The Dos and Don’ts when buying a cheap used car
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We all want a bargain when buying a used car, but sometimes cheap is cheap for a reason so here are some tips that come from the UK, but also apply here in NZ. Click here to browse over 46,000 listings on DRIVEN.
Buyers are flocking to get their hands on cheap used cars so that they can avoid using public transport. But buying a cheap used car can be a daunting prospect and, particularly at the bargain basement end of the market, there are plenty of neglected, defective or downright dangerous cars around.
So how should you approach buying a cheap used car, especially if it’s your first time, if haven’t done so for a log time? These dos and don’ts should help you to sort the wheat from the chaff.
Get as much history about the car as you can
There’s no way to know for sure whether a car will be reliable or leave you stranded every other week – but a well-maintained car is much less likely to do the latter.
At the bottom end of the market, it’s pretty rare to find a car with a full stack of carefully kept invoices and a service book that verifies regular, on-time or on-mileage servicing, but it’s not unheard of. Either way, you should aim to see as much evidence of careful maintenance as you can – the more, the better. Cheap cars are often neglected, so if you find one that hasn’t been, grab it.
Look for telltale signs
You can get an insight into its history and how much care (or not) has been lavished on maintenance by looking for telltale clues. The biggest of these is the tyres; expensive brands suggest the previous owner was happy to spend money on keeping the car well.
Four mismatched budget tyres, on the other hand, is a big warning sign. Also worth inspecting is the condition of the interior – stained fabrics, worn upholstery and cracked or scratched bits of trim could be signs of less than careful ownership. If you’re buying remotely, ask the seller for high-resolution pictures of these areas.
Ask the seller questions
Don’t be timid, or afraid to ask difficult questions of the seller, whether you’re viewing the car in person or asking about it online before you bid in an auction. Make sure you’re satisfied that you’ve asked everything you want to know – don’t hold back, even if a question seems too tricky or intrusive.
Take the car for a test-drive
If you’re viewing the car in person, make sure you get the chance to drive the car first. Some dealers will be reluctant, especially if the car’s parked at the back of the lot and they can’t be bothered to get it out. But don’t let that deter you; tell them you won’t do a deal without at least driving the car first.
And if you’re buying online, don’t be afraid to ask for a short test-drive when you turn up to collect the car, to make sure it’s as described. In both instances, dealers should practice correct social distancing if coronavirus is still a threat – this may mean they won’t accompany you.
Go with your gut
If something seems off, trust that instinct, no matter how much you may want the car that’s being sold. Furtive sellers, stories about work having been done but with no evidence, mismatched paintwork – all of these could be worrying warning signs. At this end of the market, the cars you can trust are generally pretty easy to see, because they – and their sellers – look and feel honest.
Do your research
Find out all the common trouble spots for the make and model of car you’re thinking of buying. We have many used car buying guides, while the internet is full of guides covering the major mainstream makes and models online, so it’ll take a matter of minutes to find out any potential problems with your prospective purchase. Go armed with this information, and thoroughly check all of the suspect areas.
Buy from an online auction – with care
Often, you can find the best bargains on an online auction site. Driven.co.nz has over 46,000 listings currently. You can usually view the car in the flesh before bidding, although many buyers don’t. However, it’s important to be careful about what you’re bidding on – look for listings with lots of images, especially if you’re not planning to view the car in the flesh first.
Pay using an electronic bank transfer
Most legitimate sellers will have no problem with you paying them using an electronic bank transfer, and doing so will at least give you a bank account through which you can trace them if things go wrong. Dodgy sellers will know this, and will insist on cash so that they can disappear into the ether afterwards, so be suspicious if the seller insists on cash only.
Worry too much about looks
Let’s face it: when you’re buying from the bargain bin, you can’t expect a car that will look too pretty. Dings, scratches and faded paintwork are the norm, and you’re almost going to have to live with a few of those cosmetic flaws, so do your best to see past them. What matters most at this price point is whether the car is sound mechanically – so value the car’s maintenance record and the way it drives on its test-drive over and above the way it looks.
Buy from the side of the road
Any seller who offers to meet you in a layby, car park or service station should be viewed with extreme suspicion, even if they give a very good reason or say they’re trying to help you out.
It’s more than likely such a seller wants to remain untraceable if – or rather, when – something goes wrong with the car after they’ve handed over the keys. Even if you meet a private seller outside their house, make sure the house really is theirs – have you seen them come out or go in, or did they meet you on the street outside?
Any genuine private seller’s address should match that written on the car registration and/or servicing documents. Be wary, too, of any seller saying they’re selling the car from a friend’s house.
That fully-equipped, top-of-the-range model might look tempting, but if it’s going for the same price as a more humble version with similar mileage, you should ask yourself why – after all, nowhere is the adage ‘If something looks too good to be true, it usually is’ more apt than in the used car game. If everything checks out, of course, you might be on to a bargain – but you should be especially scrupulous in ensuring all is in order, and always ask yourself: ‘Where’s the catch?’
Ignore warning signs
If the exact car you’re craving comes up for sale and really floats your boat, it can be tempting to ignore little foibles.
But make sure you don’t gloss over anything that could point to a serious underlying problem. If the air-conditioning doesn’t work, for example, it might only need a relatively cheap re-gas – or it might be a sign that one of the components is in need of an expensive repair. Don’t allow your desire for a particular model to blind you to the latter possibility.
And finally… Never forget that you can walk away at any time
Even if you’ve won an auction and travelled across the country to buy a car, there’s nothing stopping you from heading home empty-handed if the car isn’t as described. What’s more, if you’re buying from a dealer, always remember that there are consumer protection laws on hand to help you out if you find you’ve bought a pup – so don’t be afraid to kick up a fuss.
If you are in the market for a new, or secondhand car, DRIVEN has over 46,000 listings, or simply open up a chat window, and we can put you in touch with a dealer that should have what you're after.
- Telegraph UK