Car sales buyer guide | South Africa

Car Sales Buyer GuideSo, you are thinking about buying a used car / second hand car in South Africa. This part is where the patience comes in! You need to start with a list of cars you would like and then start finding car sales and used car / second hand car dealers across South Africa. Make sure to not only look for a car sales and used car / second hand car dealer in the city you will be residing, but also look in other major cities like Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban – in the end you must be sure that you know exactly what the used car / second hand car in South Africa is offering. If you’ve already checked the major car sales dealerships, the next step would be to take a look at the local newspapers (specifically the classified sections) and surf the Internet for car sales and used car / second hand car by just going to one of the major search engines and typing in “car sales South Africa“, “used cars South Africa” or “second hand cars South Africa”. You can also contact local auction houses who are selling bank repossessed cars.

Some newspapers or publications we recommend include the Autotrader look out for the South African and the regional versions. The Cape Ads in Cape Town or the Junk mail, which is also available online, will have plenty of car sale and used cars / second hand cars to choose from. The AA Autobay or AA publications and other weekly papers all have sections where you can look for second hand cars and used car sales.

However if you have a car to sell please visit sell my car South Africa and enter your car sales information to get your car sold quickly. As the new owner of a used car / second hand car you should enquire as to the costs for repairs and availability of spare parts. This will all give you an idea as to what the first service will put you back. Foreigners also need to apply for a Traffic register number before being able to register or licence their second hand car. For this you will need two colour passport size photographs and a copy of your Passport.

Always remember that when you are buying a used car / second hand car you should read through the car sales documentation carefully. One thing that numerous people never pick up is that in the car sales document for a used car / second hand car in South Africa, you will come across the word “voetstoots”. This word has its origin in Afrikaans and means that the car is bought or sold without any warranty at all and in the condition as is.

This in effect means that you have to buy the right second hand car. Buying a cheap car that isn’t in a good condition and will break in 3 months just is not worth the time and hassle. Drive Africa’s car sales specialists have decided to jot down some important points that will help you choose carefully when buying a used/second hand car.

Here’s what you need to look out for: (please scroll down for more detailed information!)

1. Purchase advice for a second hand car / used car in South Africa
2. Registration and Documentation for car sales in South Africa
More tips on what you need to look out for when you’re viewing a second hand or used car:
3. The appearance of the second hand or used car
4. Start up the engine
5. The bodywork – inspect the second hand or used car before you buy!
6. Look for accident damage
7. Check the upholstery and interior of the car
8. Performance and the engine
9. Gearbox and clutch
10. Brakes and suspension
11. Radiator and cooling system
12. General, steering and tyres

Purchase Advice

If you are a foreigner trying to buy a second hand or used car in South Africa; Johannesburg, you have three choices:
1. You buy the car cash
2. Do an international bank transfer or
3. Pay by credit card if the car dealer allows it.
Before you buy the used car / second hand car, find out what the “going rate” is for the vehicle that you are trying to buy. You can phone a reputable car dealer or inquire with used car websites in South Africa, who can look the rate up in the car dealership in South Africa instead of going for a private deal. Buying a car at a second hand / used car dealer gives you at least a month’s guarantee and if you’re lucky- sometimes even up to three months.
Remember to check the mileage/kilometers on the car you want to buy- make sure it is not too high. A good average mileage for a year is between 20000 to 25000km (around 15 000 miles per year).
Ideally you would want to check out the car properly. Here is what we suggest you should do:

Test-drive the car yourself. Make sure the dealer has insurance for you to drive it. Take it on a drive that takes you onto a highway, into inner-city driving and winding roads. Also test the car in reverse and do some really tight circles to test for CV damage as you will then hear a knocking noise when doing a tight turn.
Calculate all the costs that you will be faced with such as the purchase price of the car, the licence and registration fee, the roadworthy (if it’s for your account), your monthly insurance to cover costs incurred to your car, and your maximum excess in case of an accident.
To licence your car and get it registered go to car licensing and registration in South Africa. If you are under 25 you will have to study any insurance offer made to you very carefully and make sure that you are always covered for the other parties damage, if the accident is your fault this could become quite costly. Bear in mind over 72% of drivers in South Africa do not have car insurance as it is not compulsory.

Registration and Documentation for car sales in South Africa

Ask to see the service book and possible repair history, repair invoices and receipts. If this cannot be produced, be very cautious and extra careful before purchasing the second hand / used car.
Check if the mileage on the odometer match the service and repair invoices and check to see if all the numbers line up- if not and/or some of them are halfway up or down then the kilometers have been tampered with. Be careful and if in doubt ask a reputable garage or workshop.
Every vehicle / car in South Africa has a 17 digit Vehicle Identification Number (VIN for short). The VIN can be found either directly on the chassis or on a little plate fastened to the chassis. Check that these numbers match the car’s ID number on the registration document and make sure that it also matches the license on the car (the little round disk affixed to the windscreen of the car).
If the seller’s name does not match the person’s name on the registration document, then a written letter from the registered owner together with his or her ID or passport number, stating that the seller is authorised to sell the vehicle on his/her behalf should be given to you, signed by that person.
Ask if it is possible to have the car checked by a mechanic or workshop of your choice. Your mechanic should carry out a compression test on the cylinders to verify the condition of the engine and estimate any costs of repairs that he thinks should be carried out. Any costs of repairs to be carried out should then be deducted from the selling price as you would have to have that fixed.
If you are buying a second hand / used car in South Africa with a trade-in, you must only mention this once you have settled on a discount for the car that is being offered to you.
When buying a second hand car / vehicle from a dealer you have the option of buying a warranty. Be sure to read the small print of the warranty very carefully, as most warranties exclude those items that you would like to have covered. Every time you want to claim the answer is this or that falls out of the warranty purchased.

