When to walk away from buying a used car

When to walk away from buying a used car
When to walk away from buying a used car

Africa-PressUganda. It is almost impossible to guarantee that your used vehicle purchase isn’t faulty, but there are some steps you can take before handing over your hard earned cash to ensure that you know as much about the vehicle’s condition as possible.

Most cars you will consider on the used market have two important things going for them. First, there are many copies of any given model to choose from, and, most are in at least somewhat decent shape, if not better.

However they also have two things working against them. First, you probably do not know who owned it before you or how they took care of it. And, since that used car is a machine made of parts and components and assemblies, its mechanical condition is largely subject to how those former owners treated it.

Regular readers will be familiar with common used-car checks to make, the importance of a mechanical pre-inspection and how to tell if the car in question is in good condition or not. This time we shall play the walk away game. It is a straight-up look at some good reasons to walk away and find another copy of the model you are considering somewhere else.


Petrol engines that are healthy do not emit smoke from the exhaust. Although the odd full-throttle puff is considered normal as particulate is blown out of the exhaust or the fuel injection system ups the air/fuel mixture for a moment, continual smoking, especially at idle, is never a good sign. Bluish-white smoke at idle? Chances are the engine has bad valve seals or piston rings. Neither are cheap to change. White, oily smoke at idle on a turbocharged car? The turbo is probably ready to call it quits. Very heavy, sweet-smelling smoke from the tailpipe? Coolant is burning up in the combustion chambers, meaning you could have a blown gasket on your hands. Minimum repair bill? Lots. Thank the seller for his time and head to the next unit on your list.

Shifting issues

Umar Kakyama, a mechanic, always tells his clients that transmissions are one of those things that last the lifetime of a car when serviced as it should. Jerky shifting or slipping are warning signs that something is drastically wrong with the transmission.

Warning signs of trouble on a manual transmission include a gearbox that bites back at you when you shift gears, or grinding when shifting, even slowly. Further, a manual gearbox that pops out of gear likely needs some attention, too. Automatics are even worse since they have towering complexities inside them and you do not want one that is on the way out.

Gear boxes are not cheap to fix, especially the automatics with most mechanics recommending a full on replacement and walking away from one that is about to self-destruct can save your wallet.

Obvious signs of neglect

Dings, dents, strong odours and ugly stains are all signs that someone has not been treating the car well. By themselves, superficial signs of neglect are no big deal, but a person who does not care what his car looks like or smells like may not care about its mechanical condition, either. A good car almost always has a clean interior upholstery.

Accident damage

Everyone has mishaps, so it is not a deal-breaker if the car you are considering has been in a minor accident. Almost every car “of a certain age” has at the very least a scratch.

However, if your mechanic sees that the car has had all four corners repaired with mismatched paint shades and misaligned panels, that might be an indication that you need to check further and understand what exactly happened.

Or, if the car has been in a particularly serious accident, you can have unexpected problems later on, such as electrical gremlins from pinched wires or uneven tyre wear due to a bent frame and inability to align the wheels.

Typically, car bodies are laser aligned. So, any form of misalignment on the body panels is an indication of work done. Now again this is not a deal breaker but it is licence to walk away.

Peter Lubambula, a seasoned car seller, says all these could be turned to your advantage by letting the seller know you are aware of the car’s shortcomings and it is really worth less than what they are asking or that you have to account for the repairs.

Missing or incorrect paperwork

The title for the vehicle you are thinking about buying must have the proper information on it. The correct identification number (VIN) that matches the car and the correct mileage for example. The date of the state (emission) inspection must not be more than 90 days old (including weekends and holidays), so make sure it is not going to run out before you have time to get the vehicle registered (title transfer) in your name.


If you decide to return the used car, you must return it to the dealer within two business days by closing time (unless the contract gives you more time.


Trust your feelings. If something feels off, it usually is. Better you walk way than have an ownership experience of regret.


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