Buying a Used Car
Did you know that about four times as many used cars as new ones are sold in the UK each year?
That makes for a buoyant market that offers a lot of choice, but unlike new cars, there are many lemons among the used-car offerings, so we’re here to show you how to avoid being saddled with a pup. With our advice you’ll be well armed to make the right decision and bag yourself a decent second-hand car.
If we were to advise you of only one thing, it would be this: don’t commit yourself to a car without first having it professionally inspected and checked for clear ownership and outstanding debt. Both the AA and the RAC offer such a service, and it’s worth every penny, while HPI can tell you about the car’s past.
An HPI Check costs £39.95 online, and provides a lot information, such as whether the car you want to buy has been stolen, written-off, clocked, or has outstanding finance.
YOUR RIGHTS WHEN BUYING FROM THE TRADE
Your rights as a consumer are determined by the method by which you buy the car, and from whom you buy it. Those rights differ considerably depending on whether you purchase from a trader or a private individual.
Dealer purchase is generally regarded as the safest way of buying a car because the law affords the buyer the maximum protection. But legal rights may only be enforced against a business that’s still operating, so if the selling dealer goes bust, your legal protection goes along with it.
If you buy from a dealer, the car must conform to a description made of it. For example, if it was described as having a reconditioned engine and it turns out to be untrue, the car has been misrepresented, so you’re within your rights to claim compensation or reject the car.
Another advantage of buying from the trade is that the car will come with some sort of warranty cover, although terms are variable. Pay for the car by credit card if possible, as this brings you legal protection. Alternatively, the next safest way is to pay by banker’s draft.
YOUR RIGHTS WHEN BUYING PRIVATELY
A private purchase should always be considerably cheaper than one through the trade, but there is greater risk attached to it, so let the buyer beware. It’s down to you to ask all the pertinent questions about the car’s past, any repairs or present faults, and to inspect and test-drive the car. The onus is not on the seller to declare information.
Don’t buy a car from someone who only provides a mobile phone number, as that means they might not be traceable in the event of something serious going wrong with the vehicle.
Of course, as with a trader, the private seller must not misrepresent the car in his descriptions of it. But the trouble is that should you want to make a claim of misrepresentation, you need to be able to provide tangible evidence of that misrepresentation, and in most cases you won’t be able to. Generally speaking, the car you buy privately is ‘sold as seen’, so if it blows up on the drive home, that’s your tough luck. If you decide to buy, pay for the car with a banker’s draft, as paying cash offers little comeback. Any genuine seller will be happy with this.
Other than fuel consumption, your ongoing cost considerations relate to maintenance, insurance, depreciation and the closeness of a franchised dealer.
Most new-car warranties insist on servicing being carried out within the main-dealer network, but some allow the use of approved garages as well. Check out the location of the relevant dealership, and find out its labour rate. Also ask if they provide a collection/ delivery service and a courtesy car.
Insurance group ratings (1 to 20) are only a guide, and different insurers read their own risk values into different cars, so ring round for several quotes, or rather, have a couple of brokers do it for you.
As for depreciation, consider this in relation to the length of time you intend keeping it. If it will be your last car and you’ll keep it indefinitely, depreciation won’t matter as after five years or so it bottoms out anyway. If you know you’ll change it in two years though, the depreciation is highly pertinent. Many highdepreciating cars are cheaper to buy, so factor that into the equation. Look up likely depreciation at www.whatcar.com.
Don’t necessarily avoid a high-mileage car, particularly if it’s a diesel, which has a much more durable engine. What’s more important is a decent, uninterrupted service schedule.
If you’re interested in a car that’s more than three years old, check its MoT certificate and registration document. If this isn’t to hand, or if any details on the document are incorrect, walk away. Check the car’s chassis number matches the registration document, and ask for proof that the car has been serviced.
TEST DRIVE & CAR INTERIOR
Make sure you’re insured before taking a test drive. If the seller doesn’t want you to drive it, again walk away. Ideally you should start the car from cold, as that can reveal a number of engine faults. If the seller has already warmed it up, be suspicious. Get the car up to operating temperature and change all gears (up and down the box) at quite high revs to ensure the synchromesh is working.
At speed on a straight road, briefly let go of the steering to see if the car pulls to one side. A gentle drifting off to the near-side is normal, but anything more is not, and can be difficult to correct – particularly if it’s caused by a chassis bent by a prior collision.
Also check the brakes work well without causing a pull to either side, that they don’t judder under heavy braking, and the anti-lock braking system works (on a clear road, do an emergency stop, listening for the telltale chattering of the antilock.
Test the suspension over poor road surfaces, feeling for undue bounce and listening for knocking noises. If either are present, forget the car. Make sure all electrical devices work, and ask the seller if he is aware of anything being wrong. While you’re in the car, inspect upholstery for wear, stains and cigarette burns. Have the steering wheel, gear lever knob and pedals rubbers been worn smooth? If so, does this tally with the mileage?
Finally, check the digits of the mileometer are all level; if not this suggests someone has tampered with the recorded mileage. A previous owner (detailed on the registration document) can tell you what the mileage was when it left their ownership.
Outside the car, and with it hot, have someone press the accelerator hard while you watch the exhaust. Some black smoke from a diesel is normal, but blue smoke from any engine indicates wear.
Take a look at the tyres, checking for bald treads and uneven wear (such as shoulders worn but central tread okay). You don’t want a car that wears tyres unevenly. If they’re just worn, factor in the cost of replacements and get that knocked off the asking price.
Check for mismatched paint colours and orange-peel effect testifying to a bodged respray. Look in particular for any rust that may have been painted over. If you suspect an area of bodywork is filler rather than steel, use a magnet (carefully) to confirm this. Take a close look for corrosion at the door bottoms, wheel arches and side sills. Once a car has started rusting, it’s costly and difficult to stop. If there are any dents or scratches, either factor the cost of repairs into your offer, or turn your back on the deal.
And that’s pretty well it. Observe these warnings, get the necessary inspections done, and you will avail yourself of a good used car. Remember that anyone who refuses to let you thoroughly inspect and try a car probably has something to hide.
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