How to Buy The Best Cars at Auction PART 2
Car auctions are the place to buy anything from a used banger to a brand new marque to a rare classic car. Auctions are the perfect place to find your perfect motor.
How to Judge a Car at Auction
When you are viewing at an auction, you are much more restricted in the amount of checks or tests that you can carry out on a car. Before performing any of the following tests take a look around the vehicle and get an overall impression of its condition. Assess whether it has been well looked after or badly treated. It doesn’t matter if a car has a high mileage or is very old. If it has been looked after properly it can last for a long, long time to come.
Ask yourself, does the car sit properly or does it tilt to one side or at the back? The bumpers should be parallel to the ground. If the car is security coded, that is if its registration number is marked on each window, check that the number corresponds to the number on the plates, back and front. If not, then consult the registration document. It could be that a previous owner has kept his/her private plates, but it could also be that it is a stolen car which has had new number plates fitted.
When you visit the auction, bring along a small bag with a few tools and some handy items to help you carry out your checks. The following is a list of the basic items that you should bring with you when you are going to check the car:
- a torch for inspecting in and around the engine and underneath the car
- a small wire brush
- a magnet – particularly important for checking where filler has been used on metal bodied cars
- an old handkerchief to kneel on while inspecting the underneath or to wrap around the mag net so that it will not scratch the paintwork and to wipe oil off the dipstick
- a car price guide – to quickly approximate the valuations
- some screwdrivers
- a pair of pliers
- and, of course, a notebook and a pen for jotting down faults, features and details.
It is always best to try and inspect the car in daylight or in dry weather conditions although this may not always be possible at an auction.
What To Look For
Have a good look around the car to see whether there are any major dents or defects and decide whether they will need urgent attention. Look for body panels which are badly fitted, out of joint or are of a different colour or shade, as this could suggest recent damage. Rust is the first thing that people look for when doing up a car so look out for patches of rust bubbling underneath the paint surface or where it may have already broken through.
Rust generally travels upwards so start your inspection down below and work your way towards the roof. You can replace the entire engine of a car but never the entire body. If rust has taken a good hold then consider it in the same way as one would think of cancer as a terminal disease.
Rust at the edges of panels and where little bits may be chipped off is not a major problem as it can be cured by using a rust treatment. If rusts exists in the centre of a panel, in the roof, under all the wheel arches and around the glasswork then it is probably already beyond repair.
Check for rust around light fittings, under the front and back bumpers, around the edges of the boot and door panels, on the tops of the wings, around the aerial, around the wing mirrors, around the wheel arches and basically around the edges of all panels where they join together and anywhere something sticks in or out of the bodywork.
Look at the quality and colour of the paintwork and judge whether it will be easy to touch up – metallic paint is very awkward to repair. Again, any scratches or patches of rust in the middle of panels will be much harder to fix than at the edges. Look at the general finish of the paintwork and see if it is beginning to suffer from the weather. Ask yourself whether the car has recently been re-sprayed. The term used for a bad re-spray is “blown”, which actually describes how the job was done.
Gently press the bodywork in a number of random places which are done to see whether you can hear cracks under the surface or if it feels spongy – this indicates rust.
To judge whether it has been re-sprayed, look under the wheel arches or under the sills for spray paint over dirt, also on the tyres and paint which has run over the rubber mounts or the chrome of the glass is a clear give-away as well. If the car has been sprayed in damp conditions there may be a slight whiteness to areas of the paintwork. Unfortunately, this is under the skin and is impossible to get rid of.
Also, a crater or pock-marked effect, rather like the surface of an orange, means that the paint has been applied too coarsely. This is a clear sign of a cheap and amateurish job which won’t last long. However, don’t jump to the conclusion that if you find one of these tell-tale signs that the whole car has been re-sprayed, as it could just be one section which may have sustained some minor accident damage. These areas will usually appear brighter than the panels surrounding them.
