11 tips for buying a used car

Buying a used car? Make sure you check out these top tips first...

If you're looking to buy a car, why waste money on a sparkly new one? Instead, have you considered purchasing one that's second (or third) hand?

Buying a used car can be a great way to save a few pennies. Not only are you likely to pay less for it, but you're also safe in the knowledge that you've avoided the worst of the car's depreciation - as new cars lose a lot of their value in the first few years.

Sounds pretty good, right?

Unfortunately, however, buying a used car doesn't come without its risks. So here are 11 top tips* for buying a used car:

Meeting places

I'm always spotting advertisements in car windows and sometimes they look like really great deals. So it can be pretty tempting to simply ring up about an advert you've seen and buy the car privately. But if you're going to do this, be careful.

You need to be extra wary if the seller only uses a mobile phone number or wants to meet you somewhere other than his/her house or business.

If the seller suggests you meet in a public place, such as a supermarket car park, don't go. Thieves often use these areas to offload stolen cars as they would be untraceable once the sale has gone through.

It's also a good idea to meet in daylight and take a friend with you.

Price tag

If the car is advertised at what appears to be a ridiculously good price, alarm bells should start to ring. This could mean there's something wrong with the car, or it's stolen, or it doesn't belong to the person trying to sell it. It's a good idea to check out Auto Trader and Parkers to get an idea of what the asking price should be.

Check the documents

Always ask to see the car's V5 registration document, MOT and full service history. Also check the car's Vehicle Identification Number (the unique serial number used to identify individual vehicles) to ensure it matches the V5 document. If the numbers don't match, or look like they've been tampered with, walk away.

Examine the evidence

Closely check bumpers, lights and fixings to see whether there's any sign of damage or misalignment - indicating previous damage.

Also check the colour of each car panel to see if they match exactly. If they don't, previous repairs may have been carried out.  It's also a good idea to check for uneven body panels as this could also indicate previous damage and/or bad repairs.

Check the tyres

Examine all of the tyres and check the car has a spare. Look for a deep tread pattern that's consistent across the tyre. If the tread is worn more on one side of the tyre than the other, it can be a sign that the steering or suspension is misaligned.

Check inside

No matter how clean and sparkly the car is on the outside, make sure you check the inside too. Have a sniff around - are there any damp or musty smells? If so, this could have been caused by a water leak. Check the carpets are dry and there are no signs of condensation on the windows.

Check for modifications

If the previous owner has modified the car in any way, be wary as this could affect your car insurance costs. If alloy wheels and spoilers have been added to your car, or the engine size has been increased, your car insurance premium is likely to be much higher.

And if the car has been modified excessively, this could even void your insurance policy. So if the car has been tinkered with, you're probably better off walking away.

Try out the gadgets

Make sure you test out all of the vehicle's gadgets, including windows, the heater, gauges and instruments, radio, horn, and lights. Check for signs of clocking - in other words, cars that have had their mileage reduced on the odometer. Does the wear and tear on the steering wheel, gear stick and pedals match up to the mileage recorded? If they are heavily worn, this indicates the car has been driven for a long time.

Take it for a test drive

If you're properly insured, take the car for a spin to check for any problems. Listen for strange sounds, and check the brakes are smooth and the gears slot into place easily. Also check the steering doesn't pull and keep an eye out for smoke!

HPI check

It's also a good idea to see whether the car has an outstanding hire purchase agreement on it. Carrying out an HPI check on a website such as HPI allows you to check the car's hidden history so you can see whether the car still belongs to a finance house, or if it has been written-off or stolen.

The downside is that you will have to pay for this - usually around £20. But it is still worth doing.

Get an independent inspection

For peace of mind, get an independent inspection from an organisation such as the RAC to see whether there are any mechanical problems you haven't spotted. They will also be able to give you advice if there are any issues. Again, this will cost you, but if you're worried, it's certainly worth paying for.

So if you're off to buy a used car in the coming weeks, make sure you follow these top tips to ensure you don't end up with a dodgy deal! Good luck!

*Thanks to esure for some of these tips.

More: 12 tips to drive down your car insurance costs | Five ways to cut the cost of car hire


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