Buying the Car

Buying the Car

10 November 2011
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Phoning the Seller Tips and Hints     

Treat with caution advertisements that specify a set time to telephone as it's possible that the number may be a public phone box or an address of someone that is an associate (or an accomplice) of the seller. 
When phoning, try to avoid describing the vehicle – just say that you are enquiring about the car advertised for sale; the seller is then obliged to declare whether there is more than one vehicle on sale. You will then determine whether the seller is a dealer, or a private person who could possibly be dubious. 

A dishonest seller is unlikely to allow a prospective purchaser to visit a home address. Ask if you can go to them rather than have the person bring the vehicle to you. 

Prepare a list of questions to ask the seller, and make notes while speaking to them.

You should ask the seller these vital questions:

1. How long have they owned the car?

2. Has the car had a recent MOT?

3. Is it taxed?

4. What condition is the car in?

5. Why are they selling it?

6. Has the car been involved in an accident?

7. What features does the car have?

8. Is it in full working order?

9. Do you any, or the complete service history.

10. Do you have the correct Registration Document (V5C)

11. How many previous owners, has the car had?

12. Confirm the mileage.

You should also make sure you have a landline number for the seller – not just their mobile.

Viewing the Vehicle

When going to view a car, it’s not a bad idea to take someone with you. Preferably a person you know or someone knowledgeable.

If you can, take a look at the car before you ring the doorbell. This will give you a chance to look at it without being distracted by the seller.

View in the daylight hours and on a clear, sunny day if you can. This will help you spot any signs of a repair or possible accident damage. Of course if you do spot any scratches or scuffs this could help towards negotiating a better price. Never view the car in the rain.

Take a slow walk around the car, this will able to spot any anomalies. Any small dents, where rust maybe starting to come through. Look under the chassis for spots of oil, it could have a leaking seal.

Look under the wheel arches, this is on area where the sealant may have worn, especially around the rims. Which can lead to rust?

Always start the car with a cold engine. This will make it easier to spot starting problems or excessive smoke.

Crouch down in front of each front wheel and look along the length of the car. Both front wheels should be directly in front of the rear – if they're not, it could mean the car has been in a crash with a slightly twisted chassis. This is known as crabbing.

Check the gaps between the body panels are equal – if they're not, the car could have been refitted badly, or may have been in a crash.

Take a look at the tyres. Are they in good condition? The minimum legal tread depth for tyres is 1.6mm.

Check under the car, beneath the bonnet and the carpet for rust and signs which may suggest the car has been in a crash, such as welding marks.

When you're inside the car, make sure the seatbelts work correctly; the steering wheel and dashboard are bolted on correctly. Also make sure the front seats move about properly and all switches work.

Under the bonnet, look for signs of oil leaks on top of the engine, and underneath. Use the dipstick to check the amount of oil. If the level is low, the owner hasn’t been looking after the car properly.

Look around the oil filler cap for a white creamy-like substance - this is an indication of a damaged head gasket which can be very expensive to put right.

Have a Look Inside

You will soon be able to tell, whether the vehicle has been looked after or not. Look for the signs:

Smell: Smoking? pets? damp or musty?

Carpets: Feel them thoroughly for dampness

Seats: Look under any covers. A badly worn driver’s seat usually means high mileage.

Gearknob / Steering wheel: Is it shiny and worn?

Look at the odometer: numbers line up? Scratched or painted over?

Pedal rubbers: Do they look worn, are any missing or suspiciously new?

Instrument panel screws: Scratched or rounded?

Doors: Are all handles and locks working?

Sunroof: Does it wind back properly and  tilt fully? Can you spot any signs of leaks or rust?

Alarm: Always make sure it works!

Boot: Look under the carpet for rust, paint ripples or overspray. Is the spare wheel inflated and is the jack and wheel spanner still there?

Under the Bonnet

Is the engine warm? It could have a starter motor or other problem.

Engine compartment: Is there a lot of oil visible? Is there oil where it perhaps shouldn't be? Is the engine perhaps a little over clean? Watch out for signs of oil leakage? Do you see any loose wiring or hoses?

Hoses: Check for hardness, cracking or splitting? 

Oil: Is it a light brown or pitch black colour on the dipstick? If a type of white foam is under the oil filler cap – This usually means a sign of engine wear?

Water Coolant: Take Care! Check the engine is cool before opening the cap. Is the water to the proper level and what colour is it? It should be a green or blue colour and not a rusty colour. Does the level move when you squeeze a radiator hose?

Other fluids: Are the brake fluid, gearbox and power steering oil reservoirs full to the proper levels?

Wiring: Are any cracked or have burned outer coatings? Are the there neat connections or botched repairs?

Engine belts: Loose or frayed?

Front suspension: Look for rust around the mountings?

