Buying a used car – some tips to help you avoid pitfalls

A tougher economic climate worldwide, and in South Africa, has forced many consumers to reconsider their spending patterns. An obvious indicator of this is that new car sales are significantly lower this year compared to the same period last year.

001-off-my-wheelsBrian Joss – According to the Automobile Association (AA) this trend will lead many consumers to consider buying used vehicles. But, the Association warns, buyers must be savvy when making these purchases.

According to the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of South Africa (Naamsa), industry sales in the first half of 2016 were 10,6% lower as against the same period last year. In June this year 44939 new vehicles were sold, 5300 less than in 2015.

Used cars:  use your head. Picture: Quickpic
Used cars: use your head. Picture: Quickpic

In March Wesbank predicted this decline in sales for the first half of the year.

“This sales performance is in line with our forecast for the year, and it’s been informed by a number of macro-economic factors. The rand has struggled, interest rates have been hiked and inflation has taken its toll on household budgets,” said Simphiwe Nghona, CEO of Wesbank Motor Retail.

Given this climate, the AA says it predicts a spike in used car sales with consumers seeking more affordable options.

“While buying a second-hand vehicle is a good option for many, buyers need to be aware that there are also pitfalls; there may be mechanical problems, body damage, replacement parts may be harder to source, and warranty benefits will expire sooner. It’s important that buyers conduct proper research, compare prices, and not rush into the first good deal they come across,” the AA said.

The AA said it is important that buyers shop around for used vehicles by scanning online car websites, scouring classified advertisements, consulting buyer’s guides, and visiting car lots to compare prices of makes and models they are interested in.

Start with your budget, look at your cash flow, and, if you need finance, determine how much you can afford to repay. From there, look at the cost of the car that you can afford and how much debt you are willing to take on and do not deviate from this.

“It’s important that you have a look at the car in daylight, inspect every inch of it, and take it for a test drive. If possible, have someone with mechanical insight take a look at the engine. For even more peace of mind buyers can take the car to their nearest AA Quality Assured specialist or Dekra centre for a bumper-to-bumper once over before they make their final decision,” the AA said.

Other items to check for when buying a used car include: For true peace of mind, deal with a franchised car dealer or an AA Quality Assured car dealer;  if you can stretch your budget, look at a low mileage demo model from a reputable dealer; these cars are usually well priced, almost new, and have often been well looked after (think shop soiled more than used); when test driving, check handling, brakes, and look for any signs of mechanical problems such as overheating; check the interior for any obvious faults such as ripped material or leather. The wear on the rubber of the brake, clutch and accelerator should be consistent with the age of the car;  turn off the radio while you test drive, check that there are no extra-ordinary knocking or rumbling sounds when you start it up; check that the battery terminals are clear of any build-up; check for smoke from the exhaust – this may mean some sort of engine damage; check that the body colour is even throughout the car, a change (even slight) may mean replacement body work has been done, and may indicate that the car was involved in a crash; look for overspray on the inside of body panels, this may also indicate body work has been done; check that the tyres are in a good condition, and if not, that replacements are both available and reasonably priced. Replacement tyres may be expensive, check prices beforehand to ensure that, if necessary, your budget will cover this; tyres with uneven wear may indicate bigger problems, not easily resolved with tyre alignment machines. Have this checked out with the rest of the car before you buy; if the vehicle has been in a crash, this need not always be terminal to the deal, a basic bumper-bashing may not indicate any structural damage, but make sure that you are happy that the damage is not significant AND that you are comfortable with the price / value for the transaction.

“This is not a definitive list but it may be a good starting point. Also always insist on the car’s paperwork and service record as this will also give you some idea of the car’s history and how well it has been cared for. Be careful of making hasty decisions; rather walk away from a deal than rush into something that you will regret, and always stick to your budget,” the AA advised.

The Association also warned that a roadworthy certificate (RWC) is not a guarantee that the car is problem-free. It is a document that simply states that the vehicle meets the minimum statutory requirements in terms of safety, such as brakes, suspension and lights. A car could have a RWC and still have a mechanical problem.

Finally, remember that a deal that sounds too good to be true, usually is.

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