The First Month of Ownership: A Comprehensive Guide to Checking Your Second-hand Car

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Last week, we delved into the important process of conducting a needs analysis to help you make an informed decision when buying a car. This week, we continue our exploration on this theme by shifting our focus to the first month of ownership. While our previous article remained agnostic about whether you were considering a new or used car, this week's discussion centres specifically around the experience of purchasing a second-hand vehicle. We understand that buying a second-hand car often comes with limited warranties, such as the minimal 30-day or 1000 km coverage offered by some dealerships. With this in mind, we aim to provide valuable insights and guidance for those embarking on their first month of ownership, ensuring a smooth and satisfying experience with their second-hand purchase.


What To Look Out For


By following these steps and approaching the dealership with a comprehensive list of issues, you can make the most of the warranty period and ensure that any necessary repairs are promptly addressed, enhancing your overall ownership experience.


Mechanical Components:

a. Engine: Check for any abnormal noises, leaks, or smoke from the exhaust. Monitor the engine's performance, including startup, acceleration, and idling.


b. Transmission: Assess the shifting smoothness and listen for any unusual noises or jerking motions during gear changes.


c. Suspension and Steering: Pay attention to the vehicle's stability, smoothness of ride, and responsiveness of the steering wheel. Look out for signs of excessive vibration or uneven tyre wear.


d. Brakes: Evaluate the braking system's effectiveness and responsiveness. Check for signs of squeaking, grinding, or pulsating brakes. Find an empty road or car park where you can practice emergency braking.


Electrical Systems:

a. Lights and Indicators: Verify the functionality of headlights, taillights, indicators, brake lights, and interior lights.


b. Wipers and Washers: Test the wipers and washer fluid system to ensure proper operation, including different speed settings.


c. Power Windows and Locks: Check that all windows and locks are                                      functioning correctly.


d. Air Conditioning and Heating: Assess the cooling and heating performance of the system, including fan speeds and temperature control. Check the rear demister.


Fluid Levels and Maintenance:

a. Engine Oil: Check the oil level and its condition.


b. Coolant: Verify the coolant level and its concentration. Look for signs of coolant leaks or discolouration.


c. Brake Fluid and Power Steering Fluid: Ensure that the brake fluid and power steering fluid are at the recommended levels.


Check For Leaks


Checking for oil and fluid leaks in your secondhand car is an essential part of the inspection process. Here's how you can check for oil leaks:

Park on a clean and flat surface: Find a well-lit area with a clean surface, such as a concrete driveway or car park, to park your car.

Allow the engine to cool: Ensure that the engine has cooled down before proceeding to avoid any risk of burns.

Open the bonnet: Release the bonnet latch inside the car and secure the bonnet in its open position.

Inspect the engine and surrounding areas: With a torch, carefully examine the engine, oil pan, and surrounding components for any signs of oil leakage. Pay attention to the following areas:

a. Oil filter: Check around the oil filter for any visible oil stains or wetness.

b. Oil pan: Inspect the bottom of the engine for any signs of oil pooling or drips. Look for any oil stains on the ground beneath the engine area.

c. Gaskets and seals: Look for any signs of oil seeping or visible oil residue around gaskets, seals, or connections such as the valve cover gasket, oil pan gasket, or oil cooler seals.

d. Hoses and lines: Inspect the oil lines and hoses for any signs of leaks, including wetness or oil stains.

Check the dipstick: Pull out the engine oil dipstick (refer to the owner's manual for its location) and inspect it for any oil that appears foamy or discoloured, which may indicate a potential issue.

Monitor oil levels: Throughout the first month of ownership, regularly check the oil levels on the dipstick to ensure that there are no significant drops or abnormalities.

Look for fresh leaks:  Put a few sheets of clean paper underneath your car at night under the engine and check for leaks the next morning


Drive, Drive, Drive


The more you can drive the better, but not just the same type of driving as different problemns present in city-driving as opposed to highway driving and on smooth roads as opposed to rough roads.  It's important to take the car through varying conditions to thoroughly check its components.

