Automotive expert from Haynes reveals how to bag a bargain, not a banger, when buying a used car
Buying a used car can be a daunting prospect; from mileage and maintenance to faults and some unscrupulous car dealers, it is a great challenge, particularly if you don’t know what you’re looking for under the bonnet.
It doesn’t help that some second-hand car dealers aren’t always reliable or trustworthy. In fact, a survey by the RAC found that almost half of motorists complained of mechanical failures after buying second-hand cars last year. Haynes, the world’s leading publisher of automotive repair manuals, is therefore urging motorists to save some cash by bagging that second-hand bargain whilst ensuring they avoid any nasty surprises down the line.
Haynes’ resident car boffin, Trevor Eastman, head of Technical Services in Haynes’ automotive team, says: “Spring is always a popular time to change cars, and without question, the used car market is buoyant. However, people need to remain cautious - over 7.4 million cars were sold in the UK in 2013, yet the Citizens Advice Consumer Service received more complaints about second hand cars than any other consumer service for four years running.
“Opting for a second-hand car instead of shelling out for a new one can be a good way to save money, as many cars lose around 40% of their value in the first year. However, within the used car salesroom or with a private seller, pushy sales tactics and hidden histories can make buying a used car risky, costly and, possibly, dangerous. However, buying a car that’s not up to your expectations can be avoided with some simple but essential checks to make before you think about parting with your hard earned cash.”
Ten top tips from Haynes for buying a used car
- Do your homework - Before looking at any cars for sale draw up a shortlist of suitable models and consider all the things that are important to you. Will it have enough power? Is fuel economy important? Is it easy to maintain and work on? The internet can be a useful source of information to find out how reliable a particular model is.
- Don’t go alone - If possible, take a knowledgeable friend or family member with you to see the car, or someone as a witness to any claims or promises being made by the seller. If you’re buying privately, don’t agree to meet halfway - always go to the seller’s home and check the address is the same as shown on the V5C registration document.
- Arrive early – Whether at a showroom or on a driveway, an unscrupulous seller may warm the engine up before you arrive to hide any faults from a cold start, so make sure you check the engine is cold before a road test.
- Don’t be dazzled by the shiny paintwork - Try to detach yourself from the buying process; it’s surprising how many people decide to buy within the first couple of minutes. Think of it as though you are buying it for somebody else and check the detail before making a decision.
- Have a good look around - If the car is parked in a restricted space move it out into good light before inspecting it. Inspect the car’s paintwork to see if it varies from panel to panel, check if the condition of the interior is consistent with the mileage and check the carpets aren’t damp. Also check that the stereo, Sat Nav, if applicable, and other features such as electric windows are in working order.
- Get your hands dirty - Even if you are not mechanically inclined, there are checks you can do. When looking under the bonnet, pull out the engine oil dipstick and check the level to see if it’s low or dirty. Check for any significant oil or fluid leaks, loose or corroded battery terminals and ensure the cooling system antifreeze and brake fluid level are correct.
- Road test - Listen for any abnormal noises and check the operation of all controls. Don’t forget to check the heater in the middle of summer or the air conditioning, if fitted, in winter. Remember, when driving, don’t abuse it; it’s not your car yet and it may have been the seller’s pride and joy, and you are just as likely to find faults at low speeds as you are driving at higher speeds.
- Check the paperwork - Ask to see all the paperwork and take your time to look through all the invoices and any service history. If servicing has been carried out by the owner, question what tasks were carried out and when. This information can be found in the Haynes manual. The MOT history can be checked online for free, and any outstanding finance, if applicable, can be checked for a small fee.
- Check the Vehicle Identification Number – This should be the same on both the registration documents and the car. Make sure you check for evidence of tampering with the number.
- Finally, be prepared to walk away - Even if all the boxes are ticked, if it doesn’t feel right, trust your instincts and don’t be pushed into something you may regret.
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About HaynesHaynes Publishing has been the world's leading publisher of illustrated workshop car manuals and motorcycle manuals since 1965. In that time Haynes has evolved and so have its manuals to now include a wide range of automotive, sport, leisure, military and lifestyle subjects. Haynes also has licenses to publish manuals with NASA, the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force, Star Wars, Star Trek and others.Haynes publishing also offers its more recent car and motorcycle manuals through online subscription. Manuals Online was launched in 2010 and offers colour imagery, video and is accessible through computer or tablet via an internet connection.