Appearance of the car

Beware of a very clean engine compartment- the engine compartment could have been washed to hide certain defects like an oil or water leak. We suggest you also look from underneath the engine to see that the sump (oil bin), the gearbox and the engine are dry and free from oil.
Check if there is damage or visible structural damage.
Make sure that the oil is clean.
Has the car recently been serviced, are all fluid levels at maximum and is battery corrosion free.
Can you spot any recent new parts that will reveal that major repair work has taken place?
Be streetwise and let your instinct guide you.
If you have a bad feeling about the car even after you have test driven it, walk away from the deal and find another one.

Engine start-up

Having the chance to give the car a cold start-up can tell you a lot. With the choke out, the car should start up easily and purr like a kitten. When starting, check the water light and especially the oil light; make sure it only stays on for a few seconds assuring you that the engine is good. There could be some noises at start-up but then after that it should run more quietly.
The car should be driven at various speeds and for at least 10km.
Check the idling, watch the temperature gauge and warning light which may show overheating.
Watch the oil light and if it flickers this could signal a tired oil pump or even a worn crankshaft.
These indications could indicate that it is not the original engine or that the engine has been rebuilt. Even when the car’s engine is rebuilt this is not noted on the registration documentation. Only if a car has been scrapped and completely overhauled and rebuilt, then the papers will show that the car has been rebuilt.
In the industry this is known as a code 3 car or a car with a salvage title which you will find difficult to insure through reputable insurance companies. If they insure they will only insure for two-thirds of the value of the car.

The bodywork

You must keep an eye out for dents and rust on the second hand / used car. Check generally where you can spot some rust.
Some places to look at include:
The corners in the engine compartment
The outside of the car at the rubber mouldings
Around hatchbacks windows
Volkswagen Citi Golf’s like to rust on the front corners of the windscreen and on the end of the posts along the windscreen ending at the start of the bonnet of the car.
Surface rust caused by stone chips should have been touched up as soon as the chip was caused to prevent rusting.
Check around the wheel arches, door bottoms, door hinges and sills.
A quick look under the carpets may also reveal any rust or damage.
If you note dust and rust, and the seller does not want to repair this for you, negotiate for a lower selling price. With obvious dents that have started to rust, you must negotiate the price downwards and have these sorted out before buying this car. Take a look at the vehicle’s service book to see if regular body checks have been carried out- if not ask questions!
A sure sign of water leaking into the car can be recognised by a strong odour or smell that’s accompanied by staining of the carpets near windows and in the boot. The rain or a water test will quickly tell you where it’s raining in.
Always speak up about general dents and bad scratches. If you can’t negotiate the price down, make sure the seller fixes it!

Accident Damage in South Africa

Check the car all over and see if you spot differences in the paint colour- this is usually a sign of accident damage.
Ask the owner if he has any knowledge if the car has been damaged in an accident.
Ways to spot accident damage:
If some panels aren’t smooth but slightly rippled
Bad putty filler work will show cracks in the paint
Look for a badly done overspray job
Skew or loose bumpers
Tyres with an uneven wear can indicate worn bushes or some kind of chassis damage
Look at doors that doesn’t close properly
Take a look inside the engine compartment and have a look at the chassis- any extra bends, or a crumpled end means the car was in a serious accident
Lift the carpets and look for any evidence of welding joints- this will mean that pieces of the car have been welded together
If you are unsure or in doubt and you really want to buy a used car/ second hand car in South Africa; Johannesburg, have it professionally assessed by the AA (Automobile Association of South Africa) which will give you a full report that will uncover damages and alert you to the possible expensive costs of repairing it for your own personal use. If you don’t want to take the car to the AA, you can take it to a mechanic or a company specialising in previous accident damage.

Upholstery and interior

Check the boot first as this will give you a glimpse into the history of the car- it’s more accurate than a shining interior. If the boot has a musty damp smell then you know water has leaked in at some time, check for torn or badly worn seat upholstery or seat covers that are maybe not protecting the seat but covering up some major tears in the fabric etc. The steering wheel and gear knob wear as well as the pedal rubbers give you an indication of what the car has gone through. This could help check if the car’s odometer has been tampered with.
Check all window winders and see that all windows are working. Open and close all doors of the vehicle check door handles and locks carefully as this could cost you quite a bit if you need to replace them right away.