Here are a few additional driving scenarios to consider:

  1. Long Highway Drive to check handling, braking and alignment

Take the car on a long highway drive to evaluate its handling at higher speeds. Pay attention to stability, steering responsiveness, and overall control. Test the braking system during high-speed braking to ensure it performs effectively and without any issues. Also monitor your engine temperature to see if it remains stable or keeps rising.


  1. Drive On Uphills  to check overheating

Find a route with uphill sections and drive the car to assess its cooling system. Steep uphills at low gears and high revs is where most overheating problems will manifest.  Monitor the engine temperature gauge or warning lights to ensure the car does not overheat during the climb. Additionally, pay attention to any abnormal engine noises or loss of power, which could indicate cooling system problems.


  1. Drive on Bad Roads to Check the Suspension

Take the car on roads with potholes, bumps, or rough surfaces (basically any road in South Africa nowadays) to evaluate the suspension system. Observe how the car handles these conditions, noting any excessive bouncing, noise, or discomfort. This will help identify potential suspension issues that may need attention.


  1. Stop-and-Go City Traffic for Transmission Performance

Drive in stop-and-go traffic to assess the transmission's performance. Observe how smoothly the car shifts gears, whether there are any delays or jerking motions during acceleration or deceleration. This will help detect any potential transmission problems.


  1. Rainy Conditions to Check Wipers and Traction

We obviously can’t do a rain dance and be guaranteed of rain, but should it rain , hop into your car and drive the car during rainy conditions to test the functionality of the wipers, washer fluid system, and overall visibility. Pay attention to how well the wipers clear the windshield and ensure proper water dispersion. Additionally, observe the traction and handling of the car on wet surfaces to identify any potential issues with the tires or traction control system.



Exterior and Interior:


a. Body and Paintwork: Inspect the exterior for any dents, scratches, or signs of previous repairs. Check the paint condition and look for any rust or corrosion.


b. Interior Condition: Examine the seats, dashboard, carpeting, and upholstery for wear and tear. Test all seat adjustments and seatbelt functionality.


c. Infotainment System: Verify the operation of the audio system, touchscreen (if applicable), speakers, and other features.


Warranty and After-Sales Service:


a. Review the terms and conditions of the 30-day warranty provided by the dealership. Understand what is covered and the procedures for making a warranty claim, if needed.


b. Familiarise yourself with the dealership's after-sales service and support. Be aware of their contact information and procedures for scheduling maintenance or repairs.


How To Claim


This article is mostly geared towards secondhand cars with a 30-day or 1000 km confidence drive warranty. In the event that you encounter any issues or concerns with your secondhand car, such as anything listed above, it is important not to rush to the dealership as soon as a problem is discovered, unless it is safety critical or your car is unable to drive. Instead, follow these steps:

Document the issues: As you notice any problems or areas that require attention, make a detailed list of the specific issues. This can include mechanical issues, cosmetic concerns, or any other aspects that require fixing.


Track mileage and time: Keep track of both the mileage and the number of days since the purchase of the vehicle. This will ensure that you are aware of when the 30-day or 1000 km warranty period is approaching its end.


Compile a comprehensive list: On day 29 or when you are nearing 900 km, review your list of issues and make sure it includes everything that requires attention. Be as thorough as possible to ensure that all necessary repairs are addressed.


Schedule an appointment: Contact the dealership to schedule an appointment, informing them of your intention to bring in the car for warranty repairs. Provide them with your comprehensive list of issues, allowing them sufficient time to prepare for the necessary repairs.


By waiting until day 29 or 900 km, you give yourself ample time to identify any potential issues that may arise during the first month of ownership. This approach allows you to address multiple concerns in a single visit to the dealership, maximising efficiency and minimising inconvenience.


It's important to note that the specific terms and conditions of the warranty may vary between dealerships. Therefore, it's advisable to carefully review the warranty documents provided by the dealership to understand the coverage, limitations, and the procedure for making warranty claims.




The first month of ownership is a critical period to thoroughly inspect your secondhand car and ensure that it meets your expectations. By following this comprehensive guide, you can identify any potential issues and address them promptly within the dealership's 30-day warranty period.

Remember to document any concerns or observations during this time and communicate them to the dealership for resolution. With a comprehensive inspection and prompt action, you can enjoy a worry-free ownership experience with your secondhand car.