Cars & Vehicles

What to Check for When Buying a Used Car?

Once you get a job and start earning, you save up bit by bit for your future expenses and investments. One of such biggest investments in some people’s lives is buying a car. It truly feels big to sit in your own car bought from your hard-earned money. 

However, once you decide to buy a car, the procedure thereafter is not easy at all! Since you are making an investment in buying a car, all decisions need to be well thought out. You do not want to let your money go to waste. 

One of the main decisions would be whether you want a brand new car or used car. This choice depends on your requirements as well as your economic situation. Moreover, you will also have a wide range of choices as there are many brand new and used cars for sale in Sri Lanka. In any case, if you decide to go for a used car, there is a huge screening process that you must perform. The car is “used” – there could be mechanical problems, body damages and many other things. Surely, you do not want to end up in a bad deal. So, you need to know that this pre-owned car that you saw in an online ad is exactly what the owner says it is. 

How do you find that the used car is in a good condition? The following could be your checklist! 

1. Vehicle history

For this, you need to get as much information as possible from the current owner. In the meantime, it is a must for you to do your own research.

In Sri Lanka, the Department of Motor Traffic has an online service for this purpose. It is called the “Online Registered Vehicle Information Service”. Using this service, you could get lots of important information regarding the vehicle you are planning to buy. 

For free, you could obtain the following information of the vehicles for sale:

  • Name of the absolute ownership/ mortgage if any
  • Engine number
  • Vehicle class
  • Conditions and notes
  • Make
  • Model
  • Year of manufacture

To access this service, you need to provide the following information:

  • Name 
  • NIC No. 
  • Contact Number 
  • Vehicle Registration Number 
online vehicle information sri lanka
Online Registered Vehicle Information Service Sri Lanka (Source: Department of Motor Traffic) 

By paying 150 LKR, you could obtain full information about the vehicle that includes:

  • Name of the current owner
  • Address of the current owner
  • Name and address of the absolute ownership/ mortgage if any
  • Engine number
  • Vehicle class
  • Conditions and notes
  • Make
  • Model
  • Year of manufacture
  • Date of registration
  • Engine capacity
  • Fuel type
  • Status when registered
  • CR Type
  • Type of Body

To access this services, you need to provide the following information:

  • Name 
  • NIC No. 
  • Vehicle Registration Number 
  • Vehicle Chassis Number 

2. Rust or paint damage

When you do a physical inspection of the car, one main point to look for is any rusty spots or paint chips. If there are spots completely covered in rust, you might need to think twice. On the other hand, small patches of rust will not cause any major issues. In fact, you can fix them easily. 

3. Frame issues

Another part of the vehicle’s physical examination should be to check the frame for any issues. The car has to be sitting level on the ground. In addition, there should NOT be any objects or wires hanging from the underside of the car. You might also need to examine the trunk and hood for new bolts or warping. The reason is, the presence of such could mean a recent accident. 

4. The engine

Checking for fluid discoloration
Checking for fluid discoloration (Source: Pexels)

This is the heart of the vehicle. It should be healthy, or the car will not function properly. Turn off the car and open the hood, then check for these. Have an eye for any fluid leaks, cracked hoses and belts, and corrosion. You also need to check oil and transmission dipsticks. They should not be discoloured. For oil, it has to be light brown, and for transmission fluid, it should be pink or red. 

5. Suspension 

To check this, bounce each corner of the car up and down. The car will rebound only once, if the shock absorbers are working fine. Then, tug back and forth from the top of each front tire. A clicking or ticking sound might indicate that the wheel bearings or suspension joints are shot.

6. Lights 

Get your companion to confirm that the lights are working properly. Moreover, do a physical inspection of the lights and lenses to confirm that there are no cracks, moisture or missing elements. 

7. Tires

Tires can tell a story! If the odometer shows around 20,000 miles, then the vehicle better have its original tyres. A car with low mileage having new tires is problematic. This could mean that the odometer has been rolled back. Moreover, different tires mean that they have been replaced. 

8. Mileage

odometer and mileage
Check the odometer for the mileage (Source: Pexels)

A mileage above the recommended obviously will bring issues. A used car with a high mileage tends to have more wear and tear on its mechanical components. You can find whether the mileage of the car you are looking to purchase is high or low by dividing the number on the odometer by the age of the vehicle. The average mileage of a car will be around 20,000km. Then again, this is subject to change depending on many factors. 

9. Documentation 

All related documents will help you get an overall idea about the used car. Moreover, you can check the mileage against what is displayed on the dashboard. It should have similar amounts for each year. Any sudden decrease could indicate an illegal winding down. Sometimes, car owners do this to make it appear less used than it actually is. So, any mismatch with the documents can indicate a clocked odometer. In addition, you can also learn who has serviced the car, and when.

In Sri Lanka, the Department of Motor Traffic in Sri Lanka provides a car owner with a “Vehicle Book”. This is a sheet of paper listing out all the previous owners of the vehicle. Studying this will tell you how many times the car has been exchanged.

10. Test drive

This is it! The test drive does two things. For one thing, it should give you an idea about its maneuverability, acceleration, braking and suspension. You will know how it performs in a city area and on the highway. If you try parallel parking, you will discover any blind spots of the car.

Secondly, and most importantly, the test drive will tell you how exactly you feel about this car. You will know whether you feel homey, comfortable, convenient, and happy in it during the test drive. 

11. Mechanic inspection

This would be the ultimate test! Nobody but a mechanic only can get into the inside of the car and inspect it for any current or impending issues. This is the ultimate step that you should not skip on any account (unless you yourself are a mechanic!). There have been countless cases in Sri Lanka where people got caught in fraudulent transactions of both brand new as well as used cars. This happens when you miss the spots that only a true expert can find. So, do not skip this step!   

A stage of a used car inspection by a mechanic (Source: Pexels)

For this, you can either get the help of any trusted mechanics you have known for a long time. Or else, there are companies in Sri Lanka such as CarChecks or Grease Monkey which provide car inspection services in different packages. 

Other things to note

Interior electronics

Be it a short or long drive, many people switch on some music as soon as they get into the car. If you are one of those people, you might need to press some buttons and see if the sounds work fine. In addition, do not forget to check the air conditioning and heating as well. They are small features you might forget to check, but will affect your overall driving experience.  


This is a bit pricey for you to fix, after spending your money on the vehicle. So, make sure there are no damages, tears, stains, cracks etc. on the fabric and/or leather. 

Final thoughts…

Any positive result for our life decisions requires effort. In the same way, getting your hands on a trouble-free used car does not happen out of luck. This process requires much research and inspection from your side. Know the tips for buying your first car. After all, this is an investment you are making. A big one! So, you might as well know what you are getting yourself into.

In doing that, your first step would be to choose some used cars for sale that interest you, meet your requirements, and are within your budget. The best place to start is ikman cars, which has the largest number of used cars, 7600+ to be exact, for sale on its online platform. Then, once you pick one or several used cars to look, make sure you follow the above steps. This will ensure that you get a good deal for your investment. 

Bonus point: 

Regardless whether you buy a brand new or used car, you need to treat it well. Otherwise, it will start showing mechanical issues that will keep you in the garages for hours. Moreover, if the need arises, you will not be able to sell it if you do not maintain it properly. So, know some basic facts about maintaining your car.

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