Navigating the Used Car Market: Your Comprehensive Guide to Spotting Excellent Deals and Steering Clear of Scams
Are you in the market for a car? Whether you’re a first-time buyer or looking to upgrade your current ride, buying a used car is a cost-effective option.
New vehicles lose their value at a faster rate compared to used ones. In fact, car depreciation hits hardest in the first 12 months of owning a new automobile, dropping by 15-35%.
So, buying a used car is a smart solution, particularly if you purchase one when it’s reached its third year and will have lost half its value, but the technology will still be up to date.
However, when buying a secondhand vehicle, you must be wary of scammers.
Unfortunately, car-buying scams are common, and if you fall victim to one, you could lose a significant amount of money or end up with an unreliable vehicle.
In this guide, we’ll take you through purchasing a used car while keeping your safety and satisfaction in mind. We’ll equip you with the knowledge to spot great deals, avoid potential scams, and provide vital information you must know when you buy a used car, such as pointers on how to check vehicle history.
If you’re wondering what to look for when buying a used car, keep reading!
Evaluating a Used Car’s Condition
Evaluating a used car is crucial to ensure you’re making a wise investment and avoiding potential future problems.
We have listed some key areas below that you should focus on to enable you to understand what to check when buying a used car.
- Walk around the car, preferably in daylight, and look for any dents, scratches, or uneven panel gaps, which could indicate previous accidents or poor repairs.
- Check for inconsistent paint colour and texture on all panels. Paint overspray can suggest a cover-up of past damage.
- Look for rust spots, especially along the edges of doors, wheel wells, around wing mirrors, and the undercarriage.
- Inspect the tread of the tyres. Uneven wear might suggest alignment or suspension issues.
- Bounce each corner of the car to test the suspension. If the vehicle bounces more than twice, the shocks or struts may need replacing.
- Test all lights, including headlights, taillights, brake lights, and indicators.
- Check for foggy or cracked lenses on lights, which can indicate moisture or damage.
- Inspect the seats for wear, tears, or stains. Excessive wear might indicate high mileage or that the vehicle hasn’t been looked after.
- Check that the adjustment mechanisms and seat heaters (if applicable) work as they should.
- Turn on the ignition, ensure all dashboard warning lights illuminate, and then turn off after a few seconds.
- Test all electronics, including the radio, air conditioning, power windows, and infotainment system (if applicable).
- Check engine oil by pulling out the dipstick. The oil should be clean and at an appropriate level (between the two marks on the dipstick).
- When the engine is cool, inspect the coolant reservoir for the proper level; coolant should be between the F and L marks.
- Again, when the engine is cool, inspect the level of the brake fluid reservoir; brake fluid should sit close to the high mark.
- Inspect the engine compartment for leaks, such as oil, coolant, or transmission fluid.
- Look for cracks, fraying, or signs of excessive wear on belts and hoses.
- Gently press on hoses to check for firmness; overly soft hoses may need replacement.
- Start the engine and listen for unusual noises, such as knocking, rattling, or hissing, which may indicate several problems.
- Rev the engine and listen for smooth acceleration without sputtering or hesitation, which could indicate an issue with fuel or the exhaust system.
- Look for signs of recent repairs or parts replacement, which could suggest ongoing issues.
Common Scams and Pitfalls to Avoid
Awareness of common car scams when buying a used vehicle is essential to protect yourself from potential fraud. Here’s a detailed look at three common scams to avoid:
1) Scrapped Car Fraud
Scammers may try to sell vehicles previously declared as scrapped, salvaged, or written off due to severe damage, such as accidents or floods.
While there’s no harm in buying a scrapped car, there are challenges and risks involved, so this isn’t something a seller should conceal, and they should be reasonable with the price.
However, some dealers or private sellers may attempt to hide this information and present the car as being in better condition than it actually is.
How to Spot a Scrapped Car
- Check the vehicle history of any car you’re interested in. Complete a free car check to provide information about a car’s past, including salvage and title issues.
