Buying a used car in Nigeria: Some helpful nuggets

It is familiar truth that an overwhelming number of cars in Nigeria are purchased as used. In fact, the desire for used products has become a stronghold amongst Nigerians, to the point where even those with the financial wherewithal to buy a new car actually prefer to go for used (or tokunbo as commonly referred to)  because it is believed to be more durable and with a better second-hand value. In this light, the more we do to educate ourselves on purchasing used cars, the better for everyone. From my own personal experience, I like to share with you some fundamental lessons I learnt, after getting my hands burnt on one or two occasions. I will then follow-up with some professional Do-It-Yourself tips (from online resources) on what to look out for when purchasing a tokunbo car.

Watch out for the deceitfulness of “neat” body and interior

it is not uncommon for neat looking cars, with near-perfect body (color, balance, shape) and neat interiors to have serious issues with the internal mechanics or electrical components. So, my advice here is never to be swept off your feet by the body or interior, however well polished and aesthetically designed. These things will no longer appeal to you few weeks down the road when you begin spending your time and money at the mechanic workshop.

Watch out for the deceitfulness of price

When a car that normally sells for between 2.5m – 2.7m is being offered for about 1.9m – 2.1m, then it could be an indication that the car isn’t in excellent shape. Even though there are exceptions to this rule, they are indeed more of “exceptions” than the rule.

Do a price analysis

This is closely to the point above. It is imperative you do a price analysis of the brand of cars you have shortlisted (it is good to have in mind 2 or 3 brands, arranged in order of priority). Today, you don’t need to burn your skin and time in the tropical sun, hopping from one dealer to another to do a price analysis. You can simply log on to the various online automobile market portals where new and used cars are advertised by dealers, with prices, pictures, descriptions and contact details.

Bring your adrenaline under control

This is absolutely necessary. An agitated person is most unlikely to make any wise decision. Don’t put yourself under any undue pressure. If you have enough cash, it would be wiser you get the new car before selling off the old one so that a lack of mobility won’t put you (and your family) under pressure to “hurriedly” buy another car.

Your mechanic does not know it all

Some people would advice that you go with your mechanic to buy used cars. This is often drawn from the assumption that they may be able to detect professionally, what a layman like you may not pick from the sound or movement of the car. As true as this may sound, it is only as true and viable to the extent to which that mechanic is honest and professionally sound. On one particular occasion that I know about, the mechanic assumed that the cranky sound coming from the engine was timer-chain problem (the seller also concurred quickly) only for us to discover later on (after payments have been made and documents signed and sealed) that the problem was way beyond the assumed timer-chain. To cut a long story short, the entire engine had to be replaced eventually.

Test-drive the Car YOURSELF

I am emphasizing the word ‘YOURSELF’ because some persons have a penchant for trusting others with responsibilities and believing others judgment and assessment of things concerning them. Don’t sit on the passenger’s seat while some other persons (your mechanic, friend or brother) test-drive the car you want to pay for. While it is laudable to go with a second party to assess the car you want to buy, it is not completely wise to make them do test-driving alone. If you need to buy few litres of fuel to drive over a longer distance (with the dealer in the car of course), please do. Two or three good heads will always be better than one. Your combined judgment would most likely lead to a better and safer purchase.

Raise your concerns with the dealer immediately

Don’t wait till a later date. Raising your observations immediately would most likely lead to the unveiling of facts that the dealer may have wanted to keep from you. If it is a non-debilitating problem, you can negotiate for a reduction to allow you fix the problem. However, if you discover, after probing and prodding, that the problem is a debilitating one, my advice is that you take your search somewhere else. It is very miserable spending long useful man-hours at the mechanic workshop (even if it’s a Saturday or public holidays), watching them earn their own living off you.

With the above said, I will like to share with you some professional tips, I read on automedicsafrica. Watch out for the Followings things when you are testing the car:

  • Be very observant, immediately you turn the key on(just simply by turning the key one stroke, no cranking sound yet and the engine isn’t working yet), make sure that all the images on the dashboard are lighted up. Why? Some Smart Alec car sellers sometimes remove or tape over the bulbs, inside the dashboard, of the warning signs.
  • As soon as the engine is cranked within a few seconds, it must not be up to a minute, the entire dashboard signs’ lights must go off.
  • If you notice the CHECK ENGINE light going off simultaneously with the ALTERNATOR light and/or the OIL PRESSURE, then something is wrong.
  • Once the engine has been cranked and is running at idle, the person/s in the vehicle must not feel any discernible vibration. If you feel any form of vibration, it’s either bad engine mounts/s, or bad transmission mount or the engine is misfiring.
  • If the vehicle has an automatic transmission system, simply engage the gear with your foot firmly on the brake pedal, you must not feel any sudden shudder or jerking. It should be a smooth engagement with the vehicle simply trying to move in the direction (“D” forward and “R” backward) of the gear engaged.
  • If all the above observations have been satisfactorily met, while the vehicle’s still running smoothly in idle, put on the AC (air conditioner). The needle on (or counter of) the RPM gauge must still remain at the same position, allowing for maximum of fifty, over or below (not up to a movement between two stroke marks of the RPM gauge). This is a good load test on the engine.
  • Before you make any payment for, or on, the vehicle: look through the lower region of the automobile’s windscreen, literally in front of the steering wheel, or on the door frame of the driver’s side, for the 17-digit VIN (Vehicle Identification Number)log on to, to get the vehicle history( service, ownership; incident-like accident/s etc).
  • If you are happy with the report and all observational and physical test explained above satisfied you can then pay for the car.

Finally, this discussion should not end here. I expect you to continue to add tips and experiences in your comments below. Nothing is insignificant. Your experience may be exactly the warning bell someone, somewhere needs before making that wrong decision.


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2 thoughts on “Buying a used car in Nigeria: Some helpful nuggets

  • kelvin


    very helpful indeed

  • CarMan


    Very useful article thanks.I’m considering buying a Nigerian used car (Possibly Opel Zafira model). I look for models and prices from online sources like: . But before buying used car i want to check it, and need some advices. Docs and car condition can be described over the phone, but what are the most important things i need to know? How to check if this car is st

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