Here on the MicksGarage blog we reckon we know a thing or two about buying a decent used car, we've done so ourselves countless times, so we've put together our top 10 car buying tips so that you can benefit from our experience (and mistakes!)
1. Do your homework: Decide on a make and model you want then find out everything you can about that car. Find out what parts give trouble, what are the service intervals, what are the known faults? Also do a quick check on how much a service will cost. You can either ring up a main dealer and get a price there or have a look at MicksGarage.com and drop in the reg of the new car, then select all the filters, brake pads, oil and wiper blades to get a full service parts cost. Also http://www.carsurvey.org/ is a great website with owners reviews and complaints of nearly every make and model of car. Also search the internet forums and see what people are saying about the car you have your heart set on. Also check the price that you expect to pay. Anything that is grossly under that price and it probably is too good to be true.
2. History check: If you're serious about a particular car and your heart is set on it then spend a few bob and get a full history check, they can be done over the phone and generally cost about £30.00/€35.00. They will tell you if there is any outstanding finance, registered crash damage, if it has been stolen and the number of previous owners. It will put your mind at ease, particularly if you're buying a car in a location where you will have to travel a while before seeing it. You've a greater chance of the trip being successful if the history check is clear. **Bonus tip for Irish readers - If buying a car in the UK, we'd recommend you get an AA Vehicle Inspection, where a AA registered expert mechanic will perform over 200 checks on the car and again highlight any problems. Before making the trip over, this should be done.
3. General Condition: Does the general condition of the car match the mileage on the clocks? Look for excessive wear on all the contact points such as driver’s seat near the door, steering wheel, gear lever and most commonly used buttons such as electric windows and radio. Excessive stone chips on the bonnet can often be a sign of high motorway mileage possibly indicating it was a sales reps car. Are there bumps and scrapes on the bodywork? Are there cigarette burns on the drivers A pillar or in the seats? Is the ashtray clean or overflowing? Does the car have its hand book or owner’s manual? Are the tool kit, jack and spare wheel all where they should be? All these things can help to tell you if the car been cared for and looked after or has it been abused and neglected and will only take you a few minutes to check. Is there a really strong smell of disinfectant and/or air freshener. Perhaps its masking a hidden smell of damp or dog! Believe us, we've been caught with this one.
4. Paint & Crash Damage: Look for any obvious signs of panel damage, check for over spray, look inside the door jams and check for visible signs of areas that have been masked off, check under the carpet in the boot and look at the spare wheel as well to make sure there are no creases in the metal, if possible try and look at the front chassis legs for damage too. If possible try and view the car on a dry day as the rain will sometimes help to mask any paintwork or blemishes that may not be mentioned.
5. Paperwork: Read the cars paperwork properly. Make sure the chassis and engine numbers match the ones on the car, check the reg plate matches and make sure the car wasn't a taxi, also double check the number of owners.
6. Electrics: Turn on the ignition, make sure the ABS and Airbag lights come on, start the car and make sure the light then go out. Check every single button, switch and lever in the car and make sure everything works.
7. Engine: Try to view the car when the engine is cold. Take off the oil filler cap and expansion tank cap and look for creamy sludge on the cap. Check the dipstick and see if there's any oil in the engine, if there's barely any, how well has this car been looked after? Does the car start easily from cold? Check for smoke on start-up. White smoke on turbocharged engines can indicate a turbo on its way out. Listen to the engine, is it excessively noisy or 'tappety'? Check for any signs of oil or fluid leaks and lastly find out what the timing belt interval is and when it was last changed. Does the engine idle smoothly?
8. Suspension, Steering & Drive: If the tracking is way out then something is wrong, excessively worn tyres on the inner or outer edges can be a sign of this. Drive the car on a rough road and make sure there are no knocks, rattles, clunks or squeaks from the suspension. Turn the steering to full lock in both directions and drive forwards, loud clunks or clicking indicate worn CV joints. Listen for a drone or whine that increases with speed, this would indicate wheel bearing issues.
9. The Seller: If at all possible meet the seller at their house or very close to it perhaps in the same estate. If it is a private sale and the seller is genuine they should have absolutely no problem with this. Deals done in pub car parks are a big no no!
10. Service History: A car with a full, documented service history is a huge selling point. I would rather buy a car with 100,000 miles on it that has been properly maintained than one with 50,000 miles that has been neglected with no history. Look for main dealer or mechanic stamps at the correct service intervals, receipts for parts and labour.