Buying a used car involves a degree of luck. But to adapt a quote from famous film producer Samuel Goldwyn: “The harder you work, the luckier you’ll get.” The mantra is one which used car buyers should follow, as the more background checks and research that are carried out, the less chance there is of buying a dodgy motor or being the victim of fraud. These eight checks will help steer drivers towards the used cars that are least likely to let them down.
CHECK 1: DO YOUR HOMEWORK
Once you’ve narrowed down a shortlist of the types of used cars you are considering buying, browse classified ads to understand what your budget will afford. Doing this should enable you to work out the cost difference between various engines and trim levels. If you then concentrate on the make, model and specification you’re interested in you can sort the bad (high mileage, poor spec, lack of service history) from the good (realistic mileage, desirable equipment, full service history).
CHECK 2: WORK OUT A USED CAR’S RUNNING COSTS
A quick way to understand how expensive a used car will be to live with is to check with a vehicle data and valuation company, such as CAP. There you can enter the car’s details and it will paint a complete picture of all associated running costs – helpful when planning your monthly budget.
Alternatively, check its fuel economy (you want the ‘combined’ figure, which is most reflective of daily driving) and the CO2 exhaust emissions. The more frugal and clean it is, the cheaper it is to run, with some cars being exempt from road tax; compare costs here.
Then get quotes from a range of insurers. The quickest way to do this is by using a price comparison website, and also check with your existing insurer. Ask the vendor when the last service was carried out on the car and whether there were any MOT advisories (warnings that maintenance will soon need to be carried out). You can then get quotes for the next service and ensure there aren’t any expensive surprises in store.
CHECK 3: A FRANCHISED DEALER OFFERS THE MOST PROTECTION
Assuming you can find the right car for the right price, it’s preferable to buy it from a franchised car dealer. This is a dealer who has been authorized by the vehicle manufacturer to trade in its products and services. They offer the greatest consumer protection and typically hold a wide range of approved-used vehicles which will have undergone a rigorous inspection process. Even so, be just as thorough as you would with any seller when checking the car over before, during and after the test drive.
CHECK 4: PAY FOR A USED CAR INSPECTION
If you aren’t comfortable inspecting a second hand car, ask an expert to do it for you. You could arrange to take the car to a local garage and pay a fee (typically around £100) to have it inspected professionally. Alternatively pay for the mechanic to come with you.
CHECK 5: THE LOG BOOK
Once you’ve test driven the car – follow our test drive guide – ask to see the car’s accompanying paperwork, including the V5C vehicle registration document or log book. Examine them and make sure none are photocopies or computer print outs. Ensure the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) on the V5C matches the ones on the car and that the recorded keeper’s information is the same as the person selling the car.
CHECK 6: EXAMINE SERVICE HISTORY
Ideally the previous owners of the car will have kept the service book stamped where relevant, past MOT certificates and any bills. Try to make sure the mileage on the car and that on the service history and MOT certificates tallies. Also ensure that regular maintenance has been carried out and there aren’t any missed services.
CHECK 7: READ THE AD CAREFULLY
If you’re buying a car privately, the only protection you have is if the seller has described it incorrectly in the advertisement. Check that everything about the car conforms to the ad and that if the words say air-conditioning and electric windows, the car really does have both. Equally, if it’s listed as having had two previous owners, check the V5C form backs that information up.
CHECK 8: DO A DATA CHECK
A vehicle history check can reveal if a car is actually a ‘fake’ car, has been declared a write-off or is owned by a finance company rather than the vendor. One in four cars checked is flagged up as being sold with outstanding finance on it; if you bought it unwittingly, it could be rightfully repossessed by the finance company. One in eight used cars checked have been classified as an insurance write-off and one in 12 have had their mileage tampered with. These checks should also show up whether the car has been stolen and is possibly being passed off as another vehicle – known as cloning.
Find out a vehicle’s history with the Green Flag vehicle check.