Practical Guide to Buying a Used Car
How to Buy a Used Car - A Practical Guide to Buying a Used Car
A Practical Guide to Buying a Used Car
Buying a used car is a great way to get the car you want and save money at the same time. How you buy and who you buy your used car from will all have a major impact on your purchasing experience and could mean the difference between getting your ideal car at a great price or buying a jalopy which has to be scrapped with no comeback or recompense.
Why Buy a Used Car Instead of New?
While some people dream of driving a brand new car straight off the forecourt, fresh with that new car smell, few car buyers stop to consider the immediate 20% loss in value, otherwise known as deprecation, endured the minute the rear tyres touch the road outside the dealership. In three years, when the warranty expires and first MOT is due, many new cars are only worth an eye-watering half their original value!
When done right, buying a used car is a savvy way to make big savings over buying new, and with a huge used car market in the UK, you will not be short of great value options.
What to Look for When Buying a Used Car: A Step-by-Step Guide
In this step-by-step guide, we show you how to buy a used car safely and securely, helping you find the right car at the right price with no nasty surprises.
What to Check When Buying a Used Car
When viewing a used car for sale, there are a number of things on the vehicle itself to observe to make sure your potential purchase is up to basic standard.
The mileage of the car in question should match its age and condition. The average petrol car drives 8-12k miles per year and diesel cars an average of 13-20k per year. Do these elements match up?
Mileage Appears Too Low - This vehicle’s mileage may have been tampered with, bringing it down to make the sale more attractive to potential buyers. This action is commonly known as ‘clocking’ or giving a mileometer ‘a haircut’. Ask to see the service history and make sure the recorded miles gradually increase over the life of the vehicle and match up to its current reading.
Mileage Appears Too High - That bargain three year old car with 100,000 miles on the clock may look like a bargain because it’s only three years old, but that car has been made to work HARD in its short life and there will be repercussions. Often, younger used cars for sale with very high mileage had a former life as leased company cars for high mileage employees. Because these cars do not belong to their drivers, they are not always the best looked after and tend to be driven with less care. On the upside, they will have a solid service and repair history.
Bodywork Damage and Resprays
Is the condition of the vehicle as expected, including underneath? Look over the car for signs of damage and rust to ensure the price being asked is fair.
Check bodywork over in good light to look for overspray, and sections of bodywork which appear to be a slightly different colour or texture. Can these be explained and does the owner have the paperwork and invoices to back it up?
Bubbling paintwork is a sign of rust which hasn’t reached the surface yet so look out for this too, especially around bottom sills and where panels and doors meet.
Dashboard and Electrical Items
When you take a used car for a test drive, as you always must, check the dashboard for warning lights, bulbs not working, and anything which has been covered up or altered in any way. Test all electrical components including the stereo, switches, lights and windows to ensure everything is in working order. If anything on the dash has been altered, covered, or in any way tampered with this could be a bad sign and further issues are likely to arise. Test the heaters and air conditioning.
On the Test Drive
- Check the car is cold by touching the bonnet. A car that has issues may have been warmed up in advance to hide issues experienced from cold.
- Check the basic cockpit items like seatbelts, mirrors and seat adjusters.
- Hold the car at pre-ignition for a few seconds to listen for warning sounds, rattles, knocks, and any other unexpected noises.
- Do the same again when the ignition is on, then gently press the accelerator to listen for unexpected noises. As you begin to move, notice the clutch and gearbox action if buying a manual car, and the auto gearbox action if buying an automatic. A clutch with a high biting point is likely to be suffering excessive wear, and crunchy gears can indicate a new box will be required in the near future.
- Make note of how the steering performs. Does it judder? Is it heavy, or slow to respond? Can you hear any belt noise?
- On your test drive, listen out for anything unusual such as gearbox knocking or whining, exhaust noise, or knocks and bangs over bumps and dips which could indicate suspension issues. Do not let your potential seller talk over these noises or try to distract you from them.
Check the boot for a full-size spare wheel or space-saver spare wheel under the floor of the boot, usually accessible by a material pull cord located on the floor panel directly below the boot catch. If the used car in question has run-flat tyres, there will not be a spare.
Make sure all the tyres are safe and legal, and their condition is in keeping with the price you expect to pay. The minimum tread legally allowed in the UK is 1.6mm but anything below 3mm won’t have long left. Also look for tyre damage and exposed cord which are likely to be a safety concern.
You can measure tyre depths quickly and easily without any special equipment. Simply take a 20p coin with you and place it in the tread once to the left, once to the right, and once in the middle of the tread. Do this at various points around the tyre. If the outer band of the coin is obscured by the tyre, it is just under 3mm. and well over the minimum requirement of 1.6mm.
The Pitfalls of Buying Used Cars: What to Look Out For
Sadly, there are many unscrupulous individuals and even some dealers out there who will happily take your money for substandard or unsafe cars, leaving you no route for recourse and out of pocket.
Vehicles sold privately only have to appear as described, should you handover thousands of pounds for what you thought was your dream used car that quickly turns into a nightmare, you are likely to be on your own. As long as the advert is accurate and the seller is honest in their responses to you, the problem is entirely yours.
Buying from an independent used car dealer removes much of the risk from buying a used car. Apart from knowing their definite address and being able to confirm that they are a business entity, you should always be offered a form of pre-sale check, quality assurance, and minimum warranty on your used vehicle purchase. Should you find any issues, you will be able to deal with them directly and, at worse, have legal recourse for compensation if things go wrong.
