Getting your car second-hand can be a smart way to save money. The old wisdom that cars start losing value the second they leave the dealership is as true now as ever – and while that means they’re not a lucrative investment item, its good news for people looking for a bargain.
The biggest concern when buying your car used is making sure that the vehicle is still in decent condition. Even if you don’t have much mechanical know-how, there are a few tips you can follow to make sure your second-hand purchase is a good runabout.
Understanding age vs. mileage
The price of a used car is typically determined by two things: how old it is, and how far it has driven. These will be the two key factors during your search – and you need to think about the relationship between the two. A newer car that has done more than its fair share of mileage may have faced a lot of wear and tear. On the other hand, an older car that’s hardly been driven could seem like a bargain, but you need to consider the damage that could have been done if it’s been left in a garage to rust.
As a rough figure to help with your calculations, in 2019 UK drivers averaged at 7,400 miles. There’s definitely some wiggle room here – in 2002 the average was 9,200, so you need to allow for reasonable differences – but it gives a good starting point for understanding how much a car has been driven.
Getting the car’s history
If possible, try to find out the type of driving that the car’s previous owners got up to. Were they taking long trips out into the country, or doing lots of stop-start city driving? If it’s the latter, the car will have had more wear and tear, as this type of driving is known to depreciate a vehicle more rapidly.
Running background checks
In many cases you can get a lot of the information you need simply by having a friendly chat with the car’s current owner. Even if you’re buying from a dealer, they often have the car’s history to hand. However, you don’t have to rely solely on the word of the person trying to make a sale. You can find out more about a car by checking its MOT history on the government’s website. This will quickly tell you whether the car’s mileage is genuine, and also help you to gauge how much work will need to be done next time the MOT rolls around.
As a side note, buying a car that has recently passed its MOT may make more financial sense than getting one which needs to be tested soon – as you don’t want to buy a car and then be blindsided by a costly MOT failure.
Buying from an established dealer
Some of the best deals come from chance sightings of cars put up for sale at the end of an owner’s driveway. While we’re not entirely against this type of sale, you’ll have a lot less protection buying a used car from a stranger than going to a local dealership with a good reputation. Check reviews on Google and other review sites to find a local dealership with a good track record. You will also get more choice by going to a dealership. In some cases it may even be better to wait until your preferred dealer gets a suitable car in, rather than rushing to buy elsewhere.
Inspecting the vehicle carefully
Never buy a second-hand car without taking the opportunity to look over it closely and give it a test run. If possible, take along a trusted friend who has better car knowledge to help you with your inspection. Check for scratches, dents and rust on the vehicle’s exterior, make sure that the glass isn’t chipped and have your friend confirm that the lights work. You should also check the tires and the suspension (you can do this by pushing down on the corner of the car – decent shock absorbers should cause it to rebound once, not bob up and down).
Make sure you do your inspection in daylight, when it’s easy to spot issues. And remember, small concerns such as scratches may give you room for negotiation even if they’re not deal breakers for making the purchase.