Buying a second hand car can be a minefield; modern cars especially include many complex systems and the more there is involved, the more can go wrong. Furthermore, not everyone in mechanically minded, and what looks like a great buy could be hiding a nightmare under the hood. There are many areas to check when buying used: the bodywork should be in good condition, all electrical items should work, and the past records of the car (more of this in a minute) should be up to date and verifiable. You have the choice of buying privately or from a dealer, and while the former can result in cheaper prices, the latter may well involve some form of guarantee – added peace of mind when spending your hard-earned money. So, let’s have a look at some essential tips to remember when looking to buy a used car.
The VIN check – the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) is an individual number that stays with the vehicle throughout its life. It gives details of where the car was built, what model it is, when it was built and even what type of vehicle it was when new. If any of this is not correct something is wrong. By using a VIN checking service such as AutoCheck or Carfax – the two market leaders – you can get a report on the history of the vehicle, including its involvement in accidents and other problems in the past. You can also find out if a vehicle has been used as a cab or in any other service use, and a wealth of other information, too. It is not expensive to run a VIN check, so budget some of your outlay to cover the cost of what should be the first step when you find a vehicle you like.
Use an authorized dealer – the best way to get a quality used car with all the guarantees you require is to look at authorized dealers for your vehicle. This will make sure you get a good choice of specifications, as well as a car that has been examined and looked after correctly. You may find that you have to pay a little extra for your car –dealers will use the current guide price for the vehicle concerned – but the added peace of mind is something you cannot pay too much for. It is still strongly advised that you have a VIN check carried out.
Check the paperwork – all cars should come with the relevant registration documents, and it is essential that the VIN shown on the original documents is that which is on the car itself. The VIN will be found on a metal plate welded to the car, and may be in the engine bay, the foot-well, or on the sills under the door. There are many guides online that show you how to decipher the VIN code, and it is essential that the code on the plate matches that on the paperwork. Beware if anything – even the colour – is different; it may be innocent, but it may not.
Take someone with you – if you have a friend or family member who knows about cars take them with you when you go looking. They will know what to look for, where and how, and will be a vital element in getting the best car for your needs. You can also use one of many motoring organisations and pay for a thorough check of the vehicle; this is strongly advisable if you are spending a serious amount of money, as it can reveal dangerous faults. If the seller refuses such an inspection there is something wrong – walk away.
Start the car from cold – a favorite trick of unscrupulous dealers is to make sure a car is warmed up and running by the time the viewer gets to look at it. This can hide some major mechanical defects, so you need to start it from cold. Look for excessive exhaust fumes when starting the car as this can indicate major problems.
Do not choose the first car – it is tempting to cut out the time involved and buy the first car you look at, assuming everything tallies. This is not the best course of action, for you may find a better deal around the corner! Shop around, and look for alternatives, then use these as a negotiating tool for your ultimate purchase.
Buying a used car is about careful consideration, and perhaps the most important aspect is that of the VIN check. Run one and you have all the information you need at a glance. Remember, you are about to spend a lot of money and it is imperative to remember this: if a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is. Be prepared to pay the market price for the right car.