Buying a used car can often land you a real bargain – or turn out to be an expensive mistake. It can feel quite daunting to buy a used car rather than a new one, especially if you are not mechanically-minded. However, there are a few basic steps that you can take to protect yourself and stand a good chance of getting a great deal.
- 1. Set a budget
The single most important thing to consider, and the one which will ultimately dictate which car you can buy, is how much you can afford to spend. Set a budget before you start looking around to avoid disappointment, and factor in the following:
- the value of your current car (if you plan to sell it), and how much you extra you will need to cover the cost of your next car.
- if finance is available, work out how much the repayments will be and if you can afford them.
- check around for insurance quotes when you’ve found a car you are interested in, and can afford to buy.
- don’t forget to calculate running costs: fuel, tax, insurance etc. These can all vary depending on the car so do your research before buying or you could end up with a car that you cannot afford to run.
2. Take a good look
Make sure you get a good look at the car you are thinking about buying. Visit during the daytime – and preferably in dry weather – so that any imperfections are easily visible. Buying from a used car dealership like Benfield will make it easier to do this, as private sellers may be at work during the day. Make sure you check the following:
- inconsistencies in paintwork, particularly between front and rear, which could be indicative of a ‘cut and shut’ – where the front and rear of two different cars are welded together. This can make the car’s frame weak.
- bubbling paintwork or rust – not a major issue unless it is degrading the bodywork, and not just the paintwork.
- doors and windows – do they open, close and lock properly? Don’t forget the boot.
- electronics – make sure the car’s features work, especially lights, indicators, and central locking and air conditioning if present.
- seats and seatbelts – can all seats be adjusted or folded properly? Do all seatbelts fasten properly? Give them a pull to check they function correctly.
- 3. Go for a test drive
This is the most important test: does the car drive well? It can be hard to tell if a car that runs perfectly well on a test drive will keep running without problems developing. Some simple things you can do to check whether the car is sound include:
- before you set off, make sure the car is started while the engine is cold. A warm engine is easier to start.
- Make sure you have the required insurance cover before taking it out – you don’t want to be paying for a car you haven’t even bought!
- check for excess smoke – blue smoke means that there may be engine damage or wear. A good way to check is by holding at around 2500 revs whilst parked, and holding for around 20 seconds, giving the engine plenty of time to display any faults.
- drive on different roads. A car that trundles along nicely at 30MPH might perform differently on a motorway at high speed. Be aware of vibration, noise, or anything that doesn’t seem quite right.
- make sure you feel comfortable in the car – after all, you might be driving it for a long time. Make sure your seat isn’t too high or low, that you can easily reach the foot pedals and steering wheel, and even if the glovebox is big enough. These little things can become seriously annoying in the long term.
- 4. Haggle
No car salesman expects someone to walk onto a forecourt and pay the asking price. Don’t give him an easy ride! Make sure you prepare well so that you can haggle with success:
- know what the car is worth: you should already know what you can afford to pay, so it makes sense to get value for your money.
- don’t start too high: don’t sell yourself short. Start low, and work your way up.
- be polite – if you are rude or confrontational, the seller is more likely to close up and be less willing to haggle. Try to smile, and remember that it’s all a game!
- a full tank of fuel is a common agreement between hagglers.
- remember there are other cars – be prepared to walk away if you don’t get the deal you want.
- 5. Check the paperwork
Despite many car dealerships being completely above board and legitimate, there will always be one that is a little bit shady. You must make sure that the car you are buying is completely legal, as a stolen car could be taken away from you without any chance of reimbursement.
- consider paying for a car history check – this is usually around £20 and gives you the full history of the car, including if it has any outstanding finance, is stolen, or has previously been written off.
- check the documents – the V5C (logbook) should accompany the car at all times. There may be additional service history or MOT documents which, whilst not legally required, will give you an idea of how well the car has been maintained.
- check that the car’s Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) matches the VIN recorded in the logbook. The VIN can be found at the base of the windscreen, under the bonnet, and stamped into the chassis below the carpet beside the driver’s seat.
- look for scratch marks or evidence of tampering around the mileage clock, especially where the screws are fixed, as this can be indicative of ‘clocking’ – turning back the mileage manually. Think about how old the car is compared to how many miles it has clocked.
These tips are not exhaustive, and there are plenty of other ways to check out a used car, but these are the most basic and should serve you well enough to make sure you get a good deal on any used car.