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Buying Guide - How to buy a used car?

Buying Guide - How to buy a used car?

Snapshot: There's no dearth of used cars out there in the market, but which one would really make a great purchase? Here are some tips that would help you make a choice.

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The used car market in India has been growing steadily for quite some time and at about 3 million used car sales it is even bigger than the new-car market. However, the used car industry remains an unorganised sector dominated by small dealers. The lack of clear framework and regulations puts the consumer at risk since they lack any sort of protection. The organised sector in which companies like Mahindra First Choice, Maruti True Value etc. operate is small and makes a fraction of total car sales.  

Certified cars sold through organised sector offer peace of mind but you end up paying slightly higher price for the car. In case you are looking for a used car and are about to buy it through a local dealer or a friend, here are some tips that you can follow to be on the safer side and make a successful car purchase.

​Analyse the need

To begin with, you should be absolutely sure about what kind of car you are looking for? Based on your preference, family size and also your budget. Decide if would like to purchase a small hatchback, big sedan or an even bigger suv. Once that’s done, you can start looking for cars through different channels like brokers, friends and even online communities.  

The single most important thing to keep in mind while purchasing a second hand car is – reliability, and this should take precedence over all other things.

List of checks that would help determine the long term reliability of the car


1. Engine oil - Check the engine oil condition by removing the dip stick. A healthy engine would have oil of golden brown or red brown colour. Black engine oil is an indication that car has not been serviced since long time. Also open the engine oil filler cap, if there’s creamy sludge, it’s an indication of head gasket will require major repair. Check for the rubber hoses and pipes, and radiator to confirm that none of them is leaking or is broken. 

2. Coolant - The colour of coolant tells a lot about engine’s condition. Dirty brown liquid in the overflow container indicates an issue with blow head gasket or cracked cylinder head or block.  

3. Exhaust - Check the colour of exhaust when you start the car. Blue (Do not confuse clear white smoke which generally occurs in cold weather with blue smoke) or extremely dark black smoke is an indication that either the car’s burning engine oil or having issues with fuel burning. Also put your finger in the exhaust to check if there’s greasy grime, this indicates even deeper problems. Stay clear of these cars and do not part with your money on any such car.


1. Body work - Minor dents are nothing to worry about. But be wary of cars that have undergone major accidental repairs. Different tone for different body panels, rough patches or inconsistent panel gaps, patchy welding marks etc. give an indication that car has been in a shunt and undergone shoddy repairs at a local garage. You can also find this out by visiting the service station or by contacting the insurance company.

2. Heavy modifications - You cannot be sure of the quality of modifications and chances are that the previous owner might have driven it too enthusiastically and therefore you cannot ascertain the kind of maintenance that it may require in the future. Walk away from cars that have tell tale signs of heavy modifications.

3. Underbody - If possible, check the underbelly of the car for signs for rust, exhaust damage and leaks.


1. Equipment - Check that the electrical equipment, boot lid shocks, power windows, headlights, tailights etc. are in working condition.

2. Age - Have a good look at dashboard, steering wheel and confirm that the wear and tear correspond to the age shown by odometer. Also, open the trunk and confirm that it’s in good condition, any signs of rust and wear and tear confirms heavy usage, tally this with the mileage that you see on the odometer.


1. Test rideTake a comprehensive test drive of the car and drive it on all kinds of roads and speeds with music turned off. Watch out for any unusual sounds, it would let you know if there is any unusual wear and tear of the suspension components, mountings etc.     

2. Brakes - Test the brakes under gentle as well as hard braking pressure 

Other important things

1. Engine size - Lot of cars come with different engine sizes nowadays. Verify that the engine size mentioned on the registration certificate and insurance documents match the badge that there on the car.

2. Odometer tampering - It’s pretty easy to tamper with odometer to conceal the actual kms that the car has done. Check the original service records match that with odometer mileage. Car’s original set of tyres would last for about 25,000 or more kms. Check the manufacturing date of all tyres and confirm if they correspond around to the car’s manufacturing date.

3. Age - Cars age with the mileage as well as with time. A 2-3 years old car that has done about 40,000 – 50,000 kms would make a good buy and there is a good chance that its warranty has not even expired.

4. History - Have a look at the car’s service manual and confirm that it has been visiting the authorised service station as per the schedule.

Paper work 

Apart from checking that the engine and chassis number match with the ones that are present on the RC, make sure that you absolutely get all the documents before finalising the deal.

1. Registration certificate - Make sure you get this transferred it to your name.

2. RTO forms 32 & 35 with NOC from company that financed - This in case if the vehicle has been financed. Also, get the insurance transferred to your name.

3. RTO forms 29 & 30 - These are sale transfer forms that need to be duly signed by buyer and seller to make the transfer.

4. RTO forms 20, 27 & 28 - These are additional forms that you would need in case of inter state transfer of vehicle.

5. Road tax receipt and sale invoice - A sale invoice is provided to the first owner of the car and the one-time tax is also paid by the first owner at the time of purchase. Take these documents to avoid any future hassles.  

6. Dual fuel certification for retrofitted kit - Cars that are modified to run on two fuels require an NOC certificate from RTO. Make sure to ask this document to prevent any issues in future.  

7. No dues from traffic police and NOC from state police - Get a No Dues certificate from traffic police and an NOC from state police department to ascertain that the car was never involved in any illegal activity. 

Before leaving

It’s very likely that the used that you are about to purchase is not perfect but before you part with your hard earned money haggle hard on any minor defects that you could see in the car. And remember to ask for spare keys.

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