For many people, a car is the second most expensive purchase they make. Buying the right car can be easy but it’s just as easy to encounter expensive pitfalls, especially when buying used. You need to check on everything, from the car tyres upwards and here are some pointers to help you.
Start by making sure you are looking at the right kind of car for your needs. No matter how much you may want to, you won’t fit a family of four in a two-seater sports car. Most people don’t make such an obvious error but many buy a car that’s too big for their garage, too thirsty for their wallet or too expensive to maintain. All cars have tyres, not all have the ability to be run on a shoestring – and you’ll always lose if you have to sell.
Lets assume you’ve found a car. What next? You have to be certain that the car matches the claims made about it. Checking the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) is a primary requirement. Does it match the number in the V5 document? If it doesn’t or isn’t clearly stamped, without any evidence of tampering, the car could be stolen, a ‘ringer’, or the result of two write-offs welded together.
If the VIN is good, does the history add up? We’re talking paperwork here, as well as the state of the car itself. Good car tyres, not to mention shiny paintwork and a ludicrously low mileage are of little value if the mileage figures in the previous MOT certificates don’t tally. No MOT certificates? This is your cue to walk away.
Much the same goes for service history, which usually has a record of miles covered in it. If the car has in fact been serviced as it should have been, preferably by an approved dealership, which has entered the details into the service record, the car’s beginning to look like a good buy. If every last invoice for what has been spent is present and correct, so much the better. This may include receipts for new tyres, an exhaust, a battery and any accessories.
If buying from a car dealer, a genuine HPI certificate must be provided by law. If buying from a private individual, you can arrange to have an HPI inspection. An HPI check validates the car’s history and will reveal any shady elements in its past. Remember that, if buying privately, you will buy a car ‘as seen’. This means that you can set tyres to tarmac quite happily but if the engine grenades on the way home, it’s your problem. There is no recourse in a private sale.
When looking at the car, be very, very critical indeed. If it has been repaired and the repairs have been professionally done, that’s fine. If you see badly-matching paint, poor panel gaps, scuffed tyres and ripply surfaces, the car has been badly repaired. Under the bonnet, look out for oil leaks, corrosion, fluid stains and amateur fixes. Pull out the dipstick and look at the oil. Is it black and treacly? Look elsewhere.
Car tyres can be excellent tell tales, as can the wheels that carry them. Uneven tyre wear suggests suspension misalignment at best, damage at worst. Tyres with 3 millimetres or less of tread need replacing, which won’t cost the seller a penny. The same goes for cracked tyres or ones with lumps or bulges. Alloy wheels that have been badly kerbed will show significant damage, and say a lot about how the car has been driven.
Finally, remember these golden rules. One: you can always find a rival example of the car you’re examining. Two: it’s a buyer’s market; you can always walk away. Three: always buy with your head, rather than your heart!