You have found a spotless, pre-loved off-roader on the second-hand floor. It is love at first sight. You want it. You need it. But are you about to lose your heart to a fickle 4×4, and end up with a whole lot of buyer’s remorse? Car dealer Warren Strong discusses how to ensure that you don’t end up with a lemon.
When you look at a second-hand 4×4, I suggest you perform the same checks that I normally do when a vehicle arrives at our dealership. These tests won’t tell you everything about the vehicle, but they will give you a good indication of whether there are serious mechanical issues that could cause headaches down the line.
- Start the engine and make sure that there are no knocks or other worrying sounds.
- Feel the clutch. Does it feel okay, or is it soft and spongy?
- While the car is idling, go through all the gears with the shifter. Does the transmission slip easily into all the gears, or does it feel notchy? Are there any worrying sounds?
- Are you testing an automatic vehicle? If so, put the handbrake on and push down hard on the brake with your left foot. Now apply a bit of pressure to the accelerator. Does everything sound all right, or does it seem as though the clutch might be slipping? This is a good test to find out if the auto ’box is working as it should.
- Again, when testing a 4×4 with an automatic transmission, put the vehicle in drive, then put it in reverse, and then back in drive. Check for any worrying clunking noises that might indicate a problem.
- With the engine on, turn the steering wheel to make sure that there are no knocks or other worrying sounds that could indicate a steering problem. Also, turn the steering wheel all the way left, and then all the way to the right. Listen out to make sure that the steering pump isn’t making any strange noises when the wheel is fully turned.
- Look underneath the 4×4 for any oil leaks.
- Also study the suspension bushes to make sure they are not perished or cracked.
- If the vehicle has an air suspension, check how it stands – whether it is completely level. If the suspension is losing air, it will usually cause the vehicle to sag slightly at one corner when at standard ride height.
- Get into the vehicle and let the suspension all the way down, and then lift to its maximum height. Check how long this process takes. If it seems too long, there might be a problem with the compressor.
- Now it is time to take the vehicle for a test drive. Once again, listen for any knocks or other noises. Also, accelerate quickly and check how responsive the engine is.
- Take you foot off the accelerator and just let the vehicle “free”. This is a good time to listen for worrying noises, since there won’t be as many other noises to mask a problem.
- Listen for any creaking noises in the suspension. Also, take a couple of corners with some speed and check how the suspension behaves. Does it roll smoothly, or does there seem to be a problem?
- Brake sharply to see how the brakes perform. Do they stop the vehicle quickly? Are there any noises?
- If possible, take the vehicle onto some uneven surfaces, preferably gravel. This is a great opportunity to test the suspension.
- Find a grassy or gravel patch where you can test the 4×4 system. Engage 4×4 and low range. Do both systems work? The indicator lights in the cabin may go on, but don’t take it for granted that the off-road system is working well. Check that low range is actually engaged,, and make sure that all four wheels are really receiving power.
- Do the same with the diff lock – make sure that it really works. Just because the light is on doesn’t mean that the diff is truly locked. If possible, find a spot where you can get one wheel in the air to check if the diff lock is operating.
- Once you have completed your test drive, check under the vehicle again. Have any oil leaks suddenly appeared?
- If you’re testing a diesel vehicle, now is a good time to remove the dipstick and check for any smoke. The more smoke present at operating temperature, the worse the condition of the piston rings. If there’s quite a bit of smoke, ask for a compression test.
- Finally, enquire about the vehicle’s service history. And don’t simply look at the service book. Ask for proof that the vehicle received all its services.
Following these steps won’t guarantee that all the vehicle’s problems will present themselves, but you will get a good idea of the overall condition of the 4×4. Simply taking a vehicle for a quick test drive isn’t enough. You have to inspect it thoroughly.
About the author
Warren Strong is a dealer at Emmarentia Auto, a second-hand dealership that specialises in 4x4s. The company has been around since 2000 and is a family-run business. Warren is a 4×4 fan with a soft spot for old Land Rovers.
For more information, visit: www.emmarentiaauto.co.za