A complete woman’s guide to buying used cars (part 2)
In part one we talked about how to choose a used car and the options you have when it comes to buying. Now that you have a detailed idea of which make and model is right for you, how much you can afford and where you can go to get a closer look, it’s time to think about what you need to do when you get there.
There are certain principles that apply when buying a second hand car, whether you are buying from a private individual or a used car dealer, so keep the following advice in mind when you come face to face with your potential new motor.
Before you even get round to talking about price, it’s vital to give used cars the once over. Here is a quick overview of the things you need to look at, whether inspecting the car on your own or with a friend.
Firstly, the exterior of the car:
- Check for rust and paint bubbles, particularly under the wheel arches, bumpers and windows.
- Check that all doors and the boot shut properly and that there aren’t any big gaps between hinges.
- Press down on each side of the car (front and back) and see how much ‘bounce’ the car has. If it bounces up and down before settling again then the suspension could be on its way out.
- Check the tires. Not only should you check the tire tread (this will ideally be around 3mm) but look out for signs of uneven wear too.
- Ask the seller (or your friend) to turn the car on while you stand behind and check the exhaust smoke for odd colours.
- Again ask the seller (or your friend) to switch on headlights, sidelights etc while you do a walk-around to check that they are all in working order.
- Listen out for the cooling fan – this should start up after around 10-15 minutes indicating that all is well with the car’s heating system
- Have a peak underneath the car to check for any leaks or tell-tale signs of oil.
Now for under the bonnet:
- Check the oil. Take out the dipstick and give it a wipe before putting it back in and then checking that the oil level is close to max. If it’s too low or looks dirty, this could indicate underlying problems.
- Remove the oil cap and check that there is no white ‘sludge’ on the bottom of it – if there is, than it’s likely that the head gasket has blown and you’ll definitely want to walk away if that’s the case.
- Check the water. Don’t be too alarmed if the water isn’t clear or has a slight tinge to it – this is probably because it contains anti-freeze. However, if the water is brown, it could indicate that the seller has used a sealant to ‘plug up’ any leaks temporarily.
Inside the car:
This is where you’ll be spending all of your time, so make sure it’s comfortable, not suffering from undue wear and tear and that all of the seatbelts are in working order.
The test drive:
- You definitely don’t want to buy a car before you’ve taken it for a drive. Try to test it along both B roads and duel carriageways if possible to get a better idea of how it performs.
- Check all of the instruments are working – in particular the speedometer and temperature gauge.
- Does it pull to one side? Are the gear changes smooth?
- Test the brakes – try an emergency stop and make sure that the car stops almost immediately.
Negotiating a price:
Before you arrived to inspect the car you will have already done your homework on how much you should be spending. One of the most important things to remember when buying a second hand car is that the seller will ALWAYS expect you to haggle. Don’t feel embarrassed about it – it’s a rite of passage and something that the seller will have taken into account when they listed their price.
- If while inspecting the car you noticed a few issues, try not to be too negative about them. Of course, mention them and ask the seller to take these into consideration but avoid being too blunt as this will only serve to get their backs up.
- Remember, different models can have very different running costs, so take this into account if you do encounter any potential issues – if you’re looking at a used Volvo for example, you’ll want to make sure that there are no problems with the air-con as this can be very costly to put right!
- When offering a price, be reasonable and don’t go in too low – you want the seller to know that you aren’t wasting his time and will find that the more reasonable you are, the more open they are to negotiation. You will probably find that you meet somewhere in the middle but to increase your chances of getting the price you want, try to keep quiet after putting in your final offer. Whilst often uncomfortable, silence has proven to be a useful tactic in negotiations.
- Another important thing to remember while negotiating is not to get too excited over the vehicle itself – emphasise the fact that you like the model and are happy with what you have seen, but steer clear of statements such as ‘ooh, I love the colour of this one, or this car is perfect for me’!
If the seller is not prepared to negotiate, you need to be prepared to walk away – don’t forget there will always be another used car waiting for you somewhere else.
Lastly, if you’ve managed to agree on the perfect price, make sure that all of the correct paperwork is handed over to you. This includes any service history, the logbook (or V5C registration document), MOT certificate and any receipts you may need.
Take care when looking through each piece of paperwork to ensure that all of the information refers to the same car- this includes the seller’s details, registration number and the VIN number (Vehicle Identification Number). Check each document over and make sure that they are the originals – this doesn’t matter so much for receipts, as the owner may have a perfectly good reason for photocopying them.
When looking through the service history, just have a quick look to see whether the last recorded mileage matches up with the in-car display. It’s also worth getting an HPI Check to see whether there is any outstanding finance on the car, if the car has ever been ‘written off’ or reported stolen. There are numerous companies offering these sorts of checks, either over the phone or online – all they need is the registration number.
So that’s it – never feel rushed into buying a second hand car and ALWAYS take your time to inspect it thoroughly. Whilst not as expensive as brand new cars, used cars are still a big investment so you’ll want to get it right. If you’re buying from a dealer you may well get some form of warranty with your purchase which can cover you for certain problems, but private sellers will often note ‘sold as seen’ on their receipts so it’s vital that you protect yourself by putting the car through its paces.