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Buying a used car in Portugal

Buying a used car is not easy

We drove our little old Opel for years, but since the engine is ticking, it was time for another one. Hugo, son of another mother, warned that that ticking is some kind of a time bomb. Fábio, the newly discovered new garage owner, said the same. No, it’ll not explode, it just stops.

Time to hunt for another used car

Boy oh boy! That was not easy! There are hundreds on OLX and CustoJusto. Facebook Marketplace quickly fell out of the race, as far as I’m concerned, because you can’t call people. They don’t add a mobile number.

We bought our little old Opel a long time ago on a dark winter evening on the parking lot of the supermarket, after having a look under the hood and walking around it a bit. We took it with us for 750 euros.

(I’m not interested in good-looking cars to show my status, so I’m free to buy a cheap ugly one. For the transport of tiles, glue, sometimes wood, and groceries you better not have a real neat car. It’ll not stay like that for long.)

A person can’t do without a car in rural areas

For the same amount of repairs, our little old Opel has been driving us around for 5 years. And has just passed the inspection again. Not such a bad impulse purchase, you would say.

But now we had printed out a masterclass Buying Used Cars **. Wisdom and experience from my brother-in-law, who knows a lot about cars, because he is an enthusiast. He even had a Studebaker from 1962 for years, and worked a lot (I mean: a lot) on it.

So we were well prepared this time, but that only makes it more difficult in the end. For example, I have to smell the coolant, according to the Masterclass. I ask my brother-in-law Dick: “But what am I supposed to smell? I don’t know what it normally smells like, so yeah … ” And I have to hold a cloth against the exhaust and check the color of the exhaust gases when removing it. Blue and light gray are wrong. Gray is good. Hm.

An incredible number of used cars have passed (online)

The good ones were of course immediately sold. Then you know that was a good one. But yes, you still have nothing. After months of looking and searching our little old Opel started ticking harder and harder; it’s about time, tik-tok!

My brother got involved too, and that helped a lot. His involvement consisted of financing our new little friend, and that has been accepted with great gratitude in this difficult year. After a number of already sold good ones, we have become a bit more fanatic, helped by the fraternal support and the ticking of our little old Opel.

And there we are: we now have a green Citroën. It IS a nice, neat car, so now we have to keep it that way. No more wood, tiles, cement …

** In case you also need a “new” car, here’s the checklist. You’re welcome!


Windows and lamp glasses / Windshield wipers / Locks / Dents and scratches / Antenna / Towbar? Towbar plug / Rear door springs

N.B. Is the driver’s door sagging a bit? Has the driver’s seat and/or door been clearly used, upholstery torn, seat collapsed? Then it has been used very often or has been opened and closed a lot!

Under the hood

Oil should be clear / Dipstick is there to check the oil level? Works well? / Color and clarity of the coolant. Ask about what this owner is putting in it. Water? (not so good! = limescale) Distilled water? Better! Coolant? Look closely for contamination and whether oil is floating on it. If that is so, turn around and walk away. Means a broken gasket and costs a lot of money.

Check any tubes you see. Dehydrated rubber? Watch for leaks / Fan / Brake fluid should be light yellow / Windshield washer tank must be filled otherwise it may have a leak


Keep the exhaust closed with a cloth with the engine running so that you can see if no exhaust air is coming from other holes (then the exhaust is leaking) / Hit and push the exhaust to make sure it is secure and not rattling / Check rust at the bottom of the doors, sills and wheel rims / Check the flexibility (horizontal and vertical) on the bearings and ball joints per wheel; too flexibel: seriously not good

Tires etc.

Are the jack and spare wheel present? / All tires are of the same brand and type? / Look at the inside of the tires! / Tread depth / Year of manufacture tires: 4 digits in an oval on the side of the tire (week and year number) – tires have an expiration date

Test drive

All buttons on the dashboard must work / Sun visors, rear view mirror, automatic side mirrors? / Front and rear seat belts / all gauges work / Air conditioning charged? Airbag is OK? Heater works? Seat adjustment? / Try to drive off with the handbrake on (if that is possible it’s not good but not serious) / Try to drive off in 3rd gear, it should stall (if not, it means a worn clutch and that’s a fairly expensive repair but no reason to leave it if for the rest it’s all good) / Turn sharp eight in parking lot, has to do with your universal joint. There should be no strange noises / Unbalance wheels. In the front you feel it in the steering wheel, behind you feel it in the seats (= align) / Timing belt: written proof that it was replaced on time / Are there maintenance invoices – so you can have an idea about what happened

N.B. Inspection speaks for itself, and think of the insurance before you take it on the road!

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