Buying a used car
Buying a used car is a lot more difficult than buying a new car.
First you have to decide on what car you want, but then follows a rigorous process that everyone should complete before they take a used-car off the hands of someone else.
You don’t know the history of the car, nor the seller in most cases, and then you have to show expertise in an area that you probably don’t know a muffler from a spoiler.
Let’s assume you have found a used car that you are interested in. Here are some tips I can pass on from what I have seen over the years through KSR:
1. Contact the seller
Don’t be afraid to ask questions:
• How long have they had the car?
• Why are they selling it?
• What condition is it in?
• Has it ever been in an accident?
• Does it have any `bad habits’?
2. Looking at the car
If the seller is a private party rather than a dealer, always go to their home address. Don’t arrange to meet them somewhere. Check that the home address is the same as the one on the registration certificate.
3. Check the car’s history
No matter how genuine the seller seems, you should check the history of the car to make sure it’s not stolen, doesn’t have any money owing on it, or even a previous write-off. Get the car’s VIN number and check against the databases in the state in which it’s registered.
4. When to look
As a general rule, buy the newest car with the lowest number of kilometres you can afford. Try to avoid looking at cars on rainy days, because it can hide dints and marks in the paint that could mean previous panel damage. Even take a friend with you, preferably one who knows a bit about cars.
5. Check the car
Make sure you have a thorough look over the car yourself, and best of all, have an independent mechanic or automotive centre check it out properly on a hoist. It could save you thousands by revealing mechanical problems and previous damage.
Some checks that should be done include:
• Always look at the car in full daylight, never in the dark or in rain that could conceal body marks, dents, rust and other defects.
• Check under the car, the bonnet and the interior carpet for rust and signs – such as welding marks which may show the car has been in a crash.
• Under the bonnet, look for signs of oil leaks on top of the engine, and underneath. Use the dipstick to check the amount of oil. If the level is low, the owner hasn’t been looking after the car properly.
• Check the gaps between the body panels are equal – if they're not, the car could have been refitted badly, or may have been in a crash.
• Make sure the seatbelts work correctly and that all switches work.
• Start the car with a cold engine, which will make is easier to reveal problems like poor starting or too much smoke.
8. Test drive
Some tips for the trip:
• Before you set off, turn the steering wheel from one lock to the other to make sure there are no strange sounds.
• Listen for strange noises from the engine, and don’t let the seller distract you by talking or turning up the radio.
• Drive on as many different roads surfaces as possible.
• Use all the gears, and check the gear change is slick and smooth.
9. Negotiating the price
There is almost always room for negotiation. Make a list of any faults you found with the car, or any work that might need doing. Make an offer. They can only either turn you down, accept your offer or name another price closer to yours. From this position, negotiate the price with the seller.
10. Paperwork and payment
Make sure all the paperwork is in order, and that you have original versions (never photocopies) of the registration papers, service history and logbook. If you’re making a payment or even just a deposit, get a receipt and make sure the seller’s full details are on it.