If you’re in the market for a new car, you’ll probably want to consider the option of buying one second-hand.
After all, the financial benefits are clear to see. A car loses around 40% of its value within its first year, and buying used can save you a lot of cash.
On the other hand, many consider used cars to be a risky proposition, so we’ve put together this guide to help you make an informed decision when you’re buying your next used car.
What’s the risk?
Why does buying a used car require such a guide? Well there are a couple of possible problems you could run into when buying second-hand.
Some dealers may try to illegally trick you into thinking a car is worth more than it actually is by winding back its odometer to show that it has a lower mileage.
It can be hard to detect ‘clocking’, especially in more modern cars with digital odometers where the mileage has been altered using special software.
However, if there seems to be a serious difference between the age and appearance of a vehicle and its supposed mileage, then alarm bells should be ringing.
For example, if the car you’re looking at is 5 or 10 years old and has all the bumps, scrapes and other obvious signs of prolonged use that you’s expect, yet has a relatively low mileage, it may have been tampered with.
If you do have your suspicions, check out the vehicle’s service records, or perhaps get in touch with a garage that has previously worked on it and confirm the mileage they recorded at the time.
It’s not quite Dolly the Sheep, but cars can sometimes be given the number plates from an otherwise identical vehicle to effectively ‘clone’ them.
This is often done to disguise a stolen vehicle, or to avoid things such as parking tickets and other fines.
On top of possibly finding yourself receiving multiple tickets that aren’t yours, owning a cloned car can also mean you’ll end up not only losing the car, but also all the money that you spent on it.
Again, check the service records for any inconsistencies, and be wary if you’re buying a car without a V5C (record of ownership).
Cut and shut vehicles
This is process of taking two wrecked cars, and welding together parts from each and illegally giving the vehicle the identity of one of the cars.
While it may conjure up images of some Frankenstein-like creation with different coloured and shaped parts, the cosmetic work in cut and shut cars is actually usually exceptionally good and it can be very difficult to spot them.
If you’re unsure on any of the above issues, take out a data check on your car such as those offered by Total Car Check.
Before you start
Bear in mind the true cost
When viewing second-hand cars, don’t just look at the enticing price in the front window of the car.
You’re also going to have to pay for insurance and tax on the vehicle, so make sure you get quotes on these before rushing into any agreements.
Also, make sure to check out the car for any small repairs that you might need to have done as the cost of these can easily snowball.
As with anything, it pays to do your homework, so check all of your local dealerships, as well as online comparison sites to make sure you’re getting the best deal possible.
And there’s no better way to judging a car than speaking to someone who’s actually owned one, so get in touch with any friends or co-workers who have had experience with that particular make or model to see if they had any problems.
Where to go
An ‘approved used’ model from a franchised dealer such as Cox Motor Group is probably your safest option as it will have had all the necessary security checks taken out and will be fully guaranteed. However, it will also be the more expensive option.
Buying from a private seller will be cheaper, although it is a little bit riskier as you won’t have much of a leg to stand on if you run into any problems.
If you’re feeling particularly brave why not try a car auction? Just be careful not to get carried away in a bidding war!
Things to ask for
No car is immune from needing the odd trip to the garage now and then (or if there is we’d like to hear about it!).
This means that the car your buying should come with some form of service history such as bills or MOT certificates. If not, you should be asking questions. Either you’re onto an impossibly well made car, or there’s something dodgy afoot.
Once you do get your hands on a service history, check for any inconsistencies, or reoccurring problems that could pose an issue in future.
This document shows you the registered owner of the car. If the person selling you the car is not the registered owner, make sure that they have the right to sell you the vehicle.
The V5C will also show you al previous owners of the car, so if you do have any doubts at all about the car, why not get in touch with a previous owner to see if they kept it in good shape or whether they modified it in any way?
You should also ask for all of the vehicles recent MOT certificates. You can also check for this online if you have the cars reg number and V5C.
As with the other documents, check that the mileage is fairly consistent, and that there aren’t any outstanding issues.
Vehicle handbooks can be very expensive so make sure your vehicle already has one. They can contain some pretty useful info such as how to lock and unlock the vehicle.
The test drive
Taking the vehicle for a test drive is the perfect opportunity to put it through its paces, check that everything is in working order and most importantly figure out if it’s right for you.
Things to check out
- If the engine is warm before you set off, the seller may be trying to mask a starting problem.
- Listen carefully to the engine for any unusual noises, or even more worryingly, any signs of smoke rising from the bonnet!
- Make sure the steering wheel moves freely and easily.
- Make sure the brakes stop the car quickly and in a straight line.
- Try and take in as many different types of road as possible and see if the dealer will let you try it out on the motorway.
- Is the seating position comfortable? Make sure that you can see all of the dashboard and that you can comfortably reach the pedal, handbrake etc.
- Don’t just take a comfortable drive down to the shops, throw in some tricky manoeuvres! It’s no good being able to drive around town if you can’t pull off a reverse parallel park.
- If you have anything such as children’s seats or work equipment that you’re going to need to fit in the back of the car, make sure it’ll fit. You can maybe even bring it along.
(Certain dealers might actually let you test drive the car for a full day or overnight. It might be a long shot, but if you don’t ask you don’t get!)
How to pay for it
Assuming you already have a car, you might want to think about trading it in to pay a little towards your new car.
This can be a help, but bear in mind that you won’t get as much as you would selling it yourself.
The cheapest way to pay for your new car will be to pay in cash up front, however if you can’t afford that you might want to arrange finance, or a lease plan where you pay monthly instalments.
Closing the sale
When it comes to actually finalising the sale, don’t be pressured into anything! If you’re not 100% sure on a vehicle, you’re within your rights to walk away at any point.
If you decide you’ve found the car to suit you, make sure you confirm exactly what is included in the price (including any work on the car that the seller may have agreed to do), and make sure to get a full receipt.
And don’t be afraid to haggle! Many sellers will be happy to knock a little bit off the price if you ask. Set a maximum price that you’re willing to pay before you start searching and make sure you don’t go above it!
Above all else, make sure you double check every aspect of the vehicle before committing to buy it, and remember that if a deal seems to good to be true, it probably is!
That said, there is some great value to be found in second hand cars, so good luck bargain hunting!