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Old 9th November 2006, 18:54   #1
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ARTICLE: How to buy a *USED* Car in India

A rapidly growing market for new cars can only mean one thing: a rapidly growing market for used cars. Buying a pre-owned car makes a lot of sense even if it isn’t as straightforward as buying new. Peace of mind is hard to find while shopping for a pre-owned car and the chances of getting fleeced are high.

Team-BHP has compiled a list of what you need to know on your search for the perfect “pre-worshipped” vehicle. This article has been compiled by GTO and Adya33. Also thanks to deepashpuri for providing many important pointers through this thread.

STEP ONE : Homework

Which car? After deciding on your price range you should outline what sort of car best meets your needs – if you are a family of two you shouldn’t bother buying a large MUV like the Toyota Innova. With a growing range of makes and models you will probably find that several cars fit your budget. Analyze your needs before you decide on a car.

Which model? A little research will reveal the makes and models that fit your budget. In India, Japanese cars enjoy the best long-term resale value because of their reliability, but diesel cars also sell well on the second-hand market. Reliability should be high on your checklist; research it by looking at the quality ratings of each car. The Team-BHP forums have a comprehensive databank and archive of user reviews that can help you decide. Remember: a car that wasn’t reliable new won’t be reliable used.

Which source? The Internet, used car dealers, brokers, authorized dealers, newspaper ads and personal referrals can show you what’s available. It’s generally a good idea to interact directly with the previous owner, so the Internet and print classifieds are great sources of good deals on used cars.

Which finance? Cash is king, but there are many financing companies able to offer loans for your used car purchase. Bear in mind that interest rates for loans on used cars are higher than those for new cars. Click here to read more about getting good financing rates. Another highly recommended option is to avail of a loan against fixed deposits (Link to full discussion).

Last edited by GTO : 22nd January 2011 at 11:32. Reason: Correcting link to Finance Article
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Old 9th November 2006, 18:55   #2
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STEP TWO : Things to keep in mind

History: It’s best to choose a car with a fully documented service history. A car that has been maintained exclusively at a single authorized service station should score very high on your rating. A good way to find out about previous accident damage is to contact the seller’s regular service station or insurance company.

Certified Cars: Some car manufacturers and dealerships offer certified used cars. These pre-owned cars go through detailed checks where defective and worn-out parts are replaced. A well refurbished certified car may well be worth the extra price, but some dealers only perform superficial work and have been known to commit petty frauds like odometer tampering (related thread).

Warranties: Some dealerships offer warranties on their used cars. Try to get as much information as you can about the warranty coverage, duration and other terms and conditions.

Great unpopular cars: Many reliable cars just weren’t popular when they were new; in the second-hand market these are often great bargains. The fifth generation Honda Accord and Fiat Palio 1.6 are just two of the many bargain models available.

Never buy a modified car: You can be certain a modified car was driven “enthusiastically” by its previous owner and there can be uncertainty about the quality of the modifications. Walk away from any highly modified car.

Avoid certain discontinued models: Cars like the Opel Astra and the Ford Escort suffer from an inconsistent supply of spares, high maintenance costs and terrible resale value. Don’t even consider buying a car whose manufacturer no longer exists (Peugeot 309, Daewoo Cielo, etc).

Repossessed cars: A car that has been repossessed by a finance company is bad news. It will be difficult to procure the Certificate of Registration and the original owner may make trouble even if you do get the car transferred to your name.

Lightly used cars: A car that is ten years old with only 30,000 km on the odometer is probably not a good buy. Cars are built to run and long periods of inactivity cause problems.

Repainted cars: A car less than five years old that has been repainted should prompt questions. Was it because of an accident or was it just for cosmetic purposes?

Last edited by GTO : 22nd December 2014 at 14:33. Reason: Adding link to odometer fraud thread :)
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Old 9th November 2006, 18:55   #3
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STEP THREE : Checking Out the Car

Expert friend: If you don’t know much about cars, bring a knowledgeable friend or mechanic with you. They may discover problems unknown to you and a second opinion can be helpful.

Call before you leave: Clarify all the details about a car before you travel any distance to see it. This will save you precious time if you discover the car isn’t worth looking at.

Daytime: Always examine a car in broad daylight; darkness can conceal obvious damage.

Cold Start: A cold engine will give away far more than one that has reached operating temperatures. Insist on starting the car from cold, and work the engine up yourself.

Documentation: Carefully check a car’s original documentation for discrepancies. This is also a good time to go through the car’s service history to see how it has been maintained – service records are very important. Some documents that you should verify include:
1. RTO tax receipt: This is now a one-time tax and the original owner should pay it.
2. Registration of the car: Check for the state of registration and see if the letters “DRC” appear on it anywhere. DRC means Duplicate Registration Certificate.
3. Insurance: Check whether the insurance is comprehensive or basic third-party and when it will expire.
4. Original invoice: Take a look at the car’s original invoice. Details like the chassis and engine numbers can be found here.
5. Finance NOC: If you are looking at a financed car, make sure that the NOC is available. Cross-check with the finance company directly to make sure that the NOC is genuine and there is no loan outstanding on the car.