Popular Used Car Scams
Always thoroughly question and get confirmation of why a vehicle may be sold with only one key. While it is true that many people have had a spare key they have never had to use for so long that they have forgotten where it is, a used car being sold with one key is also a red flag that it may have been stolen.
We touched on this earlier when looking at what to look for when buying a used car. Clocking or giving the odometer a ‘haircut’ is the action of illegally reducing the mileage on the vehicle to make it appear a more attractive purchase.
Cut ‘n’ Shut
One of the more complex ways to rip someone off with a used car is to sell them a cut and shut vehicle. This Frankenstein of vehicles involves buying two written-off vehicles then welding the corresponding good ends together to create a ‘new’ vehicle. These vehicles are exceptionally dangerous and must be avoided at all costs. They may look perfect from the outside but check closely for bad paint jobs, and of course, some major welding work underneath the vehicle and under the carpet.
Buying Used Cars: The Paperwork
When buying a used car, there are a small number of critical documents you need to see and take ownership of if you end up purchasing the car.
The logbook or V5C is the registration document for the vehicle. It contains the basic information about the vehicle and who owns it. Ask to see this document to make sure the details match the vehicle you are looking at. Also ask the seller for photo ID so you can compare the name and address matches that on the logbook, ensuring as much as possible that they are the rightful owner, and are linked to their current address.
In an ideal world, all cars come with complete service history, showing regular services and MOTs from registration date to the current day. But this is not a perfect world, and people do not look after their cars perfectly. It is not unusual to find small gaps, sometimes bigger gaps, or service histories where there are a number of retro-stamped services in the service book. This can mean that someone kept forgetting their service book, or maybe moved away before they could remember to go back and get it stamped up to date.
However, it can also mean the flurry of retro-stamped services have been faked or gained by giving false information to the servicing agent. It is always wise to check with the garage who stamped the book that these services were indeed carried out.
This is also where you will see evidence of the mileage being recorded, though some garages are notorious for forgetting to enter this. Look for any mismatch, such as mileage going down instead of up, or suddenly decreasing to help ensure the mileage on the vehicle is genuine.
You can check the validity of an MOT certificate online by entering the registration number. Your seller should also be able to provide you with a paper copy of the MOT certificate as well as any warnings and recommendations made by the MOT centre. Without the MOT certificate, you cannot get the vehicle taxed or insured.
A vehicle does not require an MOT for the first three years of its life but does require one annually from three years after its registration date.
Getting a Great Used Car Price
When buying a used car online or from a dealership, you can expect to pay a bit more compared to a private seller. After all, there are overheads as well as added security. Your local independent car dealer has to pay to keep the dealership lights on, whereas your private seller does not. In the longer term, you could save a small fortune if something goes wrong as the private seller owes you nothing legally, but the dealership will no doubt do their best to help and will have already checked the vehicle over and applied a used car warranty to it.
Check local prices and those online for the used car you are looking for. Prices vary across the country so comparing a car in the Outer Hebrides to one in Portsmouth is not going to secure you a great local deal. Check used car prices within 20-50 miles of where you live, comparing dealer to dealer to see how much of a range there is. At DCC, we check our prices daily to help ensure we offer competitive prices every day.
An Overview of Popular Used Car Finance Options
There are a multitude of ways to finance a used car, the two most popular being PCP and HP.
What is PCP Finance on a Used Car?
PCP stands for Personal Contract Purchase. PCP is a good option for people who want to change their car every three or so years.
In short, when you buy a used car on a PCP agreement, you pay a small deposit (usually 5-10% of the value of the car), then pay affordable monthly instalments for a set term, for example, three years. At this point, you will not have paid off the whole amount and can choose whether to pay the outstanding balance off (known as a ‘balloon’ payment) and own the car, or to swap the car in for a newer used car and start a new PCP plan. You may also hand back the car and walk away but this is a fairly uncommon occurrence.
What is HP Finance on a Used Car?
HP or Hire Purchase is a simpler version of a PCP and more expensive as you simply pay a monthly amount for a fixed period and own the car at the end of it. If you aren’t certain whether you will want to own the car at the end of the agreement, or you wish to keep payments lower, PCP may be the best solution for you.
What are HPI Checks and Do I Need One?
HPI checks are an important part of buying a used car. Fortunately for the buyer, independent car dealerships will have already taken care of this. If you intend to buy privately, we definitely recommend you pay for a good quality HPI check.
The HPI (hire purchase investigation) Check looks for any issues with the car and can help detect outstanding finance, rightful owners of stolen cars, confirm mileage is accurate and will inform you if the car has been written off by an insurance company.
Used Car Warranties: Are They Worth It?
Every used car you buy should come with a warranty. Read the small print carefully and make sure you fully understand what is and is not covered when making your used car purchase.
Used cars are older cars, so they will not have the cover of a brand new car as, well, they are not brand new, and some items are more prone to failure as the car gets older. If you want peace of mind that your car has the highest level of cover should something go wrong, you may be provided the opportunity to extend your used car warranty.
If you are looking for a used car and want peace of mind with your purchase, contact DCC today. We are an AA-approved used car dealership offering a range of high-quality vehicles for sale online and at our Hampshire showrooms in Fareham, Waterlooville, and Southampton.