Things to Consider When Looking for a Used Car
Buying a nearly new approved used car from a main franchised dealer is always going to be the best way to proceed because you could save a great deal of money compared to the equivalent brand-new model. And you won’t be surprised to know that we highly recommend buying a car from the Sinclair ŠKODA Approved Used Car Programme with Special Offers and access to the many benefits that are included. However, you may not want a Skoda and decide to look elsewhere, so we have listed the main things that you should look out for to help you avoid the risks involved when buying a second-hand car.
Do You Buy From a Car Dealer or Buy Private?
If you’re at all nervous about buying a second-hand car then buying from a dealer or trader is an easier place to start as buying privately often requires more technical car knowledge. But you should appreciate that dealers and trader can vary dramatically regarding the level of vehicle preparation and aftersales support that you get and also the price you pay. Generally, the bigger the business, the more resource they have, but also the more overheads they have, which increases the cost of the car.
You will find franchised main dealers like Sinclair Skoda at one end of the spectrum, with one-man-band driveway traders at the other and usually independent garages sitting somewhere in between. Franchised main dealers are likely to have put a used car through a thorough pre-sale inspection and should offer up to 12 months warranty, which obviously comes at a price, but does provide peace of mind. Therefore, you need to decide whether or not to take the chance that the car will be problem free and not pay extra for warranty.
Buying from a small independent trader could save you from paying more for the car but may prove to be a false economy if the car ends up costing you more in repairs. While all traders legally have to comply with the Consumer Rights Act, meaning you may be entitled to a repair, replacement or refund if the vehicle is deemed not ‘fit for purpose’ this could prove to be difficult to enforce if the seller is not registered and proves to be dishonest.
Buying a used car privately can come with similar risks though it can also prove to be a great choice if you find someone who is trustworthy and provides a detailed vehicle history to show regular servicing & maintenance. This does however require you to be a good judge of character and possess some technical knowledge, even if it means taking a friend along who is more knowledgeable. We also recommend that you pay for an independent vehicle history check to ensure it is not reported as stolen or have any outstanding finance. A common scam is to advertise a financed car way below market price in the knowledge that the finance company actually own the car and can take it back from you, meanwhile the seller has disappeared into the sunset with your money. You end up with no car and no cash, so if a deal seems to good to be true, it probably is!
As you can see, deciding who to buy from is just as important as choosing the car itself, and considerations like what you need the car for, how long you plan to keep it and also your budget must therefore be taken into account.
Inspecting the Car
Once you have decided who you are going to buy from and have found the make and model you want it’s time to test drive & inspect it. A used car buyer’s checklist provides a general overview for what to look out for and a little research online can also provide valuable specific details of make and model common issues.
Tyres How much tread do they have, 1.6mm is the legal requirement, but if below 3mm you’ll have to factor in the cost of replacing them fairly soon. Also look out for sidewall damage and miss-matched brands as this could be a clue as to the car being maintained on the cheap. Note also that uneven wear along the inside or outside of a tyre probably indicates possible suspension or steering issues. Budget brand tyres may not be a major concern on a cheap car, but if you’re buying a more expensive car or high-performance car you’ll want four matching premium tyres.
Dents and scratches Inspect the bodywork for signs of dents or scratches but don’t be put off too much as these can be fixed fairly cheaply and you can use them to negotiate. Inspect the car in clear daylight as rain or darkness can hide a lot.
Panel Gaps Check the gaps between panels, doors, bonnet & boot/tailgate as large or uneven gaps could be a sign that a car has been damaged and poorly repaired and make sure there are no paint colour differences between panels. Also look out for orange peel like ripples in the paintwork which might suggest it’s been damaged and poorly repaired using filler, a magnet should reveal whether this is the case, as filler isn’t magnetic.
Fluid Levels Open the engine compartment and check all the fluid levels including engine oil, brake fluid, powered steering fluid and engine coolant (which should have anti-freeze). If any are low it could indicate that the car hasn’t been well maintained. Also look for signs of oil or water leaks under the bonnet and also beneath the car. If buying privately look for signs of oil leaks on the owner’s driveway!
Engine Oil Remove the engine oil filler cap and look at the colour of the oil, looking out for signs of a white mayonnaise-like substance. This is usually caused by water contamination in the oil and is a sign that the cylinder head gasket could have failed or worse still, that the cylinder head or block could be cracked which will result in complete engine failure.