Odometer tampering: Artificially lowering a car’s odometer is a common malpractice in the used market. Most cars sold by dealers from the unorganized segment have had their odometers clocked back. Audit the service records for inconsistencies. Call the dealer / workshop (where the car was maintained) to procure historical data on the car's odometer readings at each visit (dealers always maintain these records). The date of tyre manufacture may also indicate the actual mileage traveled.

Verify Engine size: There are far too many smaller engine variants being rebadged, and sold off as, larger engines (e.g. Honda 1.3 being sold as a 1.5). Ensure that the car is indeed the variant that you wish to buy. Check engine details in the registration & insurance documents for starters. Also decode the VIN (see point below).

Verify date of Manufacture: Almost every car has a "Vehicle Identification Number" mentioned at several places on the body. Note this VIN down, and decode it online (Team-BHP has many threads that will guide you on locating and decoding the same. Here's one). The decoded information will tell you about the car, including the year of manufacture.

Don’t judge a book by its cover: Even if a car looks like a great bargain, don’t get too excited. Calmly check to make sure that the beauty is more than skin deep.

Comprehensive test drive: Switch off the stereo and drive the car under as many conditions as possible: bumper-to-bumper traffic, open highways, inclines and declines.

The mechanic’s word: A mechanic’s judgment may be the most valuable piece of information available to you. Have a trusted mechanic look over the car for accident damage and to check its overall condition. Invest the small amount of money to have an authorized dealership run a complete check of the car.

Last edited by GTO : 27th February 2015 at 10:45. Reason: Adding point on "odometer tampering"
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Old 9th November 2006, 18:56   #4
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STEP FOUR : After checking out the car:

Promises: Verbal agreements are worthless. Make sure the seller puts all of his commitments in writing.

No Pressure: As the buyer you have the luxury of refusing to purchase a car that doesn’t suit you. Do not allow the person selling the car to pressure you into agreeing to something you don’t like. You would be surprised how many people give in to argumentative salespeople.

Negotiations: Remember – the ball is in your court and the buyer is king. No used car has a fixed price and the price you will get is directly related to your negotiating skills. Ask a friend or relative to help if you are not comfortable negotiating alone.

Fake owners: Watch out for sellers who have just bought a car to make a quick buck on the resale. If the form is already signed (or the "owner" hesitates to sign on the delivery note) it is a sign that you are dealing with a broker.

Duplicate keys: Insist on a duplicate key with delivery.

Insurance: Very important. Please have the insurance transferred to your name upon delivery. Many forget to transfer the insurance coverage (along with the RC book entry) and face a problem if and when an accident / theft takes place. Unless the insurance is transferred to your name, you have absolutely no coverage (on paper).

Brokerage: Bargain on the brokerage fees. Though most charge 2% of the sales price it is easy to bring the fee down to half of that.

Delivery Note & Transfer Papers: When taking delivery of the car, record the date, time and odometer reading on the Delivery Note. This will ensure that any outstanding liabilities on the car prior to that date will be the seller’s responsibility. To view (and download) the entire list of RTO papers, click here.

Complete Service: We recommend that, upon delivery, you must get the car entirely serviced and all fluids / filters / belts changed (as necessary).

Good luck with your search!

Last edited by GTO : 3rd August 2009 at 15:26. Reason: Adding the complete service point
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Old 10th November 2006, 18:13   #5
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EDIT: This up-to-date post with very valuable advice has been added to page 1 on 25th July, 2023!


I was on the lookout for a used car recently and did some reading up on the subject to come up with a guide. Sharing it.


First things first, identify your needs ie size, performance ease of ownership and your budget. If it is 3 lakhs then do not quote more than 2.75 if you are talking to a dealer. Try to keep a buffer for immediate after purchase repairs and do overs. For a Japanese hatch, this should not exceed 25-30k (including tires) if you have done your evaluation well. For sedans especially the temperamental European ones, this could be upto 10% of a car when bought new. The car may be available at a mouthwatering price but spares will not come at a discount. This is especially true for lux models.

