Basically it's all pretty much common sense, and most of the points below are equally valid for other types of car.
As 205's are getting on a bit now it's not worth buying one from a full-on garage anymore - better to get it cheaper from a private seller or a trader and invest a little extra time and money in checking it over.
Be prepared for higher than average running costs, both insurance and petrol. Driving around town is a real killer and 250 miles out of a full tank (50 litres) is lucky.
The car is being sold for some reason, so ask why. It maybe obvious (Family getting bigger, company car etc.) or itcould be because the list of problems that need fixing is getting too long, so keep this in mind.
Stationary Inspection and Documentation:
- This is one of the first things I'd check when looking at a car. Check it's got a V5 logbook, and if it's got paperwork like MOT's etc. check all the numbers tally up with the chassis and engine numbers and number plates.
- If it's got tax, check it's valid, for how long, and that it's for the car being sold.
- I'd thoroughly recommend an HPI or AA data check, they cost £35 to £40 and will cover you for the cost of the car if it turns out to be stolen. They check the VIN, MOT numbers, if it's recorded stolen or there's finance outstanding, if it's been re-sprayed.
- If you're not confident about your ability to check the car mechanically then the AA or RAC will check the car for you for around £100. Myself; well I'd like to think I'm competent enough and I'd take a friend as well, as a second pair of eyes can be invaluable.
- They generally don't really rust and last for ages. The only rust you may see is at the front of the rear wheel arches and/or some sweat rust in the bottom corners of the door frames. Both of these are easy to fix by a bodyshop. Any other rust then check there are no puncture holes in the body that are letting in the damp. Front driving lamps (i.e. the lower ones at the front) will probably have corroded; they all do, just get some new ones from 205GTIDrivers.com and rust proof them before fitting. There should be no rust or corrosion in the engine bay except may be around the battery where it may have leaked in the past. However my car had rusted through on the inner wing (See the diary page for more info) so even a really clean looking car can hide rust. I've not found anymore on my car and I've been over most of it now.
- Take a look under the car to make sure the underseal is there and the chassis has not corroded (very unlikely!)
- Check all the body panels line up, especially the wings and make sure the bonnet closes easily and is a good fit. Otherwise it could be an indication that the car has had a bump. Check the towing eye's are in place, for traces of paint on window seals, and shock absorbers, cracks on the body, and give the whole bodywork a good look under the light to check if it's been badly repaired at some point. The panel fit is pretty good on these cars, and it's fairly easy to spot a bodged repair job. Don't worry about the doors creaking when closed - this is just the door pins wearing away - easily fixed.
- If possible peel back the carpets at the front just to check there is no dodgy welding. Check underneath as well. Otherwise it could mean the car is a cut and shut job and is made up of two write-offs; this was a common occurrence in the car's era.
- While looking under the car check that the rubber gaiters on the drive shafts (front wheels) have not split - this may cause a knocking noise when you go round corners because the joints are worn- not serious because its easy to fix, but costs around £80 a Driveshaft. While you're under there at the wheel end of the drive shafts check everything is tight and the track rod ends, anti-roll bar and drop links, etc. are not worn.
- Also check the brake lines and fuel lines are in good condition. It's common for the brake lines to have been replaced with copper type lines, and this is preferable. Check for leaks as well, and if possible, get an assistant to press the brake pedal to put some pressure in the system.
- The GTi is a prime target for thieves so check that 1 key fits all the locks (Doors, boot, petrol cap and ignition) otherwise it's indicative that it's been nicked at some point and the locks have been replaced. Although it's perfectly possible the lock will have broken. Also check for damage around the locks.
- It's pretty common for the GTi's to have the full length sliding glass sunroof so check this is OK. It's opened by releasing the handle, which should be accompanied by a hiss of air as the seal depressurises allowing the glass to slide back. This seal is connected to the engine and reseals when the engine is running to keep it water tight and air tight as well. Check the sun roof for leaks, and check for water marks on the seats to see if it has been leaking in the past. Also check for rust around the sunroof.
- Interior should be in reasonable condition (though for this price don't worry too much). The plastic dashboard will creak but this is a standard feature on 205s (dodgy French car builders . The leather steering wheel may be shiny - this means the mileage is real. Check pedals, carpet and gearlever wear matches the mileage.
- The seat bolsters tend to wear through where the driver and passengers get in and out. This can be rectified fairly easily so don't worry too much about this.
- Check all the electric work on the inside especially the heater blower fan - start knocking money off if it's no good.
- Common sense but check the tyres for even wear otherwise the tracking or wheel alignment is out. If the tyres are bald then knock money off because they'll need replacing.
- Check the rear of the car is sitting straight and even and when bounced acts normally. The bearings on the rear beam are prone to seizing and it's a bit of a job to replace. This will also show up on the test drive.
- Go around the car and bounce the car (i.e. Put your weight on the corner about the wheel and then let go) the car should rise up and then settle, with no oscillation. If not then the shocks are probably worn. And yes the suspension is pretty stiff, so there won't be much movement when you do this.
- OK, on to the engine. Always, always go and see the car when its cold. Don't let the seller start it before you arrive and let it warm up first. Starting may be a bit rough but should fire first time - the only smoke out the back should be white. After about 10-20 seconds the car should be firing on all cylinders fine.