Exhaust: Most will have some rust, but how serious is it?

CV Joints (Constant Velocity Joints (CVJ): Split rubber bellows where the suspension arms meet the engine? These can turn out to be an expensive MOT failure point.

Look at the ground: Are there any oily marks where the car is usually parked?

See Our Vehicle Check List…………… LINK

What about the History?

Before buying a used/secondhand car its well worth getting a HPI and a history check carried out on the vehicle first. The check is definitely affordable compared to what you might pay on the price of a vehicle which runs into thousands. There are a variety of agencies that will carry out a car history check for you, but they can also vary as the amount covered. The more common area’s that are checked are as follows: TRY OUT OUR HPI CHECKER…………….

The CO2 emissions grading

The correct amount of previous owners

The most recent Odometer (mileage) reading; and to confirm that the meter has not been tampered with.

Confirmation if the vehicle has been used for a different purpose. For example, taxi, private hire or fleet use.

To check, and see if there might be any outstanding loans; or finance agreements on the vehicle.

To check if their might be previous frame or structural damage, or an accident report.

Checking over the V5C (Registration Document), which should include a VIN number check (Vehicle Identification Number) and any change to the title of the vehicle (its category) A, B,C or D in the event of the vehicle, reference fire,  flood or salvage.

A wide-ranging report might also include:

Information on the warranty agreement.

If the vehicle has had a recall.

Ratings on reliability, safety and consumer scores or evaluations.

The vehicles service records.

Going On a Test Drive

Don’t forget to take a ‘spec’ list with you so you don’t miss anything, the main areas on your list should ideally include:

Making sure you have the insurance cover to drive the vehicle?

Are you comfortable? You should be able to clearly see the instrument panel and outside the vehicle easily.

Check for all round visibility. Can you see where the bonnet ends, good visibility through all the mirrors, is any part of the vehicle being blocked from your vision?

When you start the engine, check the instrument panel lights work correctly and the gauges move.

Have a look at the vehicle manual, to check on the safety characteristics ie the airbags, all door and child locks, lock the seatbelts. Does it have an ABS brake system?

From the driver’s position, can you easily adjust the mirrors, steering wheel and seat?

Is the seating not only comfortable for yourself, but also for your front and rear passengers. Do the seatbelts fit tight but comfortable, they should not be slack or loose. Is there plenty of legroom?

Is the boot roomy enough for your needs and does it close and stay locked? If there is a spare tyre, check on the condition and make sure you can access it easily.

While driving, give all the controls a once over, the lights, windscreen wipers and washers, air conditioning, heaters and the turn and hazard signals.

Drive at different speeds to listen to the engine, plus when it is ticking. Testing the brakes which should include an emergency stop does the vehicle veer to one side when you brake?

Does it have a smooth ride, take it around a few country lanes, this will test the cornering and suspension and handling. What about the acceleration, is it responsive? Try cruising in a straight line, and take away your hands from the steering wheel. Does it stay in a straight line?

Take the vehicle through all the gears, is the shift nice and smooth. If an automatic, there should be no jolting.

Can you park the car easily; put the steering wheel through its full lock both ways.

Listen for the noise level with the windows closed and open, especially to the engine when idling and accelerating.

If the vehicle is a diesel, check the colour of the exhaust fumes, are they blue or black?

Buying From a Dealer

Buying from a car dealer is now much simpler and straight forward than it used to be. It is also viewed as a safer option by many. This of course applies to new or used cars.

Car dealers can talk the talk; they meet many customers in a day. So they can be clever with word games. Saying that, they are only doing their job just like anybody else. By far the most popular type of dealer is one that is franchised which has a better selection of vehicles. Saying this most are geared towards a certain maker such as Ford or Toyota etc.

Do plenty of research. You can start by using the internet; also look at a variety of car magazines. Search out the different dealerships. This will help you find the best prices and discounts on offer. See our 10 Useful Steps to Buying a Car

A Few Words on Your Rights

Cars like with most items are covered by the Sale of Goods Act (SGA 1979 as amended). This has been put into place to protect your rights as a consumer. Three area’s are prominent, firstly the vehicle should be ‘fit for the purpose’ of any normal use. For example if you tell the dealer you want a vehicle, that’s roomy enough for three sets of golfclubs, and he guides towards buying a compact little hatchback, because this is what they need to get rid of, you are being steered into what the salesperson wants to sell you and not what you want to buy.

Secondly, the vehicle should be ‘as described’. Simply put, the dealer should supply where possible a full history along with its specification. Finally, the vehicle should be of ‘satisfactory quality’. This implies it should meet a reasonable standard and not have any defects. Apart from those which are brought to the buyer’s attention (for used) before any sale is completed. If the vehicle turns out to be faulty, you are well within your rights to return it within six months

If the three points above are not complied with, you are entitled to ask for your money back. Stick to reputable dealers that are affiliated to a proper trade association and that comply with a code of practice recognised with the Office of Fair Trading. They should also display a ‘Retail Motor Industry Federation’ sign.

