How to spot a good deal when secondhand car buying

The second hand car industry has a poor reputation – and it’s mostly undeserved, says Jeff Osborne, Head of Gumtree Automotive. “Dealerships (even ones that deal solely in secondhand cars) are subject to the Consumer Protection Act, which has gone a long way to legitimize and improve the second hand trade. The private market is not governed, but consumers are becoming savvier when it comes to buying second hand, supported by tools such as online price checkers and even third party facilitators that can assist with transactions and financing.”

While there are hundreds of thousands of excellent secondhand cars on the market, Osborne cautions that there are simple warning signs that could break a deal before it is made.

“Sloppy bodywork and patching is a red flag because it could indicate undeclared accident damage – and even if declared, DIY patchwork tells me that the owner did not attend to the damage properly,” says Osborne. “Rust is less of a concern on much older cars, as long as it doesn’t compromise the structure of the car. It’s worth getting a quote on what it would cost to repair rust damage – because it will spread. Use that a negotiating point when it comes to price.”

If the seller is evasive or maintains strict control of how and when the car is started up, take it as a sign of caution. “A car should be started up “cold”, in other words, don’t simply let the seller hand the keys of a running car to test. Starting the car will reveal worn components and issues with fuel delivery that a running car simply won’t.”

Modifications can be a plus for some buyers, but unless paperwork can be produced and researched, it’s best to steer clear. “Modifications void warranties, and if they aren’t professionally done, they can make the car unsafe. Professional improvements done by licensed mechanics on the other hand can improve safety and the driving experience. Solid paperwork and a maintenance history is always a good sign.”

And speaking of paperwork, no deal should be made without the correct documentation in place. “If a seller claims that he bought the vehicle without paperwork to begin with, or lost the paperwork in a fire, or offers a discount in lieu of paperwork, run away – don’t walk!” says Osborne. “You can easily obtain copies of vehicle registration and ownership from your local traffic department, but the onus is on the seller to provide you with these copies. You should not accept anything less.”

A good seller will have a good ad and demonstrate good maintenance of the vehicle as well as openness and honesty. “Good sellers tend to take the time to write good adverts with correct information. They also will be happy to point out flaws or parts that need servicing or replacing so that you are fully informed. If a car has been cleaned, the tyres not worn too badly and proof of servicing and maintenance presented, chances are the owner has been responsible and taken good care of the car, even if it’s an older model.”

A willingness to allow a buyer to perform necessary professional checks and tests is another good sign. “If they refuse to have your mechanic or testing center take a good look at the car, chances are they have something to hide.”

And most importantly, when in doubt, don’t. “There are hundreds of thousands of excellent used cars for sale, both privately and from dealerships. Never settle for a deal that you aren’t sure about.”

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