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What things should you consider when buying a second-hand car?

15.07.2019 by Jack H

11 things to consider when buying a second-hand car are Budget, Test Drive, Research on Model, Check Cars History, Collision Damage, Pre-Purchase Inspection, Online Reviews, Assess Running Costs, Negotiating Price, Timing of Purchase, Purchase Process.

One of the most popular choices when shopping for a car is to purchase a used car rather than a brand new one. The main reason this option is so common is that a used car is much more affordable than buying a new model.

No matter what your budget is, most people appreciate being able to save a little cash wherever possible these days. After all, used cars are not necessarily more inferior quality vehicles; they are just not shiny and brand new straight off the forecourt.

Many used cars have excellent paintwork, durable engines and have been kept in good condition. If you’re lucky, you’ll find that some haven’t even done too many miles.

Whether you’re searching for a little runaround car or that dream vehicle you've had your eye on for a while, buying second-hand gives you lots of choices. However, it can be a minefield, which is why we have put this handy guide together filled with tips and advice to help you get the most out of your used car buying experience.

Focus on a budget

Before you even start your car hunt, it’s vital to determine a range of cost that you’re prepared to pay. By deciding how much you are willing to spend on the car early means that you can start to plan how you will carry out the transaction. You may wish for it to be financed (via a bank loan or through the car dealership), or whether you can save up enough to buy the car with your own money.

Have the budget in mind when you set out to look for used cars. If you choose to use online car dealership sites, use the price range filter to avoid temptation from more expensive cars!

Always test drive

It goes without saying that you need to feel confident with the car before you own it, which is where a test drive comes in. If you think you need more than one test drive, then ask. Whether it’s a car dealership or a private sale, either owner should understand if you need to test it out more than once.

Spending time behind the wheel will not only allow you to familiarise yourself with the vehicle, but it will also let you see how the car responds to you in the driving seat, too. Every vehicle is different, and you may be shocked with how you find the driving situation when it’s one you’re not used to driving.

For the test drive, ask if the route can be quite broad, so you get to experience how the car performs at various speed limits, roundabouts and turnings.

If you hear any noises or strange sounds, ask about them immediately. That’s what the test drive is there for!

Do your research into the vehicle

Before purchasing a car, it’s best to be clued up with knowledge on the make and model of the car itself. These days, you can find out everything about cars via the internet, so fully research what your desired make and model should be like. Doing so helps to alert you to any parts or extras that your chosen vehicle may not have.

You will find a range of personalities across car salespeople, garages and private sales, who will pick up on any signs that show you aren’t confident about the make and model. Always ensure you go into any sales conservations showing that you are fully knowledgeable about the particular car so that you can’t be mis-sold or given any wrong information.

Look for the car best suited to your lifestyle

We all dream of fast cars with convertible rooftops and roaring engines, but does that really fit into your lifestyle?

Think about where you live, and how much use you would get out of a convertible soft top in reality. Think about how many doors you will benefit from, and how much boot space you need. If you have children, a five door may be the best option. If you go away on a lot of road trips, a large boot space will be key.

Always ask to review the vehicle history report

With every used car comes a back story. This can be from accidents and damage to certain areas to service and MOT checks. A car’s history is detrimental to how much it is worth and how it may perform. It might be that, when you receive a report, you discover evidence of serious internal damage. If you are buying a car through a private sale, the owner may not declare whether the vehicle is a Cat C, which means it was an insurance write-off at one point.

Look for signs of collision damage

It isn’t always visible to see signs of damage, and some car sellers won’t fully disclose everything. However, if a car you are viewing has been in a collision, it can have faults to it that can be dangerous. This is especially true if the damage lies within the suspension or steering.

Our next point highlights the use of opting for a pre-purchase inspection, but there are specific examinations you can attempt to do on your side beforehand just to get a rough idea.

Firstly, examine under the bonnet, looking for any signs of damage, creasing or unsightly welds which are tell-tale signs. Then lift the carpets throughout the car interior, especially at the front and back doors, looking for signs of welding or repair works. This is useful to look at in case two halves of different cars have been ‘cut and shut’ (when two vehicles are welded together). This practice is extremely dangerous, so make sure you inspect these signs.

Another factor to be aware of for any signs of collision damage is when you are on your test drive. Concentrate on how the steering feels. Does the car pull slightly to the left or right? A car that hasn’t been involved in a serious collision will have no tendency to pull to either side. A car that has means it has more than likely been in a serious crash.

