Second hand cars are big business these days. Many people choose to buy a used car rather than a new one, as the depreciation on a new car can be colossal. For popular makes – Ford, Toyota and BMW, for instance – it is not unusual to experience depreciation across three years from new in excess of 50%. In other words, if you buy a new car now, it may be worth half the price in a few years. That’s why used cars are very popular.
Buying a used car can be something of a minefield, and there are many factors you should consider. It helps if you know what you are looking for, and do not be taken in by the salesman’s rhetoric. Ask questions, and don’t be afraid to walk away if something about the deal doesn’t seem right. If a deal looks too good to be true, the chances are it is. Let’s have a look at some of the things you can do to make sure your new car purchase is the right deal for you:
- Do your homework: make a list of cars that suit your needs and budget, and focus on these. Check recent sales and ensure that you know the price you should be paying for each model, and take into account different specifications. Going shopping for a used car without having an idea of what you want or need is bound to lead to disappointment. Also, stick within your budget and, if you are using finance, make sure you have it agreed beforehand.
- Make a limit on the mileage of the car you intend to buy: a general rule of thumb is that a car will cover an annual mileage of 10,000. For a three year old car, therefore, you should be looking at a mileage of between 25,000 and 35,000. If it is more, it could have been a fleet car, and may have been driven hard.
- When you view a car, do so in good light. Darkness can hide a myriad of defects and potential problems. Ask to see the registration documents, and check that the numbers on the engine and chassis plate are the same as those on the document. The chassis plate can usually be found inside one of the wings under the hood. If the numbers do not match, walk away.
- Always check the bodywork carefully: look for rust, especially on newer cars, and check for possible accident damage. You can see if a car has been damaged and repaired by carefully examining the panel fit, particularly around the hood, trunk and doors. Poor fit indicates possible replacement. Bear in mind that corrosion on the bottom and top of doors, and on the wings and arches, is expensive to repair, and do not be taken in by a salesman’s insistence that it is merely ‘surface rust’; almost always it is hiding something nasty.
- If possible, always take with you a friend who knows about cars. They will know what to look for underneath the car, in the hidden areas around the arches, around the suspension mounts and in other areas where corrosion can be dangerous. A three year old car, for instance, should be expected to have some rust in the most exposed parts, but only of a minor nature.
- Check the engine visually, and also when running. Any engine on a used car should show signs of use, but is unlikely to be absolutely pristine unless it has been cleaned especially. This is usually done to cover up problems, and should be questioned. Remove the dipstick and check the oil – it should be clear, not dense black, and with no discolouration.
- Start the engine from cold: if, upon arrival, the hood is warm then the car has been warmed up before you arrived. This can cover many problems. The oil light should go out shortly after starting the engine; if it does not it could be indicative of excessive wear.
- The most important point of all – take the car for a test drive! Try out all of the elements: the brakes, gears, steering, and any electrical accessories, and make sure you are satisfied with all. If something feels even slightly wrong, look elsewhere.
A car is a major expenditure, so you want the very best deal you can get. Do not be afraid to haggle, and take care and time to look at a number of cars that fit your requirements. Always check the service history – the more comprehensive the better – and, last but not least, if you can, ask for the car to be inspected by an independent source. The small amount this costs may save you a fortune in the long run.