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How to choose a used car

May 24, 2003

The used car market's looking better than ever. Here are some hints, tips and more to help you choose.

Maxim # 1 - always buy a used car in broad daylight -- inspection is always more accurate.

Maxim # 2 - don't buy a car that's older than 5 years -- it will have virtually no residual value when you pass it on to a new owner.

Maxim # 3 - always buy a single-owner car -- the more its owners, the lesser its value.

Maxim # 4 - buy a popular model – there are obvious reasons why it is popular.

Maxim # 5 - buy a car that's relatively fresh in model years – crash protection is that much improved, while older cars stand the risk of getting struck off manufacturer line-ups and spares supplies.

Fallacy #1 - Doctor-owned cars are better maintained -- nowadays, there are adverts for lawyer- and engineer-owned cars too.

Fallacy # 2 - Odometer readings indicate true mileage -- resetting the clock is a matter of a few hundred rupees only.

Fallacy # 3 - Used car dealers are all crooks -- most of these guys are in it for the long term and have a reputation to protect.

Fallacy # 4 - Take your trusty mechanic along for car inspection -- these guys make money only when there are repairs to be done... capiche?

Fallacy # 5 - An immaculate-looking, clean-smelling machine is a great find -- make-up almost always glosses over a not-so-pleasant story.

Maruti 800 DX AC1.4 to 1.451.5 to 1.6(carb)/1.6 to 1.7(MPFI)1.8 to 1.9(MPFI)
Alto LX
(For VX variant, add about Rs 25,000 to 30,000)
NA2.0 to 2.252.25 to 2.5
Wagon R LX
(For VX variant, add about Rs 30,000)
NA2.25 to 2.352.25 to 2.75
Zen LX
(For VX variant, add about Rs 30,000)
2.0 to 2.1
2.25 to 2.5(MPFI)2.6 to 2.8(MPFI)
Gypsy MG410W2.0 to 2.2
2.5 to 2.8(MPFI)2.9 to 3.0(MPFI)
Baleno AlturaNANA4.0 to 4.5
Santro2.0 to 2.12.25 to 2.452.5 to 2.7
Accent (petrol)3.25 to 3.53.6 to 3.94.15 to 4.5
Indica (diesel)1.5 to 1.61.7 to 1.92.1 to 2.3
Indica (petrol)1.0 to 1.25
1.5 to 1.6(MPFI)1.8 to 2.0
Palio 1.2
(For 1.6 GTX variant, add about Rs 50,000)
NANA3.0 to 3.5
Ikon 1.62.75 to 3.03.0 to 3.53.8 to 4.0
Corsa 1.4
(For 1.6 variant, add about Rs 30,000)
NA2.5 to 4.04.0 to 4.15
City 1.3
(For 1.5 variant, add about Rs 50,000, for VTEC, Rs 30,000 further)
3.75 to 4.0
(old shape)
4.75 to 5.05.3 to 5.7
Lancer (petrol)
(For diesel variant, add about Rs 50,000, for top-end SFX, SLX, Rs 50,000 further)
4.0 to 4.254.35 to 4.505.25 to 5.5
Qualis(diesel)NA4.5 to 5.05.0 to 5.5
* all prices in Mumbai, in Rs lakh, unlesss\ specified. Expect a 10 per cent variation in prices either way, depending on the condition of the car. Price information courtsey: Aarif Fazulboy, Fazulboys Motors (P) Ltd, Mumbai.

Seeking target

Zero in on the model that will suit your requirements best like this:

I have a big family: If it's four or more members, you might be better off with a three-box sedan, an estate or an SUV. Our picks: Accent, Baleno Altura, Qualis.

I want running economy: If travel is over 60 km a day, then it's a diesel for you. Our picks: Indica D, Qualis, Lancer diesel.

I have a driver: A car that's comfortable in the rear -- both in terms of ride quality and legroom. Our picks: Palio 1.2, Ikon 1.6, Lancer.

I enjoy driving: Performance and handling proficiency are quite important. Our picks: Palio 1.6 GTX, Ikon 1.6, City (any model).

I am on the highway often: Ride quality and overall stability are tantamount. Our picks: Palio, Corsa, Lancer.

I want a city car: Threading through tight traffic minus the strain. Our picks: M800, Santro, Alto.

I want something corporate: It better not look too flashy or too flaky either. Our picks: Wagon R, Accent.

I want badass attitude: Needs to look and sound good... especially with the 8-inch sub parked inside. Our picks: Zen, Gypsy.

