Commercial insurance article archive
A step by step guide to buying a second hand car
Although the car manufacturers would love to be able to tell us differently, for many of us, buying a second hand vehicle is still the most realistic route into car ownership. While pre-owned vehicles can be much more affordable than their hot off the production line counterparts, however, the process of actually buying one isn't quite as simple. So, how do you go about it?
Step 1: Knowing what to buy
The relatively low prices of some second-hand cars can make it easy to convince yourself that you really can afford that flashy little sports car you've stumbled across at the local car dealer. Think carefully, though: yes, the price may be low, but the insurance could be high, especially if the car of your dreams turns out to be an import, or has a more powerful engine than you really need. Older cars will need more regular maintenance than newer ones, and if the car you've found is rare or imported, you may find that parts will be expensive and hard to find.
That's not, of course, to say that all older cars are a bad deal – far from it. It's simply a matter of knowing what you need, and finding the best car to fit that need. If you're looking for an easy-to-run vehicle for the school run and grocery shopping, then, don't be seduced by a Porsche, no matter how good the deal! You should also think realistically about how much your chosen car will cost to run (including fuel, tax, insurance and maintenance), and how much you can afford to pay.
Don't know what you're looking for? A magazine such as What Car? will lay out the pros and cons of different makes and models, but if you're really unsure, it's best to seek the advice of someone in the know. Which brings us to step two…
Step 2: Where to Buy a Second Hand Car
You'll find second hand cars for sale from a wide variety of vendors, from private seller's who've sellotaped a "For Sale" sign to their window, to professional new and used car dealerships. If you're very unsure about buying second hand, a dealership is your best bet, providing you with the peace of mind that the car you're buying is of good quality, and that you'll have some come back should anything go wrong. Most dealers will also offer incentives such as part-exchange on your existing car, credit schemes and warranties.
The downside of all of this, of course, is that you'll pay more for your vehicle than you will if you go to a private seller or auction, both of which are other options for those in the market for a second hand car. When you buy privately in this fashion, you'll have the best chance of finding a true bargain. However, you'll have no legal comeback if there's a problem with the car, and it's up to you to make sure that the car is roadworthy, and not likely to develop problems.
Finally, the Internet is becoming an increasingly popular option for those in the market for a used car, with sites such as http://www.buyacar.co.uk allowing visitors to browse a "virtual garage", request a quote and even part-exchange their existing vehicle.
Each of these venues will allow you access to a wide variety of used vehicles, with the decision on where to shop ultimately coming down to how confident you are about your ability to pick a good car. Auctions and private sales will give you the best opportunity to haggle, and to find yourself a bargain, but if your top priority is purchasing a reliable car with a warranty, you may be more comfortable buying from a reputable dealer.
Step 3: Vetting your car
If you're buying your car from a dealer, all of the relevant documentation should be provided for you. If you're buying privately, make sure you're given the registration documentation and MOT certificate, which will tell you that the vehicle is road worthy. Don't just pocket the registration document without looking at it: you should check to make sure the name and address of the owner is, in fact, the name and address of the person you're buying for, and that the registration number on the vehicle's tax disc matches the one of the registration document.
Other things to look out for are the vehicle's VIN number, which is located either under the bonnet or on the chassis. This number also appears on the registration document, and will help establish whether the vehicle has had its identity changed. If in any doubt at all, it's a good idea to take a knowledgeable friend with you or, in the absence of someone with a knowledge of cars, to ask to have the vehicle inspected by a garage or by one of the road recovery services vehicle inspectors . You will be charged for this, but it will at least give you some additional piece of mind.
Finally, before you consider parting with your hard earned cash, a vehicle data check is recommended. This will reveal whether the car has been written off, stolen or has any finance outstanding (which may affect your rights as owner), whether the milage has been adjusted (or "clocked"), any colour changes and whether the number plate has been transferred.
Step 4: Negotiating a price
When buying privately, you have a much better chance of being able to negotiate on the price of your new car – indeed, this is one of the main reasons people choose to go down this route rather than simply going to a dealer. Asking for a discount can be daunting if you've never done it before, but arming yourself with as much knowledge as possible will help. Don't go into a sale without having done your research and found out what the car is worth, and don’t be embarrassed about asking for a lower price – haggling is part and parcel of the used car world. That said, don't be aggressive about it either: be friendly but not overpowering, and ask for a lower price than you're prepared to pay, so that you have room to haggle upwards. Don't be afraid to walk away if the seller doesn't seem prepared to budge on the price: if they want the sale, they'll be forced to negotiate, if not, the vehicle is too expensive for you anyway!
Step 5: Finalising the sale
When paying for your new vehicle, make sure you get a written receipt confirming the amount. The seller must also provide you with the V5 registration document: you will need this to notify the DVLA of the change of ownership. You must also make sure that the vehicle is correctly road taxed, and that you're insured to drive.
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29 Jan 2007