Buying A Used Car?

Image: VAGCOM used cars

Buying a used car can save you a lot of money, but it can also be risky and – if you’re not careful – end up costing you a lot of money!

Most of us have little or no knowledge where vehicle mechanics are concerned and checking out a second hand car is a daunting prospect, particularly if we don’t have a savvy mate available to help out. Here are our 23 top tips for avoiding the pitfalls.

  1. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Don’t get carried away by what appears to be the bargain of a lifetime, check it out properly – or better still, get it checked by someone who knows what they are doing
  2. When making first contact with a private seller don’t mention the make and model of the car, only ask about “the car”, if they ask which one they may be a trader posing as a private seller
  3. Ask for the registration number so you can check the vehicle details online, you will also need the make and model of the car. You can also check the MoT test details and history if you obtain the VT20 (MoT test certificate) or V5C (log book) or by ringing VOSA’s MoT status line – 0870 330 0444
  4. Check the vehicle does not have any outstanding finance, is not stolen or has not been written off by using one of the many online or text check services
  5. Ask to see the V5C (log book). Check it has a “DVL” watermark and the name and address match those of the seller, check that the make, model, registration number VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) and engine numbers match. Check the condition of the VIN, look for signs of tampering. Check etched numbers also match on windows
  6. Check the vehicle has full service history, make sure the cam belt has been replaced at the correct time
  7. Never view a car at night or in the rain.
  8. Never carry a large amount of cash with you
  9. Check the condition of the bodywork, is the paint finish/colour consistent all over the car? Resprayed panels are often a different shade
  10. Check the gaps between the panels, if they are not the same width it could mean one or more panels have been repaired or replaced
  11. Look in the boot and in the spare tyre well for signs of rear end damage or repairs
  12. Are the tyres legal and is the wear even? Tyre treads of 3mm or lower means you will soon be buying new. Uneven wear could signify tracking or suspension problems
  13. Check under the engine oil cap for a white, cream like substance – an indicator of head gasket trouble
  14. Check underneath the car, look for signs of oil/water/fuel leakage on the floor
  15. Do the digits on the odometer (non digital) line up correctly? Wonky numbers may indicate the vehicle has been clocked
  16. Look for wear on seats, steering wheel and gear knob, this should be consistent with the mileage
  17. Check that the electrics are all in working order, including windows, wipers, lights, sat nav,media, etc. Are the heater and air conditioner both operating as they should? Look at the dash display for warning lights
  18. Feel the carpet for signs of damp which could indicate a leak
  19. Make sure you are insured before taking a test drive. Check for vibration, listen for knocks and rattles, does the car pull to one side when braking? Is it easy to select gears? Is the bite on the clutch too high? Can you smell fuel?
  20. Check for smoke from the exhaust. White vapour from a cold engine is ok. Blue smoke is burning oil (faint blue is okay from a diesel car). Black smoke is trouble
  21. Are all the keys available, particularly the master key and locking wheel nut key?
  22. Confirm the length and extent of any warranty available if buying from a garage or trader
  23. Always be prepared to walk away. If it doesn’t feel right – don’t buy

Special Thanks to Mercedes-Benz of Encino for providing such a great image.