15 Dec 2005, 04:51:02 PM

Reporter: Rohan Wenn

Four years ago Connie Byrnes bought a car to accommodate her suddenly super-sized family.

Sadly the family ended up with a new car riddled with problems they have had to deal with first-hand ever since. "Oil leaks, noises that people could hear from miles away, they knew we were coming", Connie said.

And then, the engine started cracking and has had to be replaced four times.

So how do you stop consumers like Connie being burnt by car manufacturers who won't replace a car that is clearly a lemon. Well, Norm Crothers from the Australian Consumers Association thinks we need Lemon Laws. "If the motor car had the same fault a number of times, say 3 or maybe four times, during the warranty period, then that constitutes the cars a lemon and the manufacturer or distributor should replace the car, or give the consumer a full refund at the consumers discretion", Norm said.

Laws like that are already in place in the US, and Norm says if they were in place here, consumers wouldn't have to take car companies to the civil courts to get a result.

But how do you avoid getting stung when you're buying a second hand car? Well Mechanic Darryl Weaver says it's not that easy. "There are lots of traps out there and you can find yourself buying a lemon if you're not extremely careful", Darryl said.

So we asked Darryl to give us his top 7 tips you can use in a car yard, to work out which cars may be worth buying, and which cars are bombs.

Tip 1 - Take along a fridge magnet. "We run it along the bottom of the bonnet here 'cause it's metal, it sticks. We get to the corner and the magnet simply won't stick -- that means there has been a rust problem with the bottom of this car, so it's been filled with body filler or fibreglass", Darryl said.

Tip 2 - Take along some cloth. "By putting it over the exhaust and just start it up. A lot of smoke tells us that there's definitely signs of engine wear and you can see with the smoke that's emitted there's possible ring wear which can cost quite a bit of money to repair. So if it was in good condition the cloth should still be fairly clean, maybe just a bit of darkness - maybe a bit but not a dark oily look".

Tip 3 - Watch out for steam cleaned engines. "Quite possibly they've cleaned the engine to cover a potential oil leak, so you've got to ask the question, do you want to have this investigated further?"

Tip 4 - Get under the car. "If you walk under the car as you can see if there's a whole in the muffler that you wouldn't find that lying on your back in a car yard, you'd be very lucky to find something like that. You need it elevated in a hoist situation".

Tip 5 - Look under car seats. "Any car with a seat cover, lift it up, have a look underneath it. The seats have to be in good condition or it can be an un-roadworthy seat".

Tip 6 - Look closely at seat belts. "What you'll find they do is trim the seat belt up with a cigarette lighter, clean the edges, not something you'd normally notice unless you had a really good look and run your fingers over it. Even after they've trimmed it up, it would still be un-roadworthy. They need to be replaced, they are not safe at all".

Tip 7 - Look in the glove box. "If there are no service books you need to speak to the dealer, ask him if he's got any information on it -- the history's important".

Of course the checklist is just a guide, and you should still get a mechanic to properly inspect your car before handing over your hard earned cash to a dealer. That way you won't end up with a lemon which leaves you feeling bitter every time you get behind the wheel.