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Most of the cars bought by members of this forum are going to be private sales, so here's a 'few' tips on how get the best you can. The list isn't complete, forum word limits make this the most that will fit in. So please add your own experiences/suggestions.

Begin with your state of mind. Too many people are so keen to buy their first car that they let their enthusiasm overrule their common sense. Start with the idea that the majority of the cars advertised are not worth buying. All you are doing is paying for previous owners' abuse. Do not expect to buy the first one you see, or the second, or the third. Expect to reject.

Check the advert carefully. Look for adverts with the same phone number, is it a dealer pretending to be a private seller?

Ask yourself what the advert doesn't tell you - eg 'low mileage' may mean low for its age - so a 12 year old car could still have over 100,000 miles on the clock.

When you ring to enquire just say you are ringing about 'the car', don't say which one. If it is a genuine private seller they will only have one for sale. If the person answering says, "Which car?" then they are not a genuine private seller.

Ask how long they have had it. Cars that change hands frequently are probably duds being sold on.

Ask why they are selling it. "Genuine reason for sale" on the advert may be true. The fact that the engine is knackered is a genuine reason for selling it.

Ask about service history. Very few older cars will have a full or even partial service history. Try to find one that does, the more the better. A neglected car will cost you money and cause you grief. No service history means it hasn't been serviced. Buy it at your peril.

Do not view a car when it is poor light or raining. Too many defects can be hidden. You need good light to view a car, and its surroundings.

Arrive early - if you catch them filling it with oil, jump starting it, generally messing about under the bonnet - keep walking.

Look where the car is normally parked - pools of oil, patches of sand, coolant stains - they all tell a story. If there is a open garage door, have a peak in, see if there's signs of bits of car, oil cans, etc.

Before you jump in and get carried away, walk around it. Look in the boot, if it is full of oil cans or containers of water, ask why. Check everything opens and closes properly, all the doors, and the tailgate. Any creaks or jamming could be sign of a bodyshell out of alignment. Look at the hinges, properly serviced cars should have grease there. Rusty hinges mean skimped servicing.

Inspect the panel lines. They should be regular and even, and match both sides. Irregular panel lines mean crash damage that has been badly repaired. Check also that the paint matches, no signs of overspray, especially traces of overspray around window rubbers, on bumpers, and around the filler cap.

Lift the boot carpet - check for dampness, rust, creases in the floorpan. Make sure there is a spare wheel, and that the tyre is legal. Is the jack present?

Check the tyres for tread depth, even wear, make sure there are no bulges or cracks in the sidewalls. The minimum tread depth is 1.6mm - anything less than 3mm is in need of renewal. Make sure the tyres match, ie they are all the same size.

Look at the pedals - if a car says it has done 56,000 and the pedals are worn smooth - which do you think is telling the real story? Check also that the numbers in the mileage are straight. If it has been messed with they are often out of line.

Inspect the lights, breaks in the lenses are an MOT failure.

Make sure the car sits level - not leaning to one side. Press down on each corner to compress the suspension, and release. It ought to bounce once and stop. If it keeps bouncing the shock absorbers have had it.

Look for dents and scrapes. If there are a few that's probably good, it means the car is original, not tarted up to sell.

Make sure all the windows go up and down properly. Test the lights, horn, indicators etc.

Check the fusebox - you probably won't be able to tell if all the fuses are the right ones, but they ought to be various colours. If they are the same then it could be that someone has bunged in the max rating to cover up electrical problems.

Now, under the bonnet, firstly make sure the engine is cold. If the seller has warmed it up ask why. A warmed engine can hide a lot of faults that are apparent only when started from cold. Check the fluid levels to make sure they are topped up. A seller presenting a car with low levels shows they either don't know or don't care about routine maintenance. Check the coolant at least looks as though the antifreeze is present. Plain water means there's probably an ongoing leak. Look for signs of oil in the coolant, visible usually as a scum in the header tank. Look also for 'pebbles' in the header tank - residue from leak sealant.

Check the oil - on the dipstick look at the condition of the oil. If fresh is will be a light golden colour. Normal engine oil will be brown. Thick black is a bad sign. Water droplets on the dipstick are a bad sign. Look in the filler cap, a bit of 'mayonnaise' is not uncommon of cars used for short journeys in the winter. But if the cap is clogged either the owner is careless or the headgasket is going. Check the oil is within the usual levels, if it is overfull it is possible that extra gearbox oil has been added. This is thicker and will help quieten a worn out engine.

