Buying Used: Cover the basics

Shopping around for a used 4×4? Here are some basic things you can check to make sure you’re buying a solid and reliable vehicle.

Buying a used vehicle – especially a 4×4 with complex off-road equipment – can be stressful. What if the previous owner didn’t take good care of it, or thrashed it on a 4×4 trail every weekend? There is always some risk involved, sure, but you can greatly reduce it by doing a few simple things.

1.Do some research
Before you visit a dealership, do some research on the particular models you’re interested in. There are plenty of websites and forums that can provide a rundown of the basic issues to look out for. For instance, if you discover that a particular 4×4 is prone to clutch issues, you’ll pay particular attention to this when visiting a dealer.

2. Find a good dealer
Arguably the most important thing you can do to ensure that you end up with a clean and reliable vehicle is to do business with a trustworthy dealer. Find someone with a good reputation and an operation that doesn’t look as if it could disappear overnight. Is the dealership clean and tidy? Are the vehicles clean? What is the general quality of the stock? Look for a professional operation that won’t be interested in destroying its reputation just to make an extra R10 000 off you.

3. Check the vehicle
Spend some time checking any vehicle you’re interested in. Check for rust and make sure that there are no leaks or other problems. Inspect the various panels carefully. Are they perfectly aligned? If not, there’s a good chance that the vehicle was involved in an accident at some stage. Check underneath, too. If the vehicle has spent a lot of time off-road, there will be telltale signs. There will be dings and scratches. Also, check for oil leaks. These can be difficult and expensive to get rid of down the line.

4. Go for a drive
It’s important to go for a proper test drive; don’t just take the vehicle around the block. Check the vehicle’s performance at different speeds and in different gears. Are there any worrying noises? Does the gearbox still feel smooth? Also, make sure that the 4×4 system is in good working order; check that low-range works and that the diff lock engages without hassle. Don’t assume that everything works just because the dashboard lights go on. Find a patch of dirt close to the dealership and check the 4×4 system and diff lock properly.

5. Check the history
Find out as much as you can about the history of the vehicle. How many owners has it had? Has it spent a significant amount of time at the coast? These details can be hard to get, but it’s still worth a try. The more info you have, the less chance you’ll be met with a nasty surprise. You should obviously also check the service history. The more complete this history is, the better.

6. Get some help
Modern vehicles are complex, so it can be hard (if not impossible) to identify potential issues. Because of this, you want to have any potential vehicle checked out by a professional. Find someone who can check things like the gearbox, engine and turbo. A trustworthy dealer won’t mind if you ask to have a second-hand vehicle checked.