Buying a second hand car can be something of a lottery if you are not well informed about cars and their values. And even if you are, there are still some obvious pitfalls you should avoid if you want to ensure that you've bought a quality used car.
The first thing to do when considering buying a second hand car is to acquire a second-hand car price guide. Many newsagents stock these and failing that there are plenty of online guides available. While these won't be free, but they will be a great investment, and the few pounds you spend on a guide could save you hundreds, or even thousands when it comes to buying your car. You'll also get a good indication of what type of vehicle you can afford and what price you should expect to pay.
Although the next tip sounds obvious, it is amazing how many people don't follow it: when you go to look at the car you are interested in, make sure you view it in the daylight! All the flaws, scratches and any other body faults will be clearly visible, and you'll get a much clearer perception of the car than if you viewed it at night. This applies equally, whether you are interested in buying from a garage or a private individual.
Getting a second opinion is a must. But get it from someone who can give you an unbiased opinion and preferably someone with mechanical knowledge. If you don't know anyone personally, major road organisations such as the AA and RAC will inspect the car for you for a fee, although it wouldn't be advisable to organise an inspection until you were sure that that was the vehicle you wanted to buy.
When carrying out visual checks on the car, remember to check the tyres for even wear. If the wear is uneven, then there may be a problem with the car's suspension. Some unscrupulous dealers or individuals may tamper with the mileage on a car, so check that the wear and tear on the vehicle is consistent with the recorded miles. For example, if the car is advertised as doing only 5,000 miles but the tyres are worn and the bonnet is covered in stone chips, then that evidence isn't consistent with the advertised mileage. And if the car is over three years old ask to see its MOT certificate.
Never buy a car without taking it for a test drive - however great it looks stood on the drive or forecourt. But do make sure that you are insured to do so before getting into the driver's seat! By driving the car you'll not only get a feel for whether this is the car for you, but also you can be alerted to any potential problems. Drive at a variety of speeds, up and down hills and in reverse. This way you'll be able to highlight any suspension or clutch problems.
Lastly, stick to your guns; If you are after a particular make of car - whether it's a used Ford car, a second-hand Renault Clio or a classic Land Rover - make sure you buy the one you want! Don't be persuaded to come away with a car you didn't really want but that the salesman insists is far superior and a much better deal to your original choice. The chances are it's not!
Adam Singleton is an online, freelance journalist and keen amateur photographer from Scotland. His interests include travelling and hiking.
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