Buying At Auction  

Buying most types of vehicle at auction used to be for the dealers only but now that ‘closed shop’ is open to anybody if they have the money.

A large part of the vehicles we see on most forecourts have been bought at auction. The franchise dealer may have at one time been exempt from this, but now even some of them have a go. The auction houses have various types of sales from ex- leasing and company cars to the more specialised, for example the super-car sale. You can buy at the auction itself, over the phone or online.

The advantage of a ‘good buy’ for the buyer is that they are able to take away the ‘middleman’s’ profit. The profit taken by dealer can be considerable, and usually the higher the price of vehicle, the higher the profit. There are now plenty of guides you can buy to do your research before you even go to an auction. These provide guidance with market values and show you how to adjust the price depending on the amount of mileage. Find out the auctions terms of sale, and what fee’s/expenses are applicable when you have made a purchase. Most payments are immediate when you make a purchase, and collection of the vehicle should either be ‘on the day’ or within 24 hours. They will charge storage fee’s do don’t forget to check to check and see what they are? Have a few ‘dry runs’ first, to see how things work and get to remember the auctioneers ‘banter’.

Learning is what it is all about, so when you hear "Sold without the registration document" or "There is no V5C - but should be available on application", beware or even ‘Hire Purchase repossession’ could be disturbing. After registration and obtaining a bidding number, if you have a large amount of cash with you, this can be lodged under your account. It is safer to do this as there can pick be pick-pockets. The auction houses now let anybody in who wants a look around on auction day.

You are allowed to have a look around as many lots and cars as you wish, for those cars that are included in the auction, so keep a pen and paper handy. You may usually have a look inside the car, then you can check all inside the cabin area, and remember there are no test drives are allowed. There are no warranties and a limited guarantee, meaning that this will probably run out the minute you drive it out of the auction house gates. Have a detailed look around the car or vehicle you are after, watch out for any overspray, dents and variations on the colour. Check the panels for evenness and no distortion, light lenses and chipped or cracked windows or windscreen. Have a look at the tyres, if they look too good i.e. newly ‘blacked’ and shiny this could mean other things may have been covered up as well.

When the car has been started and in line, ready for the selling queue, this may be the only chance for you to hear the engine running and check the colour of the exhaust fumes (especially diesels).

Properly run auction houses are registered members of the ‘Society of Motor Auctions’ (SMA).

Tips on Negotiating

Before even walking into a car dealers or a dealership, firstly do the legwork on the car you are after. Have a look at similar cars, types and prices. This will provide you with a guide for the car you’re looking for and within reason, the price you are prepared to pay, always have a limit and try to stick to it!

When talking to the dealer, be polite and friendly, but not over friendly, you are there to strike a deal that you will be happy with. Don’t be afraid to ask for any extra’s you can get with the car IE free car mats, effectively what they are going to ‘chuck in’ with a deal. The first price the seller asks; don’t accept this as usually he will have a further discount up his sleeve. It human nature, and he will try to get away with the first if he can. There is a term called ‘higher authority’ for example ‘I’m using the wife’s savings to pay for this, I’m sure you could do a little better? This can all help go towards achieving a lower price.

When negotiating have you ever heard the saying ‘have a little mouth and big ears’, when the seller comes back with a counter offer, try not to answer for ‘he who speaks loses’. This can be very difficult and you will be tempted to give a response but don’t forget, you are buying and the seller is selling. Sooner or later they will respond, even if they have no movement on the new price they maybe prepared to something else – A years free insurance, free breakdown cover, a good warranty.

For the private sellers and garages, these will need a slightly different approach. For example start by asking perhaps why they are selling the car, is there any movement on the price?

Although a little tedious, why not go down to the bank and draw out the money, cash can still be king as they say. If you are somewhere near the asking and the seller see’s you have come prepared to pay there and then this can go a long way. Try starting at a lower price and compromise unwillingly, dig out of them what they would be prepared to accept? Be patient and try not to upset the seller, there will always be another buyer out there and if you feel the car is right for you it would be a shame to have to let it go because you’ve said the wrong thing.

Sometimes a deal can be made by ‘meeting in the middle’ however if you split the price and they split it again, they have the upper hand of retaining 75% to your 25%. Negotiate by offering, half of your offer and half of the offer they have made to you. Then you will have met somewhere ‘in the middle’.


Buying and Selling  |  Buying a Used Car  |  Buying the Car  |  Selling Your Car  |  Types of Car  | 

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