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What to look out for when buying a used car

Whether you plan to buy your next car car from a well established, reputable dealer or are arranging a meet-up with a private seller, there are a number of checks you should carry out before even thinking about price negotiations.

Depending on how handy you are with automotive repairs, some points on the list below can be ignored if you’re confident that your skills will overcome them. But if you do decide to go for a car with a few flaws, then regardless of your ability with a welder, you can knock a fair amount off the asking price.

Here are some of the most common causes of wear and tear to look out for internally and externally.

Internal checks

Mileage: Make sure the tally on the odometer (usually found within the speedometer) matches that advertised. It should be consistent with the car’s documents too.

VIN strip: Check the Vehicle Identification Number strip at the base of the windscreen or under the bonnet for signs of tampering.

Electrics: Test that electrically powered features work as they should, including windows, mirrors, in-car entertainment system and so on.

Seats: Look out for any signs of excessive wear that might indicate a higher mileage than has been advertised. Threadbare edges and sides are a giveaway, as is a steering wheel with shiny patches in the classic ten-to-two driving position.

Break-in evidence: Check the steering column and particularly the ignition for signs of scratching that might indicate car theft.

External checks

Tyres: Check tread depth to make sure it is a consistent legal minimum of 1.6mm and look for any bald spots where uneven braking may have caused the tyre to become weak in certain areas.

Bodywork: There should be a consistent finish to the paintwork – if not, it’s likely hiding some repairs following some kind of accident. If you spot paint on the door seals, that could be another indicator of fixes being covered up. Also check the panel work for any uneven gaps which could be a sign of repair work being carried out. And make sure there is no bubbling of the paintwork – it’s a sure sign of lurking rust, especially in areas that regularly come into contact with water.

Suspension: Press down firmly on each corner of the car. If the car bounces instead of returning smoothly to its normal height, then the suspension will probably need some attention.

Engine bay: Look for any fluid leaks, and when you check the oil dipstick, make sure it is free from dirt and debris. Much of this will indicate that the oil hasn’t been changed for a while and that regular maintenance has not been carried out. If you find a thick, white, mayonnaise-like fluid on top of the engine block, it’s likely the cylinder head gasket has blown, with potentially very damaging consequences for the rest of the engine.

Battery: While the battery itself can be replaced easily enough, make sure that the connectors are rust-free and not seized up.

The AA has plenty more advice to help you avoid buying a lemon, while the BBC suggests carrying out background checks to discover whether there is any outstanding finance owed on a car.

Reputable dealer

Many feel as though buying from a dealer is a safer option and eliminates many of the risks that are associated with buying a used vehicle. In many ways this can be true however not all dealers have great reputations and doing your own research is best before purchasing.

One way to do this is to read online reviews through social media and other formats in order to get an idea about the experiences people have had. If you can see that the dealership is active on social media and interacts regularly with customers, Then this is a good sign that they care about the satisfaction of their customers and are much more likely to address any issues you may have.

Many car dealerships will offer great financing options. Check for the financial disclosure and a registered address. A reputable dealer such as T W White & Sons offers 0% APR (annual percentage rate) on their Hyundai range. This can minimize the initial outlay for the vehicle and allow you to spread your payments in manageable amounts over a predefined time period. They also display their financial disclosure, registered address and links to several social media channels where you can see their interaction with customers. Their ‘about us’ page indicates they commenced business in 1964 – any company that’s been around for 50 years would tend to demonstrate a consistent commitment to customer satisfaction and would have systems in place to handle any eventuality.

Reputable dealers will often include or offer a servicing plan with the purchase of the car. This can be a great addition when buying a used car which will benefit hugely from regular maintenance in order to ensure smooth running.

Darren has owned several companies in the automotive, advertising and education industries. He has run driving theory educational websites since 2010.

Posted in Advice, Car
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