Vehicle Electrics Try every switch and accessory including operating the windows. Does the radio or entertainment centre work, does the air conditioning chill the air or mist up the windows. Some faults could be a simple repair but are at the very least a negotiating point and again may indicate poor maintenance.
Glass Look out for cracks or chips in the windscreen. They could result in an MOT failure and expensive replacement. Also check the front and rear lights, looking out for chips, cracks or internal moisture.
Upholstery Inspect the car’s interior for stains or tears in the seats or a bad odour which can be very off-putting especially the car has been smoked in. Also make sure that they are fixed properly and that all seat belts work and are not badly worn, as sign of possible high mileage.
Spare Wheel & Jack If the car comes with a spare wheel is it in good condition and are the jack & accessories present, together with a locking wheel nuts adaptor if required.
General Wear & Tear All used cars will display a certain amount of wear and tear that should be consistent with the age and mileage. A car showing low miles on the clock but with heavy wear on the driver’s seat, steering wheel, gear lever, switch gear and pedals could indicate higher mileage than shown. Again, this is where the vehicles service history, or lack of, could provide clues.
Model Specification Research the specification of the model you’re looking at and for example if it’s a high-spec model are all of the accessories and trim present.
Documents check Check that the V5C Registration Document is present and make sure the make and model of the car you’re looking at matches that on the V5 and the number plate too. Also ensure that the VIN, the Vehicle Identification Number, on the V5C matches the VIN on the vehicle. This can be viewed from outside the vehicle in the lower part of the windscreen and often in other places around the vehicle, again online research will indicate where to find it. The V5 will also tell you how long the seller has owned the car and how many previous owners it’s had. Be concerned if the car has had lots of owners over a short period of time, it could be problematic, although there may also be a genuine reason.
MOT and Service History Checks A paper MOT Certificate isn’t as important as it used to be as you can now check a car’s MOT test history online and find out if it’s got a current valid MOT. Service history, depending on the price and age of the car may or may not be important but certainly on a newer car you’ll want a fully-stamped service book to prove it’s been looked after.
Starting the Car Firstly, a car which is difficult to start might need a new battery or alternator but once running check the temperature gauge for overheating. If you take it for a test drive leave the engine running for a while when you return as this could also show overheating issues.
Check the Clutch Is it easy to engage gears or is the biting point a long way up or too low down the pedal travel and try accelerating up a hill at low revs in a high gear to check for clutch slipping? Does it smell strange and in a quick getaway does the car pull away cleanly or judder? Any of these issues could indicate a worn clutch or drive shafts and replacement can be very costly. Driving a few examples of the same model can help you understand what’s right and what isn’t.
Transmission Ensure that all gears select easily and they shouldn’t make crunching noises every time you change gear. If the car has automatic transmission ensure gear changes are smooth and in line with road speed and engine load etc and make sure the ‘kick down’ works, the equivalent of changing down a gear in a manual to accelerate faster.
Steering Make sure the steering operates smoothly without any odd noises and that the power steering works and is not too heavy? If you remove your hands from the wheel on a camber free straight road does the car drift to one side or track straight as it should.
Suspension Some cars have firmer suspension than others but driving over bumpy roads will reveal noises, clunks and unusual jolts, all an indication of suspension problems.
Test Drive When accelerating through the gears does it keep up with traffic Okay and is the performance what you would expect for the type of car. When braking sharply does the car stop cleanly and in a straight line without pulling to one side and are there any unusual noises? Also make sure the handbrake works properly and note that many cars now have electronic handbrakes so make sure it operates correctly, including its release.
Do You Want To Buy It?
Having carried out all of the checks mentioned you eventually need to decide whether or not to buy the car. Ask yourself is the driving position comfortable, would you be happy driving it for long journeys and obviously is the type of car fit for purpose regarding your personal situation. Even a used car is a major investment so make sure you’re completely happy with your choice and don’t be pressured by an over keen sales person into buying a car that you may later regret.
Contact Sinclair ŠKODA
For further help and advice about the Sinclair ŠKODA Approved Used Car Programme or to arrange a test drive from our used car showroom in Swansea call our sales team on Tel: 0179 291 2117 or use the Online Contact Form.