Performance and the engine

After initial warm-up the engine should purr and pull without hesitation. If the contrary is true and it feels like it has a flat spot, especially with fuel injected cars, or the computer gives trouble have this seen to if you are uneasy about it.
Take care to listen for any strange noises especially when under load. A rumbling noise at the bottom of the car could signal crankshaft bearing wear, a roughness could be signaling to a shot tie rod end. Noise coming from under the bonnet such as piston slab or loose tappets is less serious than the noises below.
After driving for a while give the gas pedal some stick and look into the rear mirror to see if there is any blue smoke, indicating a worn cylinder head sleeve or bent valve guides- these are both expensive jobs to repair.
What does the engine look like? Is it very dirty, has it missed some services? Open up the oil filler cap and see if the cap reveals a milky substance this would indicate water leaking into the engine through the head. Check if the head gasket is leaking. Take out the dipstick and if the oil is very thick and black then it has seen a service a long time ago and not at regular intervals.

Gearbox and Clutch

The old classic way of checking out the wear on a clutch of a used / second hand car is to put the car into a high gear and try and take off with the handbrake on, the engine should stall immediately. You can also drive up a steep hill in a high gear and listen and watch if the revs go up, if this is the case the clutch is worn and slipping. Shuddering when starting indicates a replacement clutch not thoroughly installed resulting in oil contaminating the clutch or the flywheel needs skimming.
The transmission box should change gears smoothly without any grating of the gears. Increase acceleration and listen for any whining or rumbling noises and see that the gear does not jump out of the gear you selected.
No slipping or jerking should be felt when testing an automatic transmission. Drive the car gently and see how fast it changes into top gear. If the seals on the gearbox have hardened it will resist doing this easily. Feel the transmission tunnel and if it is getting hot this would indicate that the gearbox is short of oil or due for replacement.

Brakes and suspension

If you stop the car and there is a shudder, the discs need to be skimmed or replaced. You can check the brake pad wear through most of the wheels but if not, have them take a wheel off and inspect the disk. The disk should be without ridges and the brake shoe should have sufficient pad to be safe for braking.
When braking and applying pressure to the pedal it should offer resistance and not be able to be pushed just about to the floor. Check for leaking brake cylinders if the pedal goes down too far. Make sure to take a careful look at the brake cylinders and pipes- heavily rusted or slightly pitted cylinders and pipes could be dangerous.
You might spot cracks, leaks or swollen pipes leading to the brakes- this will have to be seen to as this could lead to an accident. Check the handbrake on a hill. Stop the car. Pull up the handbrake and see if it holds. Try to start the car and move it into first gear- see if the car stalls when taking off.
Are the tyres worn unevenly? Does the car look like its horizontal with the ground or does it dip to one side. If it’s lower on one side, this could mean worn shocks or shock mountings that need to be replaced. Push each corner down and watch it bounce back, if it seems too springy and bounces more than 2 times the shocks should be replaced. If only one is shot you must replace both shocks on front or both on back if necessary to keep the car even.

The radiator and cooling system

Open the radiator if you can (some are sealed) and look if the water is very rusty. This will also be revealed at the filler bottle- can you see the water level at the maximum mark or is it so rusty that you are unable to see where the waterline is? Let the engine run and see if the water is circulating back into the bottle. A radiator flush and pressure test will quickly reveal if there is a problem with the cooling system. The water in the bottle should be greenish, bluish or reddish. These are the colours of Antifreeze / antirust and should be the colour of the water. If the engine has been running without Antirust/antifreeze then it may cause problems for you in the future.

General, steering and tyres

The first and obvious question to ask is “do you enjoy the way the car drives and handles?”
When you drive the car, you must take note of certain things.
Are there noises coming from the suspension when traveling over bumps?
Is the steering wheel too loose or does it make noises when turned too sharply? This will fail the roadworthy test.
Does the car veer to one side? This means that the alignment may be out or it could point to chassis or suspension damage.
The new roadworthy testing stations in South Africa have machines that test the correct wheel alignment so this has to be in order or the car fails the test.
Vibration whilst driving just over 120km/hour is normally due to tyres not balanced or incorrect tyre pressure.
Do check the sidewalls of every tyre including the spare as well as the tread that is left on the tyres. The sidewalls should never have bulges or cracks and the tread should be at least 2mm or 1mm from the inspection point found in-between the tread of every tyre. Toe-in and camber not set correctly can only be revealed if you take it for a wheel alignment, but you will be able to see uneven wear on tyres which will reveal tracing, steering or suspension problems. Uneven wear on a tyre with flat spots should be replaced so factor these costs in when buying the car.
Let the seller rectify these small faults before you buy it and have him produce a fairly recent roadworthy certificate.
In South Africa the cars do not have to go for a yearly check-up or roadworthy check when they are 3 years or older. The only time a South Africa car has to have the roadworthy test done in South Africa is when the owner changes, meaning when the car is sold, if someone inherits a car, or gets one as a present and it is a second hand car. It needs to have a roadworthy test done which is valid for 6 months from the date of the test.
A number of foreigners travelling to South Africa have many questions to ask when buying used or second hand cars. Be sure to derive a used car checklist from the above points to get a good deal.