How to make sure you don’t get ripped off when buying a second-hand car

Buying a second-hand car can be a stressful experience, particularly if you do not know a lot about vehicles.

A big potential pitfall is that you could buy a car that looks fine, and you are told is fine, but has an array of issues which could see you broken down on the side of the road days later.

Due to cars being one of the most expensive items many South African will ever buy, the pressure to make a sound choice and buy a reliable vehicle is paramount.

To find out what you can do to avoid buying a dud, we spoke to WeBuyCars and AutoTrader – top players in the second-hand car market – about the top tips you should follow.

Significant purchase

Dirk van der Walt, CSO of WeBuyCars, stated that buying a car is one of the most significant purchases you will make in your life, and it is important to buy the right car at the right price.

“You cannot afford to buy a second-hand vehicle purely based on passion and impulse. It takes a good deal of time, preparation, homework, and mindfulness to buy a vehicle,” said van der Walt.

An important aspect to consider is the cost implications of vehicle ownership after purchasing the vehicle – including unforeseen expenses and repairs that may follow.

“Likely, you never serviced the gearbox of your previous car, and neither did the guy whose vehicle you are buying now. Roadworthy only tests for basic performance specifications like braking, oil leaks, and lights. The vehicle will pass, even if the brake-pads only have 2% of their lifespan left. This is just one example of an unforeseen expense,” he said.

Other costs of ownership includes running costs, insurance, fuel consumption, cost of servicing the vehicle, and consumables like the clutch, brake-pads, tyres, and shocks.

The most important cost of ownership, however, is depreciation – which can be much more on certain vehicles.

“People are usually ignorant of the rate of depreciation directly after purchasing a vehicle. In some cases, it may be as much as 25%–30% within the first year.”

Other important factors to consider are:

  • There shouldn’t be any clear contrast between the mileage and the appearance of the car. A car’s grill and mirrors are good indicators of age, along with the texture of the steering wheel.
  • Ask for photos of any damage and resultant repairs if there were any.
  • The car should sit well on its wheels, and not hanging as if it has a flat tyre.
  • Open the doors, hood, and trunk wide and look at the door-hinges. If it was repaired, there is a good chance you would pick it up in these areas.
  • Steer clear of a car where there are scratches on the plastic engine covers, this is a sign of trouble.
  • If the lip of the wheel rim is damaged it is an indication that the person who drove the vehicle was not very careful or conscientious.
  • Operate all the electronic functions, one by one, to make sure it all works
  • Google the particular car and include in the search something like “common problems” or “why you should not buy”.

George Mienie, AutoTrader CEO, said that buyers must always use tools to conduct background checks on a car.

“AutoTrader’s Vehicle Check is an example of one such tool, that can give some comfort as to the history of the vehicle. However, if the car is illegally registered on eNatis then it may slip through this check.”

Impulse buy

Van der Walt said that buying a car can be a very emotional purchase, and you should be objective when making a purchasing decision.

“You need to answer whether you are making an informed decision or not. Normally, the decision is an intricate balance between attributes and needs, perceptions and realities.”

“Do not underestimate what an emotional decision it is, as people feel that the vehicle they buy is an expression of who they are – and not only an instrument of utility.”

Now read: Why DStv should have a Kodi app

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How to make sure you don’t get ripped off when buying a second-hand car