Unless you are hung up on a particular make/model, do not be constrained by body type/make/model. You may want a sedan but if you are looking for a daily drive and are a family of three, a well kept hatch may serve you better. Try to ensure that the car has at least 4 years left before registration expires. That way, even if you trade it in after 2 years, you will still have decent resale. I did not consider diesel options. I was wary of costly repairs if my evaluation went wrong and was wary of an impending ban on diesel cars. Cars are more expensive down south than elsewhere so bear that in mind. The Japanese makes are more expensive than others for reliability and easy availability of spares. So if you know a good garage and are confident that you can pick up a ride in decent shape, you can consider the Fiats and Skodas which have bad resale. They are not bad cars and not everybody has a bad experience provided you know a good independent garage. The money you can save while buying one will help when you spruce up your ride. I almost picked up a used Linea Tjet at a mouthwatering price. The trims needed some work but the car was mechanically sound and drove like a dream. But fate willed otherwise.


Unless you have a good source who can sniff out deals, you will sift through the usual suspects ie FB marketplace, OLX et al. Most of the options I found were just hustlers who posted cars at inflated prices on behalf of the actual seller and talking to these chaps are a waste of time for the most part. You will have to be patient. The belief is that its always better to buy from a direct seller but that is not always the case in my opinion. You can avoid unrealistic quotes which come from the emotional attachment of ones pride and joy by dealing with someone who earns his bread by plying this trade. Of course, it is on the buyer to do his due diligence. In my experience, the actual dealers (not the time pass hustlers) will inflate the intended sale price by 15% and will immediately reduce that the moment he senses that the buyer is genuine. They also have an urgency to move inventory.

So once you have zeroed in on options which seem to fit your need, you could do the following preliminary checks solely basis the information included in the classified ad -

Number of kms on the Odo (either extremes are red flags, I prefer a car which has done 75k in 5 years than just 15. Cars are meant to run and are often in ship shape when they do)

Number of owners (for every additional owner, you could try to haggle the price down by at least 10%)

Insurance validity - To me, a car with valid insurance indicates its roadworthiness. The copy of the current insurance reveals valuable clues like its IDV (great for a baseline to start negotiations for non popular models) and the NCB % which may indicate if any claims were made recently. Renewal requires reinspection and no RTO process can happen with a lapsed insurance. In fact, you cannot even do a legal test drive!

State of registration - Unless you are well hooked up with RTOs, avoid buying lets say a MH registered car in Hyd. The bargain offered is for a reason

Traffic Offences - If the ad reveals the registration number, check online if any challans are pending. In Telengana for eg, the challan also carries a photo of the car which will reveal the current exterior condition. Classified ads often carry images from the car's better days in the past.


Once you have identified options worth pursuing, its time to make the first call. I tried getting as many details as possible at this stage as I did not want to run across town through mad traffic running after every red herring. This is what I tried verifying during the call.

Owner or poser? For individual listings, this was my opening question, the hustlers would usually get filtered out at this stage if you probe further.

Year and month of manufacture. Some sellers mention Dec 2010 cars as 2011 registered

Both keys available? Remember that in the case of theft, the insurer will ask for both keys. This may not be a deal breaker if the car is a decade old but remember to factor this in when its time to negotiate the final price.

Validate facts - Insurance validity if not mentioned, try and get a copy if its a dealer as the RC could be dated. When was the last service done and any major repairs. Ask if the vehicle is stationery and for how long. Always better to get a car which is running as thats what they are meant to do.

If you are after a particular model, like the VRS or the Tjet, research for common issues. So on the call you could check if the alternator or the mounts are still good.

Availability of original documents, especially the RC. Check if the car has a loan running as that would add a step to the final documentation

Reiterate the quoted price and see the reaction. Some sellers (especially dealers) may revise immediately by 10-15%

Schedule a visit asap if everything checks out. You have to move fast as good deals won't wait for anyone.


There are videos on YT and I found the series of videos on buying a used car by ChrisFix to be informative. This is what I followed

Visit during the day and in sunny weather - This is self explanatory and minor scratches and scuffs don't show up when the car is wet.

Walk around the car and get a good eyeful of it. A bad exterior may mean a badly kept car. though not always.

Check the windscreen, window and rear glass. If they do not bear the manufacturer logo on the corner then they have been replaced. You will have to find out why.

Check the condition of the tires and date of manufacture (1512 means 15th week of 2012) I preferred at least the front tires to be of identical make and manufacture. That indicates regular replacement of equipment. They are also clues to the genuine miles the car has done (a 6 year old car with 30K on the odo may not have needed new tires a couple of years back)

Check the bottom edges and under the beading of all 4 doors. That is the area where rusting usually turns up. If you find cars in coastal areas with some age and without rust, consider it to be a great starting point

This is the time to verify common issues which plague the particular make/model if you have done some homework. Like rusting issues for Jap cars or AC/electricals for certain others.

Pop the hood and check for any body lines that seem to be bent. That may indicate a shunt. Next, check the fluids and the belts for any wear. Then request for the car to be cranked while you stand next to the engine bay. Check for abnormal vibes and whining sounds. Check for leaks once the engine has idled enough to reach its operating temperature. If there is one, it will show up once the system is running and under pressure.

