A Dummies Guide To Buying A Used Car

I, like many others, dream of owning a new set of wheels, but for those of us on tight budgets buying a shiny new, just rolled of the forecourt specimen is unlikely to be a realistic option. But, fear not, there are countless car supermarkets awash with choice and provided you know what to look out for, you should be able to source a reliable second hand car for a reasonable price.

Whether opting for new or used, purchasing a car is likely to be the second biggest purchase you will ever make, unless of course you’re the lucky bearer of a winning lottery ticket. Despite this car sales professionals haven’t always had the best of reputations thanks in part to a small minority of unscrupulous dealers who are out to make a small fortune at all costs.

So, determined to compile the ultimate used car buyers’ guide for ‘dummies’, I contacted Carvine who we’re more than happy to lend me over 15 years’ worth of industry experience. So, without further ado, here is my six-step dummies guide to buying a used car.

Consult family and friends

Despite the hassle and expense that it could prevent, just 24% of buyers consult family members or close friends when on the hunt for a second-hand car – that’s according to data collected by British Car Auctions.

Of course, choosing a dealer based on a recommendation won’t guarantee you don’t fall foul of a rogue trader, but it is a good starting point, especially if you have multiple recommendations for a single dealer. Checking consumer review websites such as Trust Pilot and Review Centre is also a wise exercise to undertake.

Make sure it meets your needs

When parting with your hard-earned cash it’s important to make sure you’re investing it in a set of wheels that will meet your everyday needs. Key considerations should include the number of seats and boot capacity. For example, if you have a family of seven, then a two seat roadster lacking in boot capacity won’t cut the mustard.

For those on a tight budget it’s also worth looking at fuel consumption figures along with insurance groupings and road fund licence costs.

Don’t buy before you view

Regardless of recommendation or reputation you should avoid parting with your hard-earned cash until you have viewed a used car in person. Despite dealers best intentions, they’re ‘non-professional’ photographers and pictures don’t always provide a true representation of a vehicle’s condition.

When viewing a car in person, check the interior first; more often than not its condition proves to be a good indication of how the vehicle has been looked after. Also, check the tyres for wear and tear, missing chunks and embedded nails. Finally, check the underbody and paint work for signs of rust, bubbles or imperfections should be seen as areas for concern.

Take a test drive

Taking a test drive will provide you with the opportunity to experience a vehicle’s performance first hand and can prove incredibly useful in determining its mechanical condition. There are several key areas that you would be wise to focus on.

Firstly the hand brake, which can be checked by parking on a steep incline, listen for unusual sounds such as banging, grinding and rattling, any of these could suggest a serious problem. 

Of equal importance is a high-speed test, which can easily be carried out along a short stretch of motorway, does the steering wheel shake, vibrate or judder? Last, but not least, do you feel comfortable behind the wheel of the car?

Check for documented service history

Although opting for a used car with a full and in-depth servicing history will set you back a little more there are many priceless benefits. Firstly, a car that has been properly cared for by means of regular servicing in line with the manufacturer’s service schedule is likely to remain reliable for longer than an unserviced equivalent.

Another benefits comes in the form of increased residual values should you at some point in the future decide to sell up or trade in for a different model.

Make sure there’s no hidden past

Data collected by Experian AutoCheck shows that 88% of all used cars have a hidden past, highlighting the importance of pre-purchase background checks. There are countless web-based services that you can use to check if a potential vehicle has outstanding finance, is an insurance write off or has been flagged as stolen on a police database. 

Using up to date information from a series of national databases, such checks will ensure you don’t end up making a costly mistake.

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