- Carefully examine the vehicle identification number (VIN) on the dashboard and compare it with the VIN on the door jamb and title documents to ensure consistency.
- As mentioned, look for signs of inconsistent paint, mismatched panels, or uneven gaps, which could indicate hidden repairs.
2) Odometer Tampering
Odometer tampering involves rolling back the mileage on a car’s odometer to make it appear less driven than it actually is. This can deceive buyers into thinking the vehicle has lower wear and tear.
How to Check if Mileage is Genuine
- Check the vehicle’s maintenance records and service history. Inconsistencies between reported maintenance and low odometer readings might indicate tampering.
- Inspect the wear on the car’s interior components, such as the pedals, steering wheel, and seats. If they seem excessively worn despite the low mileage, it could be a sign of tampering.
- Obtain a vehicle history report with mileage records to cross-check against the current reading.
‘What mileage is good for a used car?’ This is a question asked by many secondhand car buyers.
Typically, a vehicle will do around 10,000 miles per year. So, if the car you’re interested in is five years old, it should have a reading of approximately 50,000 miles.
3) Fake Adverts
Sadly, there are many fake adverts out there. Some sellers create adverts for cars that don’t even exist.
Alternatively, they’ll advertise online, using a photo of a car they don’t own.
How to Spot Fake Adverts and What to Do
- If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.
- Conduct thorough research of the seller.
- Check for any spelling or grammar errors on the advert.
- Never buy a vehicle before seeing and test-driving it first.
Your Used Car Inspection Checklist
To facilitate your assessment when considering purchasing a pre-owned vehicle, we have created a checklist to streamline your inspection process.
- Conduct a thorough inspection of the vehicle’s exterior, interior and engine, paying particular attention to the areas mentioned previously in this article.
- Look for any dents, scratches, or uneven panel gaps.
- Check for inconsistent paint colour and texture on all panels.
- Look for rust spots.
- Inspect the tread of the tyres.
- Bounce each corner of the car to test the suspension.
- Test all lights.
- Check for foggy or cracked lenses on lights.
- Inspect the seats for wear, tears, or stains.
- Check that the adjustment mechanisms and seat heaters work.
- Ensure all dashboard warning lights are illuminated.
- Test all electronics.
- Check engine oil.
- Inspect the coolant reservoir for the proper level.
- Inspect the level of the brake fluid reservoir.
- Inspect the engine compartment for any leaks.
- Look for cracks, fraying, or signs of excessive wear on belts and hoses.
- Gently press on hoses to check for firmness.
- Start the engine and listen for any unusual noises.
- Rev the engine and listen for smooth acceleration without sputtering or hesitation.
- Look for signs of recent repairs or parts replacement.
- Carefully review any documents.
- Scrutinise the title for any inconsistencies or discrepancies in the vehicle’s ownership history.
- Verify that the title is clear and not salvaged or rebuilt.
- Thoroughly examine the maintenance and repair records to gauge how well the car has been cared for.
- Pay attention to regular servicing intervals and any major repairs.
- Check for evidence of recurring issues or a lack of necessary maintenance.
- Inquire about any existing warranties on the vehicle and whether they are transferable.
- Ascertain the number of previous owners and their usage patterns.
Test Driving Tips
- Navigate the test drive precisely and attentively, focusing on key performance indicators.
- Evaluate how the steering wheel responds to your input. It should be smooth and without excessive play.
- Listen for any unusual noises while turning the wheel.
- Assess the brakes’ effectiveness by gradually applying pressure and ensuring the car stops smoothly and without vibrations.
- Pay attention to any squeaking or grinding noises when braking.
- Monitor the engine’s responsiveness and smoothness while accelerating and decelerating.
- Listen for any unusual engine noises, such as knocking or rattling.
- Observe the engine’s temperature gauge to ensure it remains within a normal range.
Whether you need to sell your car or are ready to purchase a vehicle immediately, you know what to do when buying a used car to ensure you avoid scams and get a great deal.