Most people don’t buy their cars brand new; in fact, buying a car straight out of the showroom is simply a terrible investment given that its value can drop by nearly 20% in its first year alone, and taking out a loan to pay for it means you’ll likely end up paying double what it’s actually worth.
This is not to say that buying a used car doesn’t come with its own set of challenges, of course, and if you’re not careful you could end up spending a lot of money on something that needs too much work or just isn’t right for you.
Here are five tips to help you minimise your risk and find a car that will serve you well for years to come.
1. Do good RESEARCH before you start looking
Before you set out to look any cars, it’s important to do some thorough research to determine how much you’re willing to spend and what type of car will suit your needs, as well as any additional details like insurance costs, road taxes and fuel consumption.
The last thing you want is to be talked into something you aren’t familiar with, so try to build a target list of cars that meet your needs and also fall within your budget beforehand.
Sites like Gumtree can be a great place to begin your search and find helpful reviews, car buying tips and detailed information on different types of vehicles, as well as locate used cars in your area.
2. Consider the pros and cons of buying privately or via a dealer
When buying a used car, you can choose to go through a dealer or directly through a private seller. There are pros and cons to each option.
The up side of purchasing a used car from a dealer is that you’ll usually get a warranty, whereas with a private seller you’re pretty much on your own. Dealers also offer financing options and are required to adhere to stringent operating procedures, which minimises your risk of being cheated.
At the same time, dealers are also more expensive as they have to make a profit/commission on the cars they sell, and you’ll likely end up spending up far more than you would with a private owner.
3. Know what to look for when inspecting a vehicle
Once you get out there and start inspecting vehicles, you need to know exactly where the problem areas are in order to make an informed decision. The first rule is to never view cars at night or in bad weather, because rain or poor lighting can hide things like rust, dents and other defects.
Always ask about the service records of the car and ensure that the mileage is consistent with them. Any car that has been in a major accident or undergone big repairs like a transmission rebuild or engine overhaul should be avoided.
Also check the underside of the car and bonnet for signs of rust or marks indicating that the car may have been in an accident. Under the bonnet, you should look for any oil leaks on the engine and check the oil cap for signs of a whitish substance which may indicate a damaged head gasket.
Finally, taking the car to an independent mechanic for a final check can help you spot potential problems early on and negotiate a lower price if you still want it.
4. Take it for a GOOD test drive
There are some things you can’t tell just by looking at a car, so it’s important to take it for a test drive, and not just a spin around the block either. Try to take the car out for a good 30-40 minutes and drive it both on the motorway and on smaller roads to see how it performs.
Listen for any sounds like screeching, banging, knocking or odd engine noises, and use all the gears, including reverse, to make sure they change smoothly. Test that the handbrake holds the car back by pulling it on and then very gently trying to drive off.
Also, since you also want to feel comfortable driving your new car, pay attention to other little things like the driving position, how well you can reach the operating controls, and whether or not there is enough space for things like a child seat, pushchair or whatever else you may need.
5. Be prepared to haggle
Used cars can generally be bargained down, so don’t agree on the initial price you’re quoted without doing some haggling first. Most sellers are expecting you to do this anyway, and will start at a higher price than they actually expect to get.
If any faults came to light during the inspection of the vehicle you can use them to bring the price down, so make a list of anything that will need work and calculate how much it would cost you to fix.
When you’ve done this, you can start your haggling. Always ask the seller what their best price is and then make a lower offer. Be prepared to walk away if the price isn’t right.
Also confirm exactly what will be included in the price, and once you have agreed to make a payment or deposit, get the seller’s full details on a receipt that includes the price and terms of sale, along with any collection or delivery arrangements.