Buying a second hand car can be a scary proposition for most people, with large sums of cash being exchanged for something you possibly know little about! Even more so if you choose to buy privately or from an individual, mainly because you really have no guarantees in place. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be an option though. You can, if careful, get your hands on a wonderful car for a very fair price from a good honest person.
If buying privately is not your thing, remember you are not immune if you go to even the most prestigious second hand car sales venue. Yes they have a certain duty of care and their reputation to think of but legally the odds still favour the seller, as is said in courtrooms all over the country “Caveat Emptor” which is Latin for “Buyer Beware”. There are laws to help the buyer, but usually only if the product or in this case car is actually faulty from the time of sale. Now that’s a sticky one, because you wouldn’t knowingly buy a faulty car, however there is a risk that the car will prove faulty or break down after you’ve bought it!
Armed with the following tips you should be more confident to buy a car privately or from the forecourt.
- Time – A rushed or panic purchase nearly always ends in disaster. It may be inconvenient getting around without a car but it’s even worse if you buy one and turns out to be a ‘lemon’ (motor trade jargon for a particularly bad car). Or you buy a car that doesn’t suit your needs, e.g. too expensive on fuel or too small. Make absolutely certain the car is right for you! Can you afford the insurance and running costs? Do you enjoy driving it? Has it done too many miles? Will it last and work for you? Answer these questions before you select a shortlist of cars.
- Research the vendor – Easy with a car sales garage; the internet is a powerful tool, with warts an’ all reviews usually from real customers. You will be shocked at what people really think but be prepared to take some comments with a pinch of salt! If buying privately, ask some prudent question over the phone first; ‘Why are you selling the car?’, ‘How long have you had it?’, ‘What work has been done on the car?’ Listen carefully to the seller: are their answers believable and realistic? If you go to view the car, never meet half way! Insist you see the car at their home address and ensure that they do live there! You could ask for ID, if they are offended, chances are they are not genuine.
- Check the paper work – Registration Document, Mot Certificate, Tax Disc and Service Book. Check the paper work matches the home address and person selling the car. Check the chassis number on the car matches the V5 document, tax disc and MOT. (Cars under three years old do not require an MOT)
With a registration number you can carry out a check online to see if the vehicle has been stolen, badly damaged or has outstanding finance. You can also check very quickly whether a vehicle has a current MOT with the registration number and MOT number online at http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Motoring/OwningAVehicle/Mot/DG_10020539. As well as checking in the service book that the car has been properly serviced (an absolute must) you can usually get a phone number for the garage that serviced the car. Give them a call, this will verify that they have seen the car and if the garage is a good quality independent they may well remember some handy details.
- Check the exterior – Initially, view the car from about 5 metres away, always in daylight! Look for slight variations in colour and symmetry of body panels. Any anomalies could mean it’s had a bump. Look then at the front bumper and bonnet, major stone chips can rust but usually are just a sign the car has been used frequently at a high speed on the motorway. Work your way carefully round the car looking for bodywork damage and corrosion, anything serious should be fairly obvious to the untrained eye.
Check the tyres, not only can tyres be costly but their condition can help you build a picture of how the car has been driven. I would never buy a car with bald front tyres! That says to me the person doesn’t care about the car, its safety or keep it well maintained and it’s a bit of a giveaway that the driver likes a ‘traffic light Grand Prix!’ Look under the vehicle, especially if it is where it’s normally parked, oil leaks show up well on drives and paths.
- Check under the bonnet – Now most people just pretend they know what to look for but it needn’t be so! Modern engine bays are pretty much plastic trim and plumbing but you can try to get a general idea using what you’ve already seen. Is the engine bay particularly dirty? Is there a strong smell when you open the bonnet? Higher mileage cars get dirtier engines. When a clutch is wearing out it makes a very acrid smell that lingers and fuel and oil leakage will also make for a pongy under bonnet experience. Check the oil level and colour of oil, unless it is a diesel the oil should not be black, in fact if the vehicle has been serviced recently the oil should be nearer to a golden syrup colour. It sounds silly but are there any bits missing? Caps, trims, dust covers? Listen to the engine running from cold if possible, does it sound like the other cars of that type you have viewed. Rattles, bangs knocks and whirring sounds have no business in the engine bay!
- Check the interior – Look at the level of wear and tear on the seats, steering wheel and gear stick. Wear in one part of the steering wheel usually indicates high motorway mileage, wear on the outer edge of the driver’s seat and gear stick can indicate a lot of stop/start driving, getting in and out of the car. Check the pedals, are they worn? If the clutch pedal is worn, the clutch may be worn too, if so, has it been replaced? Very carefully check the seat belts and airbag areas, these would have been damaged in a crash and you would want them to work for you! Have a close look at the dashboard, as you turn the ignition on all the lights should display, as a check, and then extinguish as the engine starts. With the exception of the hand brake light which can be checked by pressing the brake pedal and releasing the hand brake and re-applying. Are the seats comfy? You will hopefully spend some time driving you new purchase in comfort! At the risk of looking slightly mad! Check absolutely everything works. There is nothing more annoying that buying a car with a cool electric sunroof to find out that it doesn’t work after you’ve bought it! That one comes from personal experience!
- Drive it – A good test drive is an absolute must, be prepared to provide your driving licence and insurance details. Don’t be put off by idle banter or a seller that turns the radio on! This could be a tactic to distract you from hearing a noise. You will be nervous and it probably won’t be your best drive but keep calm and get used to the car, stick to quiet roads. Feel the steering, brakes, clutch and gear change, all should be functional and smooth. When safe, brake firmly and see the car pulls up promptly and in a straight line. Without swerving, pass over a minor bump or rough bit of road and listen carefully for bangs or rattles. A good test drive should last at least 10 minutes and remember to check the car’s tax and MOT status first, because as the driver, you are responsible! If the vendor drives some of the way, see how they drive the car, are they ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ or treating it like a race car they’ve stolen?
- Consider – Never be rushed into a purchase by a pushy seller, professional or otherwise. It is your money and your time!
Like a good detective, build a picture from all the information you have gathered. Does it all add up? How has the car been used, treated and maintained. Look for possible differences, does the story match the car. If the car has ‘just been serviced’ does the service book prove that? Does that repair garage remember that car? Is the oil fairly clean? You can start to get a really good idea of the car’s history this way.
Above all don’t be afraid to ask too many questions, you are about to spend a lot of hard earned cash!
Ready to go car shopping? There is a risk in every purchase but with a little care and experience you can take the fear factor out of buying your latest chariot. Good luck and safe motoring!
For more specific tips email us at [email protected] or call us 0113 2242011