The used car market is a minefield, to put it lightly. Sadly, you wouldn’t believe the number of times we have to inform customers that the car they’ve just bought is not in the condition they believed it to be. If you’re in the market for a second-hand car, there are some things you can do to mitigate the risk of being cheated.
The do’s and don’ts of buying a used car:
NEVER buy a car without its MOT
First and foremost, if a car’s MOT has expired, do not buy it. This is practically a sure sign that the seller has something to hide. If its MOT test is due in the next couple of months, the best thing to do is ask that the seller takes it early. You can offer to pay extra for the test, and the seller should cover any repairs needed.
Always do a thorough background check
It’s vital to review a vehicle’s history before you go to view it. You can find a lot about a car online, certainly enough to determine whether it’s worth seeing. First, do an MOT check – www.check-mot.service.gov.uk is the place for that. You already know what to do regarding the MOT due date, but make sure to take note of the MOT history as well. Check for any advisories, particularly those on the most recent MOTs, that may not have been dealt with and make a note to ask about them when meeting the seller. If you’re buying from a private seller, we recommend using sites like Auto Trader. Cars listed here go through a background check before being available for purchase. You can buy a lot of vehicles on Facebook Marketplace these days, but these are not pre-checked and therefore are a much riskier purchase.
It’s also wise to do an HPI check. The most comprehensive ones aren’t free, but it’s a small price for complete transparency. The report will tell you whether the car is on finance, if it’s been written off, or marked as stolen – all massive red flags! Type “HPI check” into Google, and you’ll get multiple options, all of which are fine. You’d be looking at around £20 for a check to tell you everything you need to know.
The proof is in the paperwork
Request that the seller sends you screenshots of the vehicle’s service history to confirm whether it’s up-to-date on its maintenance. Generally, the vehicle should have had a service every year, alternating between a full and interim service in its most basic form (although it’s better if it has stuck to the manufacturer’s recommended service schedule – read our previous blog post!). If you decide to view the vehicle, request proof of ownership through a purchase receipt and ensure you get the physical copies of the service history. The logbook doesn’t prove ownership, but you must be handed this; otherwise, you won’t be able to tax the vehicle.
Check the mileage
A second-hand car with low mileage (anything less than 40,000 miles on the clock) is more desirable. However, if you’ve found a nice car with low mileage and at a low cost, likely, something is not quite right. Nowadays, it’s easy to alter a car’s mileage; it’s just a case of having the right software on your laptop. If you’re viewing a vehicle that looks in good knick but is cheap, given its low mileage, look closer. Check for stone chips on the bonnet, the condition of the seats and mats and how worn the pedals look. The general rule; if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Second-hand cars are expensive these days, especially in seemingly-good condition with low mileage.
Stop, look and listen
Talking about condition, if you’re viewing a car, there are some important things to check for, and you don’t have to be an expert to spot them. The first thing you should do is a visual inspection. Check outside, underneath and inside. Look for signs of repainting or body work replacement indicating the car had been in an accident. The most important thing is that the car is safe and mechanically sound, so you must test-drive it. Turn the radio off and ask the seller (if in the vehicle) to stay quiet. Listen out for unusual noises or rattles and check for excessive smoke. Test the brakes and handbrake and pay close attention to the steering and handling. If you notice anything that seems off, it’s not worth the risk.
Get a second opinion
Of course, unless you know exactly what to look for, it’s hard to be certain you’re not being taken for a fool. If you buy a second-hand car, it’s wise to inspect it as soon as possible. Many garages will be happy to have a general look over the important elements free of charge (we certainly will!) to give you some peace of mind or to bring your attention to something you may have missed. If you buy from a dealer and have a prole within 30 days of purchase, you can either request a full refund or a like-for-like replacement. If you buy from a private seller, you don’t have as much legal protection, as it’s your responsibility to be careful. Head to the Citizens Advice website for a confirmation of your rights.
The main takeaway is to be cautious. Don’t get too wrapped up in the excitement; think with your head and not your heart!
If you’ve just purchased a used vehicle and would like someone to check it over, please give us a call on 01485 533786 in Hunstanton or 01553 763763 in King’s Lynn. Or, if you’re still browsing and want some advice, contact us – we’d be more than happy to help.