Whether your family is growing, had an unexpected windfall, or just fancy treating yourself, buying a used car can be a mixture of excitement, fun and trepidation. But once you’ve narrowed down the field – style, size, make, model or just something that you’ve always had a soft spot for, the hard work begins.
A number of professional buyers have the process down to a fine art – turn up, kick the tyres, make sure that nothing is hanging off and then pay as little as possible. As a private buyer, you need to be a little more circumspect though. But what should you be thinking about to make the process easier?
#1 Decide where to buy from
Understanding where you should be buying from is a little dependent on the car – if it’s just a shopper that you’re looking for, then any of the nationwide listings would be a great starting point. With that said, you still tend to find some perfect examples listed in shop windows and notice boards.
If you’ve set your heart on something a little more specialised, then check out the forums, owners clubs and any local groups – you’ll be buying something that’s known, and more than likely, been looked after well.
#2 Check the vehicle history
Assuming you’ve found ‘the one,’ you need to ensure that the legal side of it is all present and correct. Does it have the V5? If it’s specialist, is it exactly what the seller claims it to be? Has it been modified in any way? Or completely standard?
Modifications usually come under three categories:
1. Nope. Never should have happened.
2. A sensible improvement over standard.
3. Fast & Furious
The key to it all is understanding the modifications, and any implications that may ensue – it will affect your insurance, the valuation of the car, perhaps the reliability, and of course, if it’s specialist, the collectability.
#3 Think of the car insurance
Before agreeing to purchase any car, you should look into the insurance aspect, especially if it’s performance or collectable; Can you even insure it? How much will cost to insure? Are there any restrictions or conditions that you should be aware of?
In some cases, insurance could be either prohibitively expensive, or just plain impossible (try insuring a Sierra Cosworth). Even when budget is no problem, there are some cars that insurance companies will refuse to insure. Fortunately, there are other options like taking out a trader’s policy for a specific amount rather than a specific car.
As we’ve already mentioned, some buyers are happy with the bare minimum of inspections – a quick kick of the car tyres and they’re off, but understanding what you’re getting in to before you purchase a vehicle is crucial. It doesn’t matter that the head gasket has gone, providing you know that beforehand.
Car maintenance records will only tell you so much, if this is going to be a ‘significant’ purchase, then you should do all that you can to understand the condition of the vehicle, even if that means getting professional help – there are many independent car inspectors that will give you a thorough report (for a fee of course).
There is an inherent risk in buying any vehicle, including new, but putting in a little extra legwork will help to minimise that risk.
#5 Know Your Rights
When a private individual is selling a car, the onus is on the buyer to protect themselves, especially with smaller problems – if the car doesn’t reach the specified fuel economy figures for example, then there is no recourse whatsoever. There are some exceptions, but on the whole, it’s a case of ‘buyer beware.’
Buying a used car through a dealership should mean that you’re well protected if something goes wrong, but even then, you need to understand what you’re buying; many dealerships offer a warranty period, but they may not include labour charges, or wear parts (clutches, brakes, etc), and they use a third-party service, which could mean that you have to pay for any repairs, and then try to claim the money back.
It may be awkward, but you need to ask those uncomfortable questions, regardless of how charming the salesperson is.
Buying a used car is all about research, and if you get that right, the chances are high that you’re going to love your new toy. One final piece of advice that we would give anyone looking to buy: if something just feels wrong, even if you don’t know what that is, walk away and find another seller or another car.
It’s a buyer’s market right now, don’t pressurise yourself into buying the first thing that comes along, unless of course you’re after that unique 1920s vintage classic that was made for one week only.