Switch on the ignition until the dashboard lights come on, but do not start the engine. Make sure all the lights are lit. A dodgy seller might have taken the bulb out of the engine management light or the oil or brake warning light to hide a problem. Make sure they light up. When you start the engine, make sure they all go out promptly.

Start the engine, it should start cleanly with no clonking, tapping or strange noises. Don't just sit there revving it hard - it's not your car and it doesn't do engines any good to be over-revved from cold. It also means you won't hear what you need to listen to. On old higher mileage engines a few light taps on startup are not the end of the world, providing they settle down quickly, and without the engine being revved. All it will be is the valve followers filling with oil. If they keep on tapping then either oil changes have been neglected and the followers are clogged, or the oil pressure is low.

Listen to the engine at idle as it warms up. Any odd noises will be obvious, even to the untrained ear. If the seller starts to explain things, "That's just ….." Then be suspicious.

Walk around the car, check particularly the exhaust gases. Some steam on a cold day is usual, blue or black smoke is not. Put your hand over the exhaust tailpipe whilst it is still cold. With the tailpipe blocked you will hear if the exhaust is blowing. The pressure should force your hand off within a few seconds. If it doesn't then gases are escaping elsewhere.

The engine from cold should rev at about 1200rpm (depending on how cold a day it is) within a few minutes the revs should begin to creep down as the engine warms and the idle control valve gradually closes. Jerky changes in revs show a problem with the idle system.

Then the test drive. The seller may not let you drive the car if you are not insured for it. That is reasonable, but if they drive the car make sure they use all the gears, brake in a normal manner, use the handbrake etc. A seller can drive in such a way as to hide a defect - such as they never engage reverse. Make sure they are changing gear smoothly - no signs of gears crunching or the clutch dragging. Ask them to vary the revs - if they always change gear early ask them to let the revs rise - and vice versa. Make sure they aren't driving around a problem.

Most test drives are far too short, once round the block, with the hopeful victim, sorry buyer, nodding politely. By all means be polite, but be on your guard. Ask the seller to find a stretch of duel carriageway and drive at 70mph - check for vibrations or odd noises.

Make sure that the temperature gauge works and rises as it should. Most Corsa Bs tend to read low for quite a while, so might seem to take a while to reach normal temp. Check the fuel gauge works.

Ask to find a place where you can get behind the wheel - even just an empty car park will do. Try the gears and clutch. Test the brakes - make sure there is no grinding noises when you press the pedal - drive to about 20mph then, with a very loose grip on the steering wheel, apply the brakes. The car should stop in a straight line - not pull to one side. Apply full steering lock to the left and drive slowly forwards, do the same to the right. Any clonking noises are the universal joints in the driveshafts wearing out.

Apply the handbrake firmly, then in first gear try to drive away using moderate revs - like a gentle pulling away. The car should stall. If the car moves forward then the handbrake isn't holding. If the car stays still, and your foot comes off the clutch, but the engine still runs, then the clutch is worn out.

Test all the wipers and washers.

By now the engine is fully warmed up, check the exhaust again, there shouldn't be any steam. If there is still steam suspect a possible problem with the headgasket. Open the bonnet and listen to engine at tickover. If the engine is worn, and gearbox oil has been added to quieten it down, it doesn't last long. Hence you want a long test drive, and to listen to a hot engine for noises that might start to emerge.

Make sure the tickover is stable. A little up & down in revs is usual - but not shuddering or racing.

If possible let the engine tickover until the electric cooling fans cuts in. You want to know that the thermoswitch and fan are working. If they aren't the engine has probably overheated, and that is bad news for the headgasket.

Look underneath the car - any signs of drips, hissing, things that shouldn't be there?

So - if so far everything seems good - and you are keen - then check the paperwork is in order. Read everything carefully - a glance is not enough. Make sure the details are all correct, that the seller is listed properly, that the MOT certificate is for this car, that the logbook describes the car as presented to you. Check the chassis code - it is stamped under a flap alongside the driver's seat.

