EVER bought a bomb of a second-hand car? It is not a rare experience. But, in Hongkong, it can be avoided by making use of the Hongkong Automobile Association's (HKAA) technical service's full inspection. The HKAA's full inspections are supervised by its technical services manager, Mr Tony Westgate. Mr Westgate is a former army man and learned his mechanical skills maintaining the V24 Rolls Royce Meteor engines of Centurion tanks. The average family car's 1600 cc four-cylinder engine must seem laughably simple by comparison. Mr Westgate has been in Hongkong and with the HKAA for 13 years and, during this time, has noticed problems with local motoring habits. ''People don't take enough care over maintaining their cars,'' he said. ''Motorists here tend to run their vehicles until something goes wrong. ''That's not the way to get the most out of your car. I would recommend that people get them checked every year.'' The HKAA's full inspection team identifies faults for owners and spots potential problems in prospective second-hand purchases. The service includes a complete body check, an examination of wheels, tyres and brakes, a once-over of the interior, electronics and engine and a quick road test. If a car really is a stinker, it is not the HKAA's policy to recommend that the customer does not buy, although, according to Mr Westgate, hints to that end might be given. So what is the reason for its unwillingness to give an absolute recommendation? bb10 ''We can never be 100 per cent right about a car's condition. You can set up a vehicle so that it will work properly on a particular day,'' he said. ''You can fix a clutch so that it bites just right during a test drive and then burns out after a couple of runs up and down the peak. But, generally, we get it right.'' After more than 13 years, Mr Westgate has had only three complaints about cars bought on the strength of inspection results. As a second-hand purchase, Mr Westgate recommends European cars as they tend to be more durable. However, he is quick to point out that any car, if properly looked after, can be a good buy. Unfortunately, even if a car is well maintained, problems can arise because of Hongkong's stop-start driving conditions and high humidity levels. ''In Hongkong, a car engine almost never does what it is designed to do. You can hardly ever get up to healthy speed. Bodywork suffers, too,'' Mr Westgate said. ''People often say that there's no rust problem here, but they forget that there is an awful lot of salt in the air.'' The HKAA does not do call-outs for this service, but Mr Westgate recommends that should people want their prospective purchase checked, they should make the booking and ask the current owner to take the car to the inspection centre. ''If the owner doesn't want to have the car tested, then you can bet it's a dud,'' he said. Anyone wanting to make use of the HKAA's full inspection should call Mr Westgate on 332-2610 to make a booking. The tests are carried out at the HKAA offices at 391 Nathan Road or Marsh Road in Wan Chai.