Purchasing second-hand vehicles in Zimbabwe is the norm. Considering the state of the economy, had it not been for second-hand car imports, many would not afford vehicles. Nowadays, wherever you go in Zimbabwe, it is second-hand vehicles everywhere – popularly referred to as ex-Japs. Some import directly, whereas some purchase from local dealers who would have imported the vehicles. Another scenario is peer-to-peer arrangements, e.g. swap and top or directly purchasing from an individual. Whichever the case might be, you must do important things when purchasing second-hand vehicles.

Thoroughly Check The Vehicle

There are a number of issues to check for when it comes to vehicles. When a vehicle is repaired and a part is replaced, most people tend to cut corners. They do so by getting cheaper parts, used ones, or even from a different vehicle model. Some can replace with non-exact ones where they possibly machine or fabricate them to fit somehow. Then you also have scenarios where you find an old part on a relatively new vehicle or vice versa. This is a good place to emphasise checking for any signs of welding work. Usually, sections of a vehicle where welding might have been done are not readily visible. At times it can be at the bottom-most parts of the engine or the vehicle. That is why you need to check everything thoroughly.

Whilst doing these checks, you must also look out for missing parts, e.g. screws. In some cases it could be parts inconsistent with where they were used. For example, they could have failed to find the right ones and just made do with whatever they found. Such inconsistencies are red flags that you should not take lightly. Part-related issues are usually masked in such a way that complications will arise later. You would think it was you by then, yet you purchased the vehicle with pre-existing issues.

Let me add an important note on tyres here. When you purchase a second-hand vehicle especially importing one, make sure you replace all the tyres with new ones. These vehicles that we usually import would have been accustomed to use in low-temperature regions. In Zimbabwe, it is predominantly hot, plus the roads here are mostly bad. Keeping the old tyres on has proven to be one of Zimbabwe’s leading causes of accidents. Even when sourcing one locally, ascertain whether or not the initial tyres were replaced.

Inspect The Vehicle Body’s Paint (And Body In General)

When a vehicle is indoors or under shade, you might not notice certain things about the paint. Thus, when inspecting for any paint issues, you must do so out in the open. Natural light, especially under direct sunlight, is the best paint inspection environment. What you must check for is whether or not the paint is consistent. The shade of the paint can also show if something is amiss. You might probably find a blue vehicle having more than one shade.

These aspects indicate that some work was done on the vehicle’s body once (or several times). Most sellers tend to lie, saying no work was ever done. In a number of cases, that bodywork would have been done due to an accident. Just the paint issues alone can imply much bigger issues, so thoroughly inspect the paint. Additionally, fresh paint, even if consistent, can suggest the seller hides something they do not want you to notice.

While you are at it, you should also inspect the panels. I figured it would be convenient to do so concurrently since it applies to the whole body. The ideal thing is that any panels should be properly aligned. If that is not so, that can be an indicator that the vehicle was once involved in an accident. It could also imply that a panel or panels could have been replaced (but shoddily). I get put off when I see a vehicle having panels that are not aligned properly.

Ascertain The Paperwork Is Legitimate And The Vehicle Is Not Stolen

Vehicle theft is on the rise, especially here in Zimbabwe. People can now put together fake documents for a stolen vehicle. I have heard of many cases where someone is asked to look after a vehicle (by a loved one, for instance) then they sell it. Recently my friend’s friend purchased a house from a caretaker who misrepresented themselves as the actual owner. This is also common when it comes to vehicles, so be diligent with the paperwork. If the paperwork is absent or sketchy, that is already a red flag. Even when it is provided, ascertain its authenticity.

You can check with the police if a vehicle is stolen or not. As for the paperwork, you can engage the Central Vehicle Registry for due diligence. An agreement of sale is also important when purchasing anything really. Seek legal counsel on this to have a legally binding sale agreement. Taking these steps will flag any issues of concern, plus it will protect you later if anything happens.

Never make the mistake of using just the specification sheet provided by the seller; it can be misleading. A professional mechanic can best handle most of the issues I mentioned. Wherever possible, you have to get the vehicle checked before purchasing it. Better still, it must be taken for a test drive to get a broader feel. For instance, the vehicle’s wheel alignment might be off. A common one is that the chassis might be bent. These are issues that can be picked up by taking the vehicle for a test drive. I understand that may not always be possible, e.g. when importing a vehicle. However, if you are purchasing locally, there is room for you to get it checked. As a rule of thumb, you must purchase from reputable sources. That alone can protect from being short-changed.