6 Smart Tips You Need to Know About When Buying a Secondhand Car

Owner of the car gives the car key to new owner.

Know Which Type of Seller You Choose

As a buyer try researching your seller online. You never know when their name might pop up and what other people may have to say about them. Chances are, they’ve done business with other people before, and these people have shared their experiences online. This particular step is a great way to learn about a seller’s reputation.

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Car dealer

Car Quality

If it is your first time buying a secondhand car and you absolutely have no idea of the important parts that should be working, then the best option is to go to a car dealer.

One of the perks of buying a secondhand car from a car dealer is that business laws state that these dealers are not allowed to sell cars that are unacceptable to customer standards. You can be sure that you are buying a vehicle that is up to par.

Car History

As car dealers go through hundreds to thousands of cars every year, they can’t really know everything about the cars they are selling.

Some car dealers would not be able to tell you about the car’s limits or even “bad habits” (overheating, breaking down when used too long, etc).

Purchase Price

In reality, buying a used car from a car dealer can be a bit more expensive than buying from a private seller. Why you ask? Because as said earlier, car dealers make money from the vehicle being sold.

Private seller

Car Quality

Compared to buying a secondhand car from a dealer, buying one from a private seller is a bit risky. Since private sellers are not bound by the same business laws, some of them will not tell you that the vehicle you are about to buy is a total wreck.

There are thousands of stories online wherein the buyer was not well informed about the details of the car they are buying, and they ended up paying more than they should have for a car that is not working as well as it should.

When buying from a private seller, you must do your research. Make sure you know the specifications of the car model you are looking to buy. You may also hire a professional car inspector to make sure you are buying your money’s worth.

Car History

Since the seller has owned and driven the vehicle, they know all the ins and outs of the vehicle and can tell you about it. They will be able to give you the exact answers to your questions that can only be answered if you have gone through the experience.

Purchase Price

Purchasing from a private seller, on the other hand, is a totally different story. Private used car sales are always cheaper than the used cars under car dealers. Most of the time, private seller transactions are very straightforward: the seller just needs to sell their old car to buy a new one, or pay for other expenses. As such, they may not be too concerned about maximizing profit. They just really need the money.

Don’t buy impulsively - It doesn’t matter that your ‘only’ buying a used car—you’re still going to spend a lot of your hard-earned cash on it. A used car for sale still represents a significant investment, so scrutinize the car before making the purchase. Buying on impulse only serves to increase your chances of experiencing buyer’s remorse afterward.

Know Which Type of Transmission You Want if Manual or Automatic

A manual transmission vehicle is the driver operates the clutch and decides when to shift the gears. While an automatic vehicle is the gear-shifting duties are handled by the computer-controlled transmission.

If you want to read the pros and cons of these transmissions you may visit Manual vs. Automatic Pros and Cons: Which Is Better? or Manual vs Automatic car transmissions: Pros & Cons.

Check the Vehicle's Coding

As a driver and a soon to be a car owner, it’s best to know your vehicle’s plate number, especially its last digit to avoid using it on the imposed number coding days. Plate numbers that end with 1 and 2 are not allowed to travel on certain roads every Monday. The same policy applies on plate numbers 3 and 4 every Tuesday, 5 and 6 every Wednesday, 7 and 8 every Thursday, and 9 and 0 every Friday.

Infographic about Metro Manila number coding scheme by eCompareMo.com.

For a detailed explanation visit Number Coding Scheme: Your 2019 Guide To The Unified Vehicle Volume Reduction Program (UVVRP) or A Guide to Number Coding in the Philippines.

Know the Year Model of the Vehicle and Mileage

The cheapest used cars are not necessarily the best ones to purchase. They typically have higher mileage. The higher the mileage is, the older the vehicle is. The older the vehicle is, the more parts you need to replace.

So be sure to check or inquire about the specifics of the car's mileage of the car you’re considering to buy. Avoid those vehicles with mileage over 60,000 km. because these units’ parts are likely to be worn out.

To check the mileage of a car, pay attention to the pedals and steering wheel during your vehicle inspection. Their condition can speak volumes about the real age of the car.

