/ 26 July 2019

Don’t forget to look under the bonnet

Peace of mind: If you’re buying a used car
Peace of mind: If you’re buying a used car, be sure to get it properly checked by a reputable company. (Photo: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters)



Most of the cars changing hands in South Africa are used, outstripping new car sales over the past three years on average by 2:1. And buying a secondhand vehicle can be a perilous affair. No one wants to be stuck with a car forever in the workshop, standing on blocks, or worse, impounded by police as evidence for its alleged involvement in a cash-in-transit heist (true story). In this regular column we will try to help empower those who delve into this market to ensure you get the best bang for your buck, no matter what your taste.

Vehicle checks

So you’ve identified the car you want and platitudes have been bestowed by the seller as to what a great purchase you’re making. One of the most assuring actions is to have the vehicle independently checked. Many popular manufacturers have their in-house vehicle checking system but this will often be done only at established dealerships. For everything in between there are reputable testing centres such as the Automobile Association, which now defers all its inspections to Dekra, for a full technical inspection of the vehicle. That’s a check on the body and all mechanical parts. This will set you back R2 365. That’s not chump change so you may want to offer to pay for the inspection, should the vehicle get the all-clear. If not, the bill is for the seller. Anyone confident of what they’re selling shouldn’t be put off.

The price of a vehicle is often higher when accompanied by three simple letters: FSH — full service history. This indicates that the car has been serviced with the manufacturer or, at the very least, by a certified workshop. Whereas this should conventionally offer some peace of mind, this doesn’t mean it’s all hunky dory. For example, an expensive repair that may have been suggested by the manufacturer may not have been done. The advantage of FSH is that you can go into any of the specific manufacturer’s network and ask to see a full report on the vehicle. Here you’ll see listed all work done and, critically, not done.

After having gone through all of this you’d think you’re in the clear. But the 50 663 cars and motorcycles stolen in the 2017/18 financial year suggests not. Too often stolen cars eventually end up being sold in legitimate transactions, leaving the eventual buyer none the wiser until a police roadblock. Another common occurrence is the repo man showing up at your door demanding the keys for “your” car that actually still belongs to a bank. There are now a variety of companies that offer to do a police and credit check on vehicles for you. Among these is TransUnion, which has developed an app around this and provides you with a police check, valuation report, original manufacturer information (engine number, colour, and so on) and financing information. The full car report will set you back R99.

The fact that there are now a multitude of companies offering to do the proper checks for you is indicative of the frequency with which this happens.

This list of checks is not exhaustive but should hopefully offer greater peace of mind when entering what can be perilous terrain.