The world of used cars can be daunting. An experienced buyer can perhaps cast an eye over and under a vehicle and assess its potential but a newbie possibly wouldn’t even know where to begin when the time comes to buy that first car. It’s a major event; not just because of the expense involved but also a new job might depend on that vehicle’s reliability. Buying privately can be a risk because there is little or no comeback: Let the buyer beware. Buying from a dealer means at least some legal protection. It’s one thing to admit to not knowing the difference between a pushrod and a camshaft, it’s quite another when the buyer does not even know how to open the bonnet.
In The Beginning
Consider a budget to buy outright or finance the purchase and stick to it. Think about the cost of insurance and fuel as it may inform the vehicle choice. Only then is it time to begin the search. It’s perfectly fine to buy online these days as long as the dealer concerned has an excellent reputation for service and, helpfully, offers home delivery options. First though the canny buyer needs to know what to look for in a good car; that’s why we have prepared this handy checklist:
1. For Starters
Does the car have ALL the correct paperwork? You can’t buy road tax without it. It helps if the car been HPI-checked
to ensure there is no bad history.
Buying a car online
means it cannot be physically inspected. When going down the internet route, does the vendor offer a copious amount of clear, detailed images that show the car from all angles, inside and out? No used car is perfect in every way so are any small blemishes pointed out? Walk or click away from any car where the mileage, age and appearance, panel gaps, paintwork and the like do not look consistent.
2. The Inspection
Checking a car over physically in the metal is straightforward; it is right there in front of the hopeful buyer and an inspection and test drive can be attended to there and then. With an online deal it’s not so easy, but that should not be a problem if the seller, once the car has been delivered, offers a decent ‘test drive’ period to allow for inspection and trial. That’s pretty much essential.
Buying a car without any mechanical knowledge means the oily bits can only be looked at rather than examined. A form of assurance from the dealer then that the car is a sound runner is vital. Otherwise, these are the inspection rules for beginners:
- • Do the tyres have plenty of tread and are they wearing evenly? Uneven wear could signal a mechanical defect.
- • Are all the tools, spare wheel or tyre kit present and in good condition?
- • Do the seatbelts, lights, wipers and ancillary equipment like infotainment touchscreens and minor switchgear work as they should? Do the correct airbag warning lights work when the ignition is first switched on?
- • Do the seats and trim look in good, uniform condition, allowing for vehicle age and acceptable wear?
- • Open the bonnet and pop off the oil filler cap (ask for assistance if necessary). Is there a nasty looking sludge on the underside of the cap? Walk away.
Once satisfied, it is time to get on the road:
- • Upon ignition do all the warning lights come on and then extinguish as they should? Is that ABS or oil light staying on, for example? If so, there’s an issue. Does the engine ‘sound’ right when cold and is not expelling ‘suspect’ smoke?
- • Does the car drive straight and true without the steering wandering or pulling to one side?
- • Do the brakes pull up as they should, in a straight line, and is the handbrake effective?
- • On higher mileage or older vehicles, does the paperwork show that the cam belt has been changed according to manufacturer instructions and that the emissions have been checked? If so the car will have a current MOT certificate.
Buying a used car should not be a trial, it should be a pleasure. A good car dealer stands by their reputation especially if they have been commended by their industry peers. Whether on the forecourt or online, a thorough basic check is essential but once done, order and drive away with confidence.