Scrap or bargain? What you should consider when buying a used car

Scrap or bargain? What you should consider when buying a used car

Buying a used car is a cheap and quick way to obtain a car. The offer is very plentiful, and so are the pitfalls. The danger is not really paying too much for your car. If the car fulfills its purpose, a higher purchase price is not so bad. Really dramatic is the apparent bargain turning out to be a waste of money. Read in this article what to consider when purchasing a used car.

What are you looking for and which budget is available?

what to consider about a used carNobody is looking for “any car”. When looking to buy a used car, you have some kind of idea what you want. The good news is that there is a wide selection for almost any segment. This applies to every budget as well: generally it is possible to find a roadworthy Mercedes for 500 – 1000 euro and at least a year of MOT. In this respect, the market has changed in favour of the customer. In the higher price classes as well, plenty of cars with an adequate price-performance ratio can be found. Nevertheless there is always a great deal of swindle going on, too.
If a 1200 euro car gives up after a year, this is easier to stomach than a 5000 euro car leaving you with extensive damage. A cheap car can be easily replaced. If you start investing in a car of several thousand euros, visiting a garage is often unavoidable.

Cost factor devaluation

cost factor devaluation for a used carYou can be fairly certain that a used car loses half its value in five years. After that, its mileage, condition and maintenance become increasingly important. Nowadays, a car with fresh MOT and a clean, free of corrosion and spots bodywork is still worth 800 – 1200 euro, even if it is more than 10 years old. There is a great leeway in between, where particularly the seller will try to make the best deal possible.

Buying a used car – at private or car dealer?

where to buy a used carBuying a car at a retailer, you generally can expect a one-year warranty. On the other hand, these retailers are considerably more expensive. A retailer is always under pressure to get the best deal possible for the car. If you buy privately, you have no claim to warranty. Generally, private persons sell their car because they want to get rid of it. Depending on the car’s age, a private purchase can be therefore more lucrative.
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What makes up a value of a car?

how to check a used carThe age of a car has a leveling influence on the original purchase price or image. A 1995 C-class might still be a Mercedes, but its value has reached the same level as of an Opel Corsa from the same year of construction. These are general developments, which can’t be stopped. The factors influencing the estimated value of a car are:
– Original purchase price
– Age
– Mileage
– Condition
– Service log

The original purchase price, especially in the first five years is the basis for the price development. Therefore it is always important to know how much the car once was worth. The so-called near-new models (employee cars or showroom models) are in this respect a good alternative to a new car: they often have a modest mileage and even remaining warranty. On the other hand, they are already 30% cheaper than the original purchase price.

mileage of a used carThe mileage is still a decisive criterion, even though most engines are nowadays very durable. In the last years, however, there were dramatic quality flaws in several premium brands as well, causing engines to fail after 80.000 km. Exceeding 100.000 km a car starts to lose value considerably. As of 200.00 km the car has generally landed in the lowest price class.

Exceptions are few: a Porsche 911 might have any mileage on its speedometer. It can hardly be found less than 10.000 km. It has to be said that even with this mileage, the car is likely to last another 100.000 km at least.

To the condition belong: dents, scratches, paintwork quality, rust spots and the cleanliness of the interior. You should not allow yourself to be blinded by a shiny car. Dealers know how to generate a couple of hundreds extra with help of polisher.

The service log tells you everything about the car’s maintenance. If you buy a car with a service log, be sure to counter-check the car with the indicated garage (stamp), especially when buying from a free trader.

Walking around the car

You found an interesting used car? Be sure to inspect it thoroughly. The following observations are essential:

used car service checkHow old is the MOT? Does it plausibly correspond with the appearance of the car? If you are checking a car with a recent MOT and its headlights are dull, abort the purchase. This is obviously swindled.
buying a used car what to consider to secure yourself from cheatingOpen the bonnet: freshly cleaned or the usual dirt? A cleaned engine looks good, but can hide an oil leakage. Check for leaking oil or coolant.Touch the engine with the flat hand. Is it warm? The previous owner has run the engine to make it start better.

Open the oil filler cap. Is there any white foam beneath it? The cylinder head gasket is defective. This is also the case when the coolant is black from the oil.

External rust spots are unavoidable at a certain age. As long as they are on the outside, this is no drama. With your hand, feel under the sill, i.e. the support beam under the door. If there is rust there, the car needs welding.

Turn the steering wheel. Are the tyres worn on the inner side? In that case there is something wrong with the suspension. A tie-rod may be warped. Check the thickness of the brake discs and the brake linings. If this is only a few millimetres, the brakes will soon be up for repair. On this occasion, check the axle boots as well, situated directly behind the wheel. If these are ruptured with grease leaking out, they need to be replaced.

Run the engine. Does the exhaust make a noise? Step on the gas pedal a few time. Resistance should feel as normal.
Check the dashboard lighting: engine control lamp, power steering light, oil level, temperature and airbags: everything should light up at the start and immediately go out again. Check the entire lighting: inside and outside. During a test drive check if the car pulls to the side. Make a sharp braking maneuver, and see if the car leaves a track. This indicates a jamming caliper. During the test drive, also observe the damping and clutch performance.
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test drive of a used carAfter the test drive, check the engine again. Is there any oil or coolant leaking now? Check the maintenance condition with help of the attached information within the engine: brake fluid, timing belt, oil change all must be within their inspection interval. Check the thickest coolant hose by hand (be careful: warm!). If it feels tight, the cylinder head gasket is often defective as well.

Type-specific cases of used cars

Type-specific cases of used carsOnce you have made a choice for a certain car, by all means inform yourself about the typical weak points of these particular models. These can differ considerably depending on car brand. If you are interested in a VAG car (Audi, Volkswagen, Seat or Skoda) with TFSI engine, you might be in for a nasty surprise: these cars have serious problems with their piston rings, which can only be remedied by a repair of several thousands of pounds. Even if a car shines with a full service log and few miles on the speedometer and a fresh MOT, always inform yourself ACCURATELY and thoroughly about the model.

Foto: Billion Photos, ST22Studio, View Apart, Jerry Macedo,  Andrey_Popov, MoonAngelEyes, J. Lekavicius, Bartolomiej Pietrzyk, Anirut Krisanakul, Marcel Jancovic /

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