Visual Inspect the Vehicle Thoroughly

Here are some things you should do during an initial visual inspection:

  • Do a quick overview of the exterior body of the car. Does it have various dents and scratches? If so, are you okay with leaving these unfixed? Fixing dents and other problems with a car’s exterior can be costly.
  • Check the tires if even and has no lumps. Visit 10 Things Your Tires Can Tell You About Your Car or 10 Kinds of Tire Wear Can Indicate a Car’s General Condition for more information on how to check tires.
  • Check for rust. Older vehicles do rust and you’ll want to make sure none of this is problematic. Some of the most common places for rust occur along the bottom of the car. Bend over and check the chassis in its entirety. If you can’t see the area properly, run your fingers along the bottom of the car to check the texture.
  • Check for signs of large accidents. One of the best ways to do this is to check for color variations on the vehicle. If there are differences in color around the vehicle this could be a sign of major work done on the car. It is often hard to replicate a car’s exact color if repairs have to be done – this is a great indicator of a large accident.
  • Another sign of an accident is unusual welding. Open the trunk and the doors and check if there is any welding that looks as though it was done after the vehicle was purchased. We suggest you never purchase a vehicle that has signs of major structural repair. It can compromise the safety and reliability of the car.
  • Check the engine. Avoid the car if there's a smell of burnt oil or antifreeze smell which is a sign of oil leaks. Repairing oil leaks is not always cheap. At higher mileage, the piston rings and cylinders wear out, which causes more blow-by gases to enter the crankcase. This increases pressure inside the crankcase. As a result, the oil is pushed out trough various seals and gaskets, as well as through the PCV (crankcase ventilation) system. This issue is more common in turbo engines. An engine in good condition is unlikely to have any leaks.
  • Check for visible oil leaks. Oil leaks might not be visible from under the hood, but here is the trick: look from underneath. Take a photo or video with your phone. Check the lower part of the engine and transmission. Everything has to be dry.
  • Check for Low oil level, dirty oil. If you can check the oil condition on the dipstick (check when you pull the dipstick if there's a cloud of white smoke coming out an indication of engine compression), it can tell a lot. To check the oil, the engine needs to be OFF. Set the parking brake, careful, some engine parts might be hot. The owner's manual in the car has directions on how to check the engine oil. If the oil level is low, it means that either the engine consumes oil or it has been long since the last oil change. When the engine runs low on oil, it wears faster. Normally the oil level should be close to the "Full" mark. If there is no oil or the level is very low, or if the oil is mixed with coolant avoid a car.
  • With the engine off, check under the oil cap. If you aren't comfortable doing this test, leave it to your mechanic. With the parking brake applied and the engine OFF, remove the oil filler cap (check if there's a cloud of white smoke coming out an indication of the engine compression). Careful, it might be hot, use a towel or a rag. Look under it, use your flashlight. In some engines, you can actually see the internal parts.
  • Watch out for performance mods. Be careful if a car has some performance mods. If done right, modifications can improve vehicle performance. However, poorly-done engine mods can lead to many problems, especially if parts that were originally on the vehicle are no longer available. If the car has been modified, it's also likely that it has been raced or otherwise abused.
  • Does the engine have a timing belt? Not all cars have a timing belt, some cars have a timing chain instead. In most cars, a timing belt needs to be replaced between 60K and 105K miles. If the car you want to buy has a timing belt, it's good to know if it has been changed. Some mechanics place a sticker on the engine when a timing belt is replaced. You cannot see a timing belt under the hood, it is hidden under covers. To check its condition, your mechanic will need to remove one or two covers, and it's not always easy. A more realistic option is to check the service records to see if a timing belt has been replaced.
  • Cold start can reveal many hidden problems. The best way to catch hidden engine problems is to start it cold. To do this, it might be a good idea to come to the dealer a little earlier than your appointment time. You will also know if the battery is good because if the battery is old, it might need to be boosted to start the car. Watch out for engine noises and smoke when the engine is first started. If the engine rattles or makes other loud noises, or there is a blue smoke (smell like a burning oil) from the exhaust, look for another vehicle. Blue smoke means that the engine burns oil.
  • Test drive the car. During the test drive, watch out for engine noises, vibration, lack of power, or any other driveability issues. When started, the engine should run smoothly, without shaking or hesitation. If you feel that the engine is hesitating or stumbling when accelerated, there is a problem. The idle speed should be stable too. Test drive the vehicle for as long as possible; sometimes problems may not be obvious during a short drive around the block. It helps if you can test drive in all modes: acceleration, deceleration, stop-and-go traffic, highway cruising. Watch out for the engine temperature on the dash. Once the engine is warmed up, the temperature gauge should stay somewhere around the middle of the scale. Also, check the car's wheels alignment along the way if properly aligned. You can know it by staring at the steering wheel if it's visibly moving to the left or right.
    Even if everything seems OK, it is strongly recommended to have the used car properly inspected by an independent mechanic before buying.