When viewing the overall look of the car, check to see if it is twisted in any way. This could indicate that the car has had a serious crash which could have affected the chassis. Check that all the doors, boot and bonnet fit properly and that they go into their corresponding holes easily and comfortably.
If not, I then they are likely to have been damaged, poorly attended to or replaced altogether. Check the corners of the vehicle for accident damage and repair work as people often misjudge the length and breadth of their vehicles. If you get a chance, open the bonnet and check the inside of the wheel arches and engine cavity for signs of repair work. A car that has had the front or rear damaged in this way will always show-up in this fashion.
Take out your screwdriver or penknife and check under the wheel arches for serious rust damage. This area is hammered by stones and grit, water and ice throughout the year and although most cars are well protected with an underseal, this does not last forever. It only takes one flake to fall off for rust to start developing and eat away the underneath without any protection.
Check that the windscreen has not sustained any cracks or chips which will weaken its strength. This can expensive to fix properly. Many bad jobs result in water leakage from the seal which causes rot in the floor panels.
Under the Bonnet
Now turn your attention to the engine. If you have an opportunity to start the car when it is in the auction pound, by all means do so, if possible making sure you check under the bonnet both before the test, when the engine is cold, and afterwards when it is hot, as many problems can be seen, (such as fuel leaks), immediately after use.
When you open the bonnet, take a good look around and get a general feeling as to its overall condition. There is bound to be some oil around, especially with old cars, but an engine compartment covered in oil suggests there could be an oil leak somewhere which does not bode well.
Also, if it is very dirty, it suggests that the engine has not been looked after very well, this could be a real problem. If there is no dirt anywhere and the engine gleams like a new pin, even though the car has 50,000 miles on its clock, it has most probably been subjected to a steam clean. This can remove much of the evidence that might suggest an oil leak. Pullout the dipstick and inspect it. Check for lots of bubbles in the oil which indicates that the cylinder head gasket has gone or is going.
Check the level, make sure the car is not on a slope or otherwise you will get an inaccurate reading. The level should be somewhere between the maximum and minimum marks. If it is too low then it would suggest that the car has not been looked after and driving a car with not enough, or even too much, oil can damage the engine seriously. While you are checking the level, also check the oil itself.
Oil does not last forever; it should be changed at each major service. In the ideal case, it should be translucent and gold in colour, rather like thin treacle, and dirtier and blacker when used. It should never be in such a condition that you can’t see the dipstick through the oil. Rub a little of the oil between your fingers and see if you can feel any grit. If you can feel grit, this is an extremely bad indication.
When the engine is cold, take off the radiator cap and look at the water. If there is not enough water then it is possible that there may be a leak in the system. Stick your finger down the hole and look for trace of oil in the water by rubbing your fingers together. If it feels slimy you can assume, again, that the cylinder head gasket is going. If your finger comes out white and fluffy then it‚Äôs already blown.
A roughly cooling system will turn the water orange and will cause damage to the water pump, the radiator and the radiator matrixes, any alloy casings and the pipe in which it is being carried. Never take the radiators cap off if the engine is hot water in the cooling system is very hot indeed and is under a great deal of pressure.
Next take off the oil filter cap and check if there are any white deposits on the cap itself or the surround, which would suggest water in the engine and a blown cylinder head gasket. Also do this after the test drive and check there is not an exceptional amount of smoke coming out of the hole, which would mean a worn engine.
With the oil filter cap still off, check that oil does not blow-out all over the place when the engines revs a little, which would indicate a defunct or ineffective oil circulation system. Also, put your hand over the hole and check that there is a gentle breeze passing through your fingers. If it blows like a gale, then the piston rings are worn and there is back pressure in the sump. Always make sure that you get a car warm enough to thin the oil. Thick, cold oil covers up a multitude of sins and prevents any noise being made by worn bearings and the like.
Look for new and shiny parts and also note that nothing is missing. There should be at least one fairly brightly coloured object, the oil filter, to be found towards the bottom of the engine on one side. This should be replaced as regularly as the oil. If it is covered in dirt and is rusty then the service has been neglected.