Then the haggling - if you make a lower offer that is accepted very quickly be cautious - someone flogging a dud may be too keen to get it off their hands. If you offer is rejected don't be put off, if someone has looked after their car, spent good money servicing it, then they will want a fair price.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Thank you for encouraging comments. :)

As said, the list is not complete - it was originally a bit longer, but was too long to be accepted, so I had to shorten it. So here's a few bits I had to take out:

Timing belts/chains:

Chains - the 1.0 12v (3 cylinder) and 1.2 16v engines have timing chains. Generally that is good news as they last longer than belts so don't need to be replaced. However, they do rely on a good supply of clean oil to keep the chains in good condition. Cars that have suffered from infrequent oil changes can clog up the oil feed to the chains. The chains on 1.0 12v engines can be a bit rattly. If the chain has been starved of oil it will wear to the extent where the tensioners can no longer take up the slack. They can then break or jump on the sprockets. This can cause serious damage to the valves. So check the service history and listen to for chain rattle.

All other petrol engines use belts - these must be changed at least every 40,000 miles. If they snap it will cause significant engine damage. Ask if the belt has been changed and insist on seeing a receipt for the work, or an entry in the service record. If in any doubt, always replace the belt as soon as you buy the car. On many engines the belt also drives the waterpump. Waterpumps do not last for ever, if they seize they snap the belt. So whilst the belt is being done it is a very good idea to also do the waterpump at the same time. It adds very little cost to the job.

(It is said that the 1.2 8v engine can get away with a belt breaking without the valves hitting the pistons - experience says otherwise. No engine is safe when it comes to a timing belt breaking.)

Other things to watch for:

On 1.0l 12v engines check the exhaust manifold, they are prone to cracking.

On all engines watch out for signs of warning lights coming on during the test drive. The engine management light (orange) may go on and off. Obviously if it is permanently on there is a problem. If it is intermittent it may not be a huge problem, but get the problem checked before buying.

Most Corsa Bs usually run with the temp gauge no higher than midway. In heavy traffic it will obviously go up, but should not shoot up quickly. Generally the cooling fan seldom needs to run, and ought to do so only if the car has been stationary for some time. If the temp gauge reads high during normal driving, and/or the cooling fan is constantly cutting in, then the engine is overheating - could be a blocked radiator, or a leak, or signs of headgasket failure. Do not buy a car with any signs of cooling problems.
 

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great guide mate
 

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im going to look at a C tomorrow, but
i phoned up today to see if i can view it and she said shewould give me postcode before i leave,
i am abit weary so how could i check its definatly her house?
match address on logbook to the address im at?
and see if she enters the hosue/garage etc??
 

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im going to look at a C tomorrow, but
i phoned up today to see if i can view it and she said shewould give me postcode before i leave,
i am abit weary so how could i check its definatly her house?
match address on logbook to the address im at?
and see if she enters the hosue/garage etc??
Ask to use the toilet:thumbs_up:
 

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i just wish i joined these forums before buying my corsa lmao spot on advice tho mate
 

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Great guide, could have helped me a lot, I brought a 3 pot for 530 with 56000 on the clock, engine is fine but I'm having problems with sensors, be wary of the 3 pots they can be great but at other times u can could have silly sensor problems ruining your driving
 

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Everything listed above, besides headgasket failure was all problems i had with my corsa when i brought it.
well can make an exception for engine management light.. mine is a diesel so it does not have one anyway.

another thing to add to the list..

Rust.
its a thing on most older cars.

run you hand along the sils, and give them a tap all the way down with your finger.. should be nice and solid.. also on the vauxhall corsa b, check out the rear wheel arches..
for more info and pictures.. look at my project thred in my signiture. you will see what i mean.

hope this helps any one in need
 

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Brilliant Guide.

I've purchased some howlers in my life, but very useful to know - indeed, I'm going to try the Clutch Wear test today on my Corsa B :)
 

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Great guide, many thanks, even though I read it after we'd purchased, it seems we didn't do a lot wrong. Ours isn't perfect, but not too bad for a 14 year old car.
 

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Good one

Thanks for the guide. I enjoyed every bit of it :thumbs_up: Maybe I'll share it with my pals...

Anyways thanks again and I'll be back in a couple of weeks (in vacation with the step family in one of their luxury hotel :mad:)
 
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