Buying a Second Hand Car
If you’re not very ‘car literate’ the second-hand vehicle market can be something of a mine field.
"Is it value for money? Is it roadworthy? Has it really only done 6,000 miles in eight years?" The cynical voices in your head are enough to drive you to distraction.
To help you make a safe and reliable purchase - minus the stress - here are my top tips to buying a second-hand car.
First of all, you shouldn’t be buying anything until you’ve armed yourself with a used car price guide. These guides are available in all good newsagents and there are also online versions which you can download and print off.
Whether you are buying privately or from a dealer, only look at cars in broad daylight. It’s much harder to spot faults if you are viewing it after dark.
When you go to view a car, take a friend along. If you don’t know much about cars it’s important to have somebody with you that does! You’ll need to make the following visual checks as a minimum:
- Tyres – Look for signs of uneven wear, as this can point to problems with the car’s suspension. Ask when the car last had new tyres fitted – does the wear on the tyres seem to bear this figure out?
- Mileage – If the wear and tear on the car appears far greater than its mileage would suggest, there’s a chance it could have been “clocked” (had the mileage counter tampered with).
- VIN – You’ll most likely find the car’s Vehicle Identity Number (VIN) under the bonnet, though it could also be on the bottom corner of the windscreen. Check that the number is identical to the one on the car’s registration document, and write it down. If the number does NOT tally with the one on the registration document, you’d be well advised to steer clear of a purchase.
- Oil – Check the dipstick. If the oil has been regularly changed and the engine well looked after, the dipstick should come out relatively clean and golden. Black, tar-like oil suggests an engine that has not been maintained in good condition.
- Body work – Take a close look at the paintwork on the car. Is the colour and texture consistent throughout? If not it may have undergone a re-spray. Look for signs of welding on the engine, and lift the carpet in the boot to check for any concealed repairs
Check it Out
If you find a car which fits your criteria and passes the above tests, you may want to take out an “HPI check” (a vehicle history check that has become synonymous with HPI, but is now offered by a number of companies). The check can help confirm if a car has been stolen, written-off or has mileage discrepancies, and while it costs up to £40 to commission, it can prevent you wasting thousands on an unfit and unsafe vehicle. HPI checks will also help you determine if there is any outstanding finance on the car.
If the car is more than 3 years old, you'll need to see a current MOT certificate proving the car roadworthy.
Test-drive the car. Make sure you try out some low-speed manoeuvring including use of reverse gear, listening out for any suspension ‘clunks’. Also, try climbing a hill in high gear – if the engine races the car may have a problem with 'clutch slipping'. but first and foremost, check that you are insured to try out the vehicle.
Above all, don't buy unless you are absolutely satisfied with the car. Don't be intimidated or pushed into a decision on the spot. Remember that you are in the position of power - you have the money and you'll only spend it if the deal is absolutely right.