I’ve got a thing for quirky cars, machines that polarise opinion. Like the limited edition Daihatsu Materia Turbo that was built fleetingly — and exclusively, I might add —in South Africa back in 2009.
I tested one when they were released and loved every ridiculous second behind the wheel. Those Tokyo hot-rod looks. A whooshing turbo wastegate that hissed and spat with every gear change.
The fact that it could give more expensive hot hatch -backs a momentary scare when racing away from the traffic lights. The Materia Turbo was a champion in a dwindling pool of feel-good cars, an eccentric oddity that never failed to make you smile. It was bloody practical too, which is why I decided to hunt one down as a replacement for my Opel Corsa. It took a while (nearly two years), but I eventually spotted what seemed like a clean example at a reputable chain of second-hand car dealerships. I went to go have a look. The paint was clean. There were no parking dings on the doors, no obvious signs of accident damage.
There was some minor hail damage on the roof, but the salesman assured me that these would be fixed should I actually decide to purchase the vehicle. After a quick test drive to feel that the engine and drivetrain were in good working order, I did. Now normally when I buy a second-hand car I take it to a Dekra centre for a thorough once-over. Sure it costs a bit of money but in return you get an objective appraisal of the car in question — something that can save you a significant amount of money down the line.
This time around I didn’t because the dealership’s mantra was “Certified Used Vehicles”. In other words, all of their stock had already been subjected to a lengthy checklist: one that made sure that the most important mechanical components were in proper working condition. Now I know it was lengthy because I saw the checklist pertaining to my car. Everything was hunky -dory. Except it clearly wasn’t. About a week or two after taking delivery of the latest addition to my oddball garage, I could feel that the car was out of sorts. The braking performance didn’t feel up to scratch and, when fully loaded with all my drum equipment, the rear displayed an alarming amount of sag.
I also started noticing an annoying clunk when turning the steering wheel at low speeds or going over certain bumps. Not to mention a weird vibration from the front right wheel. Not a problem — I decided to take it to my racing mechanic for a once over. This is a man who services Ferrari 430 Scuderias for a living so I knew he’d have no issue locking down the problems on a Materia Turbo. And he didn’t. Four times knackered shock absorbers, two times buggered lower control arm bushings and a worn front right wheel bearing. Now were I not a car person, I probably wouldn’t have picked up these anomalies.
And even if I had, I probably would have just let them slide because the second hand dealership — backed by a major manufacturer whose name rhymes with Dakota — from whom I purchased the car — had given me a piece of paper stating that all of the car’s mechanicals were A-OK. Only this certainly wasn’t the case. Which is an absolute travesty considering that you’re no doubt paying a financial premium for supposed “peace of mind”. From this experience, it appears that these so-called “approved used dealerships” are no better than the thousands of other second-hand car lots trading without top tier manufacturer endorsement. So don’t fall for the glossy blue-chip veneer. If you’re buying a second-hand car, forget the fluff and demand an external inspection by somebody like Dekra.