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Top 10 Tips to Avoid Buying a Lemon Used Car

8 years ago

Fraud is rife in the used car market. Here¿s how to avoid buying a lemon. 

1. Make sure the numbers match


When you inspect a used car, make sure the engine number (stamped on the engine block) and the VIN code (a 17-digit alpha-numeric code, unique to the vehicle) match those on the registration papers (or Vehicle Information Report). The VIN code, which stands for ¿vehicle identification number¿, is often found on a metal plate under the bonnet. Numbers that do not match don¿t necessarily indicate fraud, but further investigation is warranted.

2. Mechanical inspection


Major components like engines, transmissions, differentials, gearboxes and brakes can cost a huge amount to fix or replace. (Even a set of near-bald tyres could cost $800 ¿ or more ¿ to replace.) You need a professional, independent inspection such as a VTNZ Pre-Purchase Inspection ¿ before you put down any deposit. John Cadogan from says if major work is identified as required, you might still decide to purchase the car. ¿Obviously you can say, ¿no thanks¿ but you could always get a quote on a replacement gearbox (or whatever) and labour, and attempt to negotiate the price down by the repair cost, or more,¿ he says. ¿If the defect is significant, many purchasers will sidestep the car, so you might nab yourself a real bargain ¿ if you cost the repair correctly and negotiate firmly.¿

3. Major Crash Damage


Many people obsess about mechanical condition and fail to assess if the vehicle¿s has incurred accident damage.  A robust pre-purchase inspection will help to determine whether major crash repair has taken place. Given the large number of used cars available, you would need a solid reason indeed to decide to purchase a car that has been the victim of a major crash.

4. Repaired Write-offs


Vehicles crashed (or flood/fire damaged) are sometimes purchased as wrecks and repaired and then re-sold. Repaired write-offs need to pass a stringent inspection before they can be registered.  However, even if a vehicle has passed the inspection it¿s unlikely to be valued as high as an equivalent vehicle with no accident damage.

5. Money Owing


Purchasing a vehicle that may subsequently be repossessed because it is the security over a loan is a frightening thought. A Vehicle Information Report will tell you if there is a registered security interest on the vehicle.

6. Odometer Wind-back


Odometers on fraudulent used cars are routinely tampered with, usually by ¿winding back¿. Any official odometer history check that does not demonstrate a steady increase in the odometer reading over time is immediately suspect.  A Vehicle Information Report will highlight odometer reading inconsistencies.

7. Reported Stolen Check


A Vehicle Information Report will flag if a vehicle is reported stolen.  It can also alert you to unpaid Road User Charges, which you as a new owner would be required to pay, and which you would therefore need resolved before purchasing.

8. Registration Gaps


Most cars remain continuously registered for their whole service life. If the registration history of a particular car has a gap of several weeks or months, some investigation into ¿why¿ is warranted. Perhaps the vehicle was severely damaged and undergoing repairs.

9. Fair Value


Do your research to make sure you¿re paying only fair value for the car ¿ before you pay any deposit of otherwise commit to buy. Remember, classified advertising and dealer display advertising overwhelmingly incorporates ¿wriggle room¿ for downward price negotiation. The advertised amounts are not benchmarks for the actual transaction price in the used car market.  Trade Me¿s advanced car search is a great tool for gauging vehicle values.

10. WOF Expiry


Check the Warrant of Fitness expiry date ¿ before you test drive. It is illegal to drive a vehicle not displaying a valid WoF label. If the WoF is close to expiring, check obvious mechanical items ¿ such as tyres ¿ for compliance.

Doing all this sounds like a complex undertaking, but really it isn¿t. MotorWeb can supply you with a VIR vehicle history check ¿ and, their partner, VTNZ a mechanical check, that will assist you in assessing the vehicle¿s past, as well as its present condition. For under $130 you¿re just about lemon-proof.


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