Invest in a pre-purchase inspection

Before you purchase your used car, ensure that a trained mechanic takes a look at the car, and thoroughly inspects it. Of course, not all sellers will be hiding information from you, as it’s common that some sellers may not be aware of the full history of the vehicle themselves.

During a pre-purchase inspection, it can reveal most problems that can usually be hidden. For example, rust can be a serious issue among older cars, which is not always visible. Not only can it be present on the exterior of a car, but it can also appear across the interior too, where some sellers can hide this with interior upholstery like car mats and covers.

More so, make sure that rust under the bonnet is inspected, as this could mean there have been leakages or that there are many old parts which are due replacing.

Checking underneath all the mats, covers and seats is a take you can do yourself, checking around where any metal can be seen. If a car has serious rust problems which are being covered up, it could result in the vehicle not being worth the price being asked for it.

Make sure that during a pre-purchase check, all other hidden problems not seen with the untrained eye are fully checked out too. These include damaged exhaust systems, fully working windows, worn tires, any leakages, broken heating and air conditioning systems, and much more.

To make sure you don’t miss any of these being checked, draw up a thoroughly thought through a list of potential problems a used car may have, and make sure the full list is addressed.

Look at online reviews

Although not essential, it’s worth spending some time looking at reviews that other car owners have left for the car make and model you are looking for. It will help you get an idea of how the car should perform and what to expect from it. You can then take this knowledge when viewing and test driving a used car, to check it lives up to expectation.

Understand which cars save you money

In a bid to keep your used car buying journey as affordable as possible, it’s useful to understand which cars can save you a little more money. In general, smaller engines can be cheaper. It isn’t just about the horsepower when you look at choosing between a 1.0-litre or a 2.0-litre engine. Larger engines tend to burn much more fuel than smaller ones, so in the long run, these cost you much more to run due to fuel. This makes considering engine size a vital step if good fuel consumption is vital.

You will also tend to find that petrol cars are cheaper than diesel. This is because diesel engines are more economical than petrol. Although this is a bonus, this makes diesel cars overall more expensive as diesel fuel is usually more expensive when you fill up at the pumps, too.

Another option you may be looking at is automatic cars, which may seem a great choice in today’s modern world. These sit with pricier figures than those of manual vehicles. As much as automatic cars take some of the hassles out of driving, they will cost you much more, so it’s worth weighing up if you can adapt to manually switching between gears overpaying a higher price tag.

Use the power of negotiation

Just like anything that is used, you have the power to budge the price if you think it is needed. The price that the used car is advertised at doesn’t have to be the final price. Most used car dealers and private sellers will expect a little negotiation to be carried out, whether they accept or decline.

Assess the right time to buy

Once you've decided on the car you want, it’s time to make sure you get it at the right time, for the right deal. One handy way to cut costs is to purchase your used car at the right time.

If purchasing from a car dealer, bear in mind they have targets to meet and bonuses to gain. As these tend to lie quarterly, the end of March, June, September and December make great times to buy.

If buying privately, it’s not as easy to plan the best time. However, they may put prices up around periods like Christmas, Valentine’s Day, or around the summer holidays, when people might be looking at cars for gifts.

Complete the sale professionally

There are certain checklists to follow to make sure you leave the transaction feeling confident and complete. Of course, you will need to have the full transaction all in place, but there is much more you need to drive away with than just a sales receipt.

Ensure that all official paperwork is to hand, and all warranties, logbooks, vehicle history documents, MOT’s and service records are all in place. Buying a car can be a stressful process, so it’s easy to forget about all the other paperwork worth having aside from the sales side of things.

Another note to remember is to always ask about the spare key situation. Some used cars only come with one key, which is extremely expensive to replace if you lose it.

Overall, the most attractive part of choosing to buy a used car over a new model is due to it being a much cheaper alternative. Do bear in mind that although this is true, used cars do come with their expenses, especially if you skip any of the steps above and don’t thoroughly check out the health of your used car.

Make sure that the used car you have your eye on is checked over properly, and if you can, bring a motoring professional along to any viewings or test drives with you.

After following the advice above, and fully assessing any upfront costs, fuel, finance repayments, tax and insurance, you should be confident to drive away in the used car that is perfect for you.

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