    Additional Things to Take Note When Test Driving (Automatic/Manual):

    When you test drive a used car with an automatic transmission, there are three main issues to watch for.

    1. Delayed Engagement - First, a delayed engagement when shifting gears. Here’s an example: if you change from park to drive or park to reverse, but the car takes a few seconds to respond, then there’s a major problem with the transmission.

    2. Harsh Shifting - Next, a harsh shift. To test for this, you also need to simply switch gears – you don’t even have to be moving. If the transmission makes a clunking/grinding sound when you switch or the car lurches, then there’s something wrong.

    3. Slippage - Finally, there’s slippage. This is the most dangerous transmission issue – you could find yourself in a bad situation if you try to accelerate on the highway but your vehicle doesn’t respond. If you press on the gas, the engine makes noise, the tachometer climbs, but the car doesn’t accelerate, your transmission is probably slipping.

    When you’re checking a used car for any problems with a manual transmission, you probably want to focus on the clutch, especially in older or well-worn models.

    If the clutch is nearing the end of its lifespan, the transmission will start to slip on acceleration, produce a burning smell, and the clutch will engage too quickly after you depress the pedal.

As part of the visual inspection, it is also important to know the car's history.

The biggest risk of buying a secondhand car is its history. It may have been stolen, involved in a crime, met an accident, or flooded. How will you know about the service history of a pre-owned vehicle? Here are some ways to find out:

Original copy of Certificate of Vehicle Registration (CR)

The Certificate of Motor Vehicle Registration is an official document from the Land Transportation Office (LTO) that shows proof that the vehicle you’re about to buy has already been registered. As we all know, you won’t be able to register your vehicle if it has an unsettled police report and unpaid fines, so this document allows you to check whether the car is clean.

However, this doesn’t mean that you’re all good from here. You have to read what’s written on the registration and make sure that it’s not a counterfeit. It should have the year and model of the vehicle, as well as its specific color and other specifications of the vehicle. The car’s chassis number should also be the same as what’s written on paper.

Moreover, it should not have the word “ENCUMBERED” written on the upper right section of the vehicle registration certificate. This signifies that the owner isn’t clear yet from its financial obligation from the bank or the institution that paid for it. If it has been previously encumbered but has already been settled, ask for the Release of Chattel Mortgage.

Original receipt of registration (OR)

Of course, when you register your car, it will come with the receipt. This should also be consistent with the details on the Certificate of Vehicle Registration, such as the date of registration. Just like the Certificate, you can double-check its validity by contacting the LTO.

Without a valid OR and CR, you need to reconsider your decision in buying the car that you’re eyeing. You don’t want to end up driving home an illegal set of wheels.

Original LTO plate number

The Original LTO plate number should only be the ones attached to the vehicle that you want to buy. It should also have the sticker of the current year of registration on it. On the other hand, for cars with new license plates (the white one with black letters and numbers), you can check if it is registered at LTO by looking at the sticker that’s placed inside the right side of the windshield.

Using the plate number, you can also check more information about the car such as pending alarms, apprehensions, last registration date, make, color, year, and more. To do this, you can just text the following to 2600: LTO Vehicle <plate number>.

If the car has plates other than what LTO issued, ask for the Authority to Use Customized Plate from the seller. If this isn’t available, ask the seller to replace the plates with the original one. If that’s not possible, then it’s time to move on to your next target car.

Notarized Deed of Sale

When you’re ready to buy the car, you should have a Deed of Sale ready so you could proceed with the transaction. This should be notarized to solidify its legality. Without this, the whole transaction will be null and void.

Making sure that the documents are correct is as important as making sure that the car that you’re about buy is still running. It can also prove (or disprove) any claim about the car and will serve as your protection, in case the purchase was a fraud.

If you want to check if the documents are indeed legitimate and not fabricated, you can always visit or call LTO. Moreover, you should ask for the seller’s valid ID (preferably the driver’s license) to confirm his/her identity.

Anti-carnapping clearance

Ask for the anti-carnapping clearance issued by the PNP Highway Patrol Group. You can apply for the clearance at Camp Crame or any HPG Directory Office.

Visit this link/download the file to know the complete requirements: http://www.pnp.gov.ph/images/citizencharter/HPG_Services.pdf.

For the fees visit this blog: https://www.mypilipinas.com/pnp-tmg-clearance.html.


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