Tracking target

Now that you've got a couple of cars in mind, find out which one suits your budget best (use the ready reckoner below) but remember, you'll still have to do some homework on prevailing car prices to arrive at the best deal!

Acquiring target

Permutations, combinations and calculations later, you've arrived at the model. Here's how to make that inspection and select your perfect car.


Paint: Ensure that the paint matches across all body panels, blisters in paint indicate rust beneath. Overspray on chrome or plastic bits indicate touch-ups.

Body panels: Shut-lines between fenders, doors, bonnet, boot and other body panels have to be even.

Doors: Open and close doors and ensure they do so easily and uniformly.

Rust: Check the bottom of fenders, the bottom of doors, around trunk and bonnet hinges and the firewall. Inspect under floor boot and carpeting, around windshield beadings and in the wheel wells.

Suspension/Chassis: Ensure that the car is not sagging in any direction and that it sits evenly and clear, off the ground. Wheels should not be even partially engulfed by wheelarches.

Tyres: Adequate tread-depth, no signs of uneven wear, cracking or retreading. Each tyre has a serial number and a date of manufacture embossed on it -- check this for age. Usually, tyres over five years old have hardened and lost their positive attributes.


Oil leaks: Shock absorbers should not demonstrate oil seepage, neither should the oil sump.

Undercarriage: Rust, big dents and signs of repair mean a damaged car.


Electricals: Check that all lights, the air con, wipers and the stereo work satisfactorily. Excessive play on the headlight/wiper stalks indicate heavy use.

Cabin: Remember, odometers can be reset to show minimal mileage, check other factors for a more honest picture. First, check upholstery for fading/ wear and tear. Seats should be firm and supportive, especially the driver's side. By all means inspect under floor mats and seat covers (if any). Next, seatbelts should work properly without snagging and should not be worn or frayed. Steering wheel and gearshifter play should be minimal. A well-polished gear knob/pedal set indicates heavy use.

Under-bonnet: Battery has to be a reputed brand and its terminals clean. Check oil level and quality with the dipstick. Look for signs of oil seepage around the engine head. Run your eyes over wiring and the fusebox to see they has not been tampered with. Ensure radiator fluid is green and full and there is no oil or any foreign particles floating on top.

On the road

Engine: The engine should sound smooth, and tailpipe emissions should not be visible. In a warmed-up engine, white vapour indicates a possible blown head gasket.

Suspension: The car should ride well without wallowing or bouncing over potholes and bumps. Unusual noises indicate problems -- check with stereo off and windows down at varying speeds. In front-wheel drive cars, lock to lock turns should not produce clicking noises from the front-end. In rear wheel drive models, clunking noises from the differential while accelerating or decelerating, or a whine at higher speeds indicate future expenses.

Brakes: Pedal should feel firm, play should be minimal. Car should track straight under sudden braking. High-pitched squeaking when pedal is applied indicates worn brake pads.

Steering: Car should run straight when steering wheel is at dead-centre -- otherwise indicates faulty wheel alignment. In power-steering equipped cars, worn wheel bearings will hum when the car is turned lock to lock, while heavy steering column vibration, at speed, indicates worn steering bushes.

Watch it go: Ask a friend to drive the car, fully loaded with passengers, as you watch from outside. Check to see that the car is not dragging its body sideways or looking lopsided, from the front, rear or side-on.


Documents: Registration certificate (RC book) (check all pages are present, that engine and chassis number documented are the same as the car's), insurance certificate (preferably comprehensive insurance), pollution under control (PUC) certificate and service book must be up-to-date and in perfect order. Outstation vehicles should possess a no-objection certificate for a valid transfer of ownership -- usually, avoid buying outstation cars.

Also ensure that one-time tax has been paid for the car. Check with RTO, insurance company to make sure the car is not stolen or crashed, and also to finally transfer its ownership to your name.

Repair history/owner manual: Has the car been serviced regularly?

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Number of User Comments: 3

Sub: Does duplicate RC book affect the sale of a used car?

Does duplicate RC book affect the sale of a used car?

Posted by Balaji Gurumoorthi

Sub: quallis car

i am interested in quallis vehicle single owner, not run in as a tourist. make after 2003.

Posted by anil

Sub: used car

Dear sir I wanted to buy a used car (Qualis) from 2001-2003 so if it there anything related to this please mail me or contact ...

Posted by Bhushan Modak


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