If the battery. tires and the suspension have at least another 2 years of life left, then that is some $$$ saved at least immediately. Check the interiors, they offer clues on how the car has been driven and how much. Check the boot under the spare if your city has experienced flooding recently.

Start the test drive. Do have the dealer/owner with you when you do that. Ease the car out and see how she feels. I would turn the audio off to listen closely for anything unusual. Drive slowly over potholes and listen to the sounds the suspension makes. Turn the steering wheel from lock to lock at low speeds. Turn on the AC/CC after the engine has warmed up. Do all buttons incl the power windows work as intended? See if you can include stretches where the car can stretch her legs. Is the engine smooth or is there hesitation? Does she pull to any one side upon acceleration or braking?


If should have a good sense by this time if you have been able to put the car through her paces. While some would suggest that you get the service history vetted by the Auth. SS, not all cars which have seen more than just a few years have a complete record. That does not necessarily mean that they lacked care. Try to take a friend or family who are a little less passionate about the whole exercise can remain more objective. I trusted the wife with that. I have nothing much to add about the price negotiation as it is no different from any other big purchase you would make. Depending on your gut feel, you may hold back 15-20k if any work is promised before delivery or for ownership transfer documentation to be completed but don't do that as a point on your checklist. If you have a trusted mechanic, you could have him accompany you.

Needless to say, just like any other purchase, be prepared to walk away if something does not feel right. You would do this a few times before you hit the bullseye.

I am not including ownership transfer documentation as there are many threads on TBHP which chronicles the points very well. Do watch out if there is a loan running and ensure that the seller closes that and gets the NOC from the bank. In case you are exploring any out of state option, just research the process well.

Hope this helps!

Last edited by Aditya : 26th July 2023 at 22:08. Reason: Adding hothatchaway's awesome post to page #1; quoted text deleted
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Old 11th November 2006, 00:21   #6
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And also pray to god... that apart and over all the great Indian ingenuity has not thought of any other way to sucker the hapless buying public!!!

my above lines you may/may not agree carries more seriousness than humor as there are umpteen stories i have heard in which even after taking maximum precautions the consumer gets cheated and the scam is perfected by finding loops in the precautions themselves!!!

so i repeat the famous lines recited by lord Krishna in baghavad gita and wish the warriors(open market)buyers best of luck
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Old 11th November 2006, 10:45   #7
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Buying a used car can be more work than it feels.

Expect to keep 10-15 K extra to get the car up to date after you buy it.
Try and buy cars that you have seen and know the owner.
Do not trust agents or even companied like Automartindia they have a good sales force but really no knowledge about cars .
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Old 11th November 2006, 12:56   #8
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I would agree with Dr Fate that buying a used car is a lot about luck. But as they say....luck favors the ones who work the hardest.

And our guidelines will certainly help in minimising the risk factor.
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Old 12th November 2006, 09:33   #9
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well to answer Senor Kum...
Suspension check.
1. -Drive it!! Yup, pick a lousy road, see what kind of shocks reach you, how much they make the dorrs and panels rattle. Does the car bottom out. If you get a nice hard thud, the suspension is shot (Unless you are WRC style thru that road!!)

2. Push it! - stand at the wheel arch, just nest to the wheel, using both your palms push down hard and let go. The car should go down, bounce back up just slightly beyond it original position ONCE and stop. If it bounces a few
times, the dampers are gone. If its ridiculosly easy to push it in, the suspension may be well shot as well.
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Old 11th December 2006, 23:36   #10
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@ rranjith_kum .... engine & transmission troubles cannot be determined by a new car user..not even for a regular takes a lot to know these option for you is to take a trusted mechanic, pay him his fee for every car that you see & take his opinion. believe me , they can see a lot more than what we can all see...
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Old 21st December 2006, 06:02   #11
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What are the important things to be taken care of when buying a 2nd hand diesel car like Indica ?

PS : I'm a big zero when it comes to diesel cars...
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Old 21st December 2006, 10:02   #12
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Indica diesels are bought for high mileage running. Therefore, and irrespective of the odometer reading, get an engine compression test done.
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Old 26th January 2007, 01:59   #13
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Good post.
Quite informative for buying used car.
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Old 12th February 2007, 07:37   #14
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Originally Posted by GTO View Post
Indica diesels are bought for high mileage running. Therefore, and irrespective of the odometer reading, get an engine compression test done.
GTO.... what is this engine compression test? I have an Indica which reads app 94K and would like to go in for a test that could let me know where she stands.
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Old 19th February 2007, 11:15   #15
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damn! i wish i had read this before i bought my city...
it was done up... body kits, air filter, race headers... after buying it i've faced so many problems wit the car its not even funny!!
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