Be prepared before you purchase a car.

You don’t want to buy a lemon!

In addition to getting a Checka report, there are other things you should check on and in the car itself. This list pretty much covers them all. If you’re not confident to do the checking yourself, find an inspection service, garage or friendly mechanic that is. Having a look at these things before you buy it could save you thousands in the long run.

Easy Stuff

The owner

  • How long have they owned the vehicle? If it's not very long, ask them why they are selling — they could be trying to pass on a lemon
  • How many New Zealand owners has the vehicle had?
  • Get their driver licence and name so you can confirm their ownership on this website.

The history

  • Check that the service history shows regular scheduled maintenance and repairs.
  • If receipts exist, call the workshops that did the work and see whether there was anything they noticed about the vehicles condition.
  • If the vehicle is restored ask to see receipts. All reputable car restorers (private or professional) will document the progress of the car through the restoration process, and this information will give you a good idea of the work carried out.

The car

  • Do a static inspection before you drive it — the engine should be cold so you can have a good look in the engine bay.
  • Familiarise yourself with the controls (and idiosyncrasies) before setting off, particularly if there's a satellite navigation system, or in older cars, some strange way of changing gear!
  • If this inspection doesn't live up to your expectations, don't drive the car. The psychological part of taking it for a road test means you're more likely to buy it (or be pressured into buying it), even if it has major cosmetic faults.

The exterior

  • Check everywhere for rust, even underneath using a torch. Door sills and where panels meet are rust danger areas.
  • Check for signs of repairs (mismatched paint, misaligned body panels, undercoat still visible).
  • Open and close all doors, boot and bonnet and make sure they lock/unlock easily.
  • Check for filler by using a magnet.
  • Look carefully for dents and scratches — good light is essential for this.
  • Check all chrome parts are in good condition.
  • Check all plastic and rubber trim, grille, mouldings and bumpers are secure and in good condition.
  • Inspect the windscreen and all windows for cracks, chips, abrasions, wiper marks and other damage.
  • Do the mirrors operate correctly — move them in and out manually or electrically.
  • Test all external lights:
    • Indicators
    • Fog lights
    • Headlight — high and low beam
    • Tail lights
    • Brake lights
    • Hazard warning lights
    • Reversing lights
    • Parking lights
    • License plate lights
    • Lights embedded in doors or wing mirrors
    • Look for cracked or cloudy lenses
  • Are the windscreen wiper rubbers ok?
  • Check that tyres are the correct size, they match and that the tread is in good condition. Look for uneven wear.
  • Check the spare tyre — is it still inflated?
  • Pay attention to valve stems, and older wheels, especially on veteran and vintage cars.
  • Check the condition of the hood and rear window on convertibles. Is it easy to put up? If not, check the action of the hood bows.

The interior

  • Test the door locks and handles.
  • Check the stereo and speakers.
  • Check any multimedia functions such as navigation systems.
  • Test the alarm (if fitted).
  • Does the clock work?
  • Check the horn.
  • Check carpets, door panels, headliner, sun visors, armrests, upholstery and dashboard for wear, cracks, water damage, spills and stains.
  • Does the rear view mirror stay where it is placed, and does any auto-dimming work?
  • Does the fuel cap release easily?
  • Steering lock and wheel adjustment — is there too much play in the steering wheel? Can you adjust the steering wheel?
  • Test the glove box door and light, including any lock on the glovebox door.
  • Heater, air conditioning, window defroster — test all vents, especially if they're electronic.
  • Seat belts must click into place, retract easily, and work in the case of an accident.
  • Check the cigarette lighter and power outlets (many new cars have them in the boot and dashboard as well).
  • Check all lights in the dashboard and all internal lights.
  • Look for the jack and whether the correct tool kit is in the boot.

The Harder Stuff

The engine

  • Check for oil leaks and check the oil for clarity.
  • Check all other fluids — power steering, water, etc.
  • If the car is fitted with an aluminium engine or cylinder head, check for the presence of antifreeze in the coolant.
  • Inspect the timing belt/chain and inspect belts for signs of wear.
  • Inspect engine mounts and wiring.
  • Check hose integrity.
  • Look for fuel or water leaks.
  • Pressure test the radiator cap.
  • Check the fuel filter.

The brakes and tyres

  • Brake fluid reservoir — is it topped up to the correct level? Black, dirty fluid could mean a neglected braking system.
  • Check wheel cylinders on brake drums for signs of fluid leakage. While it's difficult to check drum brakes without disassembly, rotors and pads can be easily checked on disc brakes.
  • Tyres — do they have legal depth of tread? Be wary of mismatched tyres, especially a mix of radial and cross ply tires.
  • Wheels — alloy wheels can be severely damaged after being ‘kerbed' and even basic steel wheels can be put out of round. Wire wheels are more difficult to check, but be wary of any obvious signs of loose spokes.

By starting the car

  • Does it start easily?
  • Check for smoke, particularly after it's warm.
  • Rev the engine. Are there any unusual squeaks, rattles, harsh sounds?
  • Is there a spare key?

Road worthiness — the road test

  • Whether you take the owner along or not is your prerogative, but if you do, be careful they don't try to mask any of the car's deficiencies by talking over unusual noise.
  • Note engine performance in different gears and acceleration.
  • Check the integrity of the clutch — how well does the car pull away and is there any chatter or slipping?
  • Listen for engine noise at high and low revs, and high and low speed.
  • Listen for gearbox/transmission noise.
  • Does the auto transmission shift smoothly?
  • Does the manual transmission feel solid — check it doesn't jump out of gear, grind in certain gears, or have a difficult gate into one of the gears?
  • Does the steering respond smoothly and not have too much play in it?
  • Keep an eye on battery gauges, oil temperature and other gauges when both hot and cold.
  • Check the handling and suspension on a rougher road. Keep your ears alert for suspicious clunks and knocks which could indicate worn bushes, wheel bearings or universal joints.
  • Test the brakes for effectiveness. Do they pull evenly? Do the ABS, ESP, VDC and any other electronic aids work (if relevant)? Do the brakes squeak?
  • Check for noises specific to turning — knocking or grinding noises are not good.
  • Check that all gauges work (speedometer, tachometer and fluid gauges).


  • If the seller is evasive or tries to make light of something (or direct your attention elsewhere), be cautious.
  • If the price is too good to be true, it more than likely is.
  • Make notes so you can get any repair quotes from a mechanic.
  • Check on the internet, with clubs and on forums for insider knowledge. What's likely to go wrong with these cars? Are parts readily available?
  • Get a Checka vehicle report to make sure the vehicle isn’t wanted by the police, clocked or has money owing on it.
  • Finally, can you afford it? Be sure you're negotiating a fair price. Have you budgeted for repairs, maintenance, registration, insurance, etc?