- It is likely that the tick-over will be all over the place (maybe as high as 2000rpm and then dropping to below 500rpm when warm). Don't worry about this, it is another feature and is of no real concern - you can fix the low tick over easily. This can also be caused by distributor wear on the 1.9's.
- The oil pressure gauge (Top left) should rise to about 3/4 when cold, and then slowly drop to 1/2 when fully warm. This takes a while, but if this doesn't happen then it could be a sign of the wrong oil being used, or more seriously, a worn engine. The oil temperature is the top right gauge and should fairly steadily rise to 1/3 after a good drive.
- Rev (4000-5000rpm) the engine and get a mate to look for blue/black smoke (white is fine - its just condensation). If there is lots then walk away. Mine doesn't smoke at all and its done 123,000 miles. If possible get a mechanic to compression test each cylinder (a 10 minute job with the right tools). Blue smoke can be a sign of worn valve guides, which I believe is not an easy job. The valve guides can need replacing as early as 80,000 miles.
- Check for oil leaks. Old cars may leak a little around the cylinder head and sump. Nothing to worry about, sometimes it can look quite bad but its just that the oil has built up over time. If the car hasn't moved look under the car for oil puddles - there shouldn't be any - if there is then the car leaks to much. There can be oil leaks from the distributor so check around this. It's a simple job to replace the dizzy if required.
- Find all the places where the engine is mounted to the body (top left and also underneath) - just check that none of the mounts have corroded or broken. There's 3 mounts, as you look at the engine from the front, there's 1 under the battery tray, 1 to the left of the engine mounting it to the left inner wing, and 1 at the back under the engine mounting it to the subframe.
- Find out what fuel is currently being used. With standard ignition timing 1.9's should be run on Super Unleaded (98 RON). This can be retarded to allow for normal unleaded (95 RON) use.
On the Road Inspection:
- Try and get a friend to follow you (Just to look at what's coming out of the exhaust). Firstly, find a straight road and without accelerating check that the car will drive itself in a straight line, then make sure it'll brake in a straight line. Any judder in the steering wheel while braking means the brake disks are warped and will need replacing (not a problem).
- While all this going on listen for odd engine noises. It won't be totally smooth until its warmed up. It may also stall at traffic lights because of the low tick over (see above) but should start first time.
- If its an old GTi then everything inside will sound like its rattling - this is normal - but it will stay together.
- Find somewhere quite and large (e.g. car park) and drive the car in progressively tighter turning circles checking for odd knocking noises from the front suspension. If the ground is slightly bumpy it should make the noises more pronounced. This could be an indication of worn track rod ends/ anti roll bars, etc. Knock money off if there's a concern.
- When the car has warmed up check the cars acceleration - in any gear (1st to 4th) the car should move cleanly to 6000rpm easily (5th will take a bit of time). But the engine should really come on song around 4000rpm. Your mate should be looking for black smoke - if he can keep up!
- When you lift off the accelerator (Tip out) you'll probably feel the car suddenly shunt. This is normal behaviour as the fuel is cut dead on tip-out. It is possible to modify the ECU to stop this so keep an eye out for this. Also pay attention to any noises from the transmission on the tip-out.
- Floor the accelerator in 2nd to check for a slipping clutch - the speed should increase along with the revs. Otherwise time for a new clutch. The acceleration should be smooth and strong all the way to about 6000rpm with no hesitations.
- Big bore loud exhausts do very little to add power, but do make it significantly loud. It's a case of personal taste I suppose on this item.
- Also induction kits are very popular (Replacing all the intake trunking with a cone air filter). In my opinion these don't add very much apart from induction noise (When you floor it), so it's a bit of a psychological gain (Yes yes it's possibly given you a few bhp), and in very warm weather and without good air ducting you'll probably loose power. The standard intake system is very good, with a good ram air effect from the front of the engine into the air filter at the back of the engine. Again it's up to you with want you want on this one.
- The gear box will be tight when cold (it can be difficult finding gears). However it should be easier when warm. Sometimes 2nd gear may crunch (this is the synchro-mesh wearing out - expensive to fix) but not that often. There are reports of this going on for 20,000 miles and not being a problem.
- Braking should be straight and progressive and there should be no wobble through the steering wheel when the brakes are applied (A sign of warped discs if it does). Mismatched or unevenly worn tyres could cause the car to slew around under braking so watch for this.
- The car should handle neatly and corner well with no real vices. Having said that just be careful not to go into a corner too fast and then chicken out and lift off the accelerator; the back end will come around quite smartly and if you don't expect it, it'll catch you out. It's best to get a feel for the car first, and let it warm up, before pushing it a bit harder.
So you've bought the car what next?
- Change the timing belt (they should be changed every 50,000 miles) seeing as you're unlikely to know when it was last done. The job will cost about £100. This is basically insurance against the timing belt snapping while driving which would mean a serious amount of head work to fix.
- Do a mini service and change the oil, spark plugs, air and oil filters.
- The seller may have changed the oil so the car appears looked after when you go and see it but the oil filter could have done 20,000 miles for all you know. Check the distributor cap and rotor arm and replace if you think it needs it. Change the spark plug leads as well if they look old and worn.
- Give the car a good wash and wax, which will allow you to give a really good look over and find any concerns with the body work etc.