars?

Yes, there are several signs of potential suspension problems in used cars. Look for uneven tire wear, a bumpy or uncomfortable ride, excessive bouncing or swaying, or difficulty in steering. During the test drive, pay attention to any unusual noises, vibrations, or instability while driving over bumps or rough surfaces. If you notice any of these signs, have the suspension system checked by a professional.


What should I do if I discover a fault in a used car after purchasing it?

If you discover a fault in a used car after purchasing it, it’s important to review the terms of the sale agreement. If there was a warranty or guarantee provided, contact the seller to discuss the issue and explore potential solutions. If there was no warranty, you may have limited options. Consider reaching out to a qualified mechanic to assess the extent of the fault and provide a repair estimate. In some cases, you may need to consult with a legal professional to understand your rights and options for recourse.


How can I negotiate the price of a used car if I find potential faults?

If you identify potential faults in a used car, it can give you leverage for negotiating the price. Gather evidence of the faults, such as inspection reports or repair estimates, to support your claims. Research the market value of similar vehicles in your area to have a clear understanding of the fair price range. Use this information to negotiate with the seller, highlighting the costs you may incur to address the faults. However, keep in mind that negotiation outcomes depend on the seller’s willingness to adjust the price, so be prepared for different responses.


Can I purchase an extended warranty for a used car to cover potential faults?

Yes, it’s possible to purchase an extended warranty for a used car to provide additional coverage for potential faults. Extended warranties are offered by third-party companies or sometimes directly from the manufacturer. These warranties can help protect you from unexpected repair costs for a specified period or mileage limit. However, it’s important to thoroughly review the terms and conditions of the warranty, including coverage exclusions and deductibles, before making a purchase decision.


Should I consider buying a certified pre-owned (CPO) car to minimise potential faults?

Buying a certified pre-owned (CPO) car can be a good option for minimising potential faults. CPO cars typically undergo a rigorous inspection process and come with an extended warranty from the manufacturer. This can provide added peace of mind, as the car has been deemed to meet specific quality standards. However, it’s still essential to conduct your due diligence by reviewing the CPO program details, understanding the warranty coverage, and inspecting the vehicle thoroughly before making a purchase.

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