What to Look Out For When Buying a Used Car

It’s always a stressful time when you have to buy a car. Are you buying a reliable model? Are you sure you can afford it? Will it have a decent resale value in another few years? 

But buying a used car over a new car comes with even more challenges. You’ve got to consider wear and tear, mileage and previous accidents on top of the usual big purchase thoughts.

You can buy used from an individual or a large recognised dealership, and every size seller in between. There’s the same worries no matter who you buy from but the risks get a little higher the smaller and less recognised the people you buy the car from.

If you’re worried about buying a lemon and want to know what to look out for no matter who you buy from, read through this guide to be fully informed.  

Checklist For Buying a Used Car

Checking a used car before paying a single penny is important. First you have to check and inspect everything the car’s owner/dealer says about it. We all prefer to take a person for their word and it’s likely the seller is telling the truth about everything they’ve said about the car. 

But if you’re unfortunate enough to deal with that one unscrupulous person it could really bite you later. 

Here is a quick list to help you know what to look for when buying a used car:

  1. Do a Cartell Report

A Cartell report checks car registration in Ireland and the U.K. The report includes:

  • Damage
  • Mileage
  • Finance
  • Warranty
  • Vehicle history

The Cartell verification service is reliable because it’s an Irish motoring data company that gathers and analyses vehicle data. Besides, car experts, insurance companies, and financial institutions use Cartell reports every day for their work.

Whenever you plan to buy a used car getting a full history report is wise. You can compare all the details of the car to the car in front of you. If anything doesn’t match and doesn’t have a very good reason, I’d walk away.

 A mismatch of details such as being written off but not reported to you or a change in car mechanics is a large red flag and might mean the seller is trying to hide something. The car might have been badly repaired after a large crash, or worse, could be a stolen car with fake details. 

A cartell report will also let you know if the car was imported from the UK. UK cars often come with extra features and functions but you might have to deal with a speedometer being in Mph forever. If it is imported, double check the Vehicle Registration Tax (VRT) has been paid. 

  1. Check Car’s Documents

Ask the dealer/owner for all the car’s documents once you are done checking the history. There are different car documents which serve different purposes. Keep reading for examples of documents.

Service History

After every service your service book will get a stamp and date from the mechanic. They’ll write down the date and mileage when it was complete, if it was a minor or major, and anything abnormal that had to be repaired or replaced. It’s a history of how well the car has been maintained mechanically so it’s very important.

The booklet also shows if any repair has been done to your car. That way, you will know if your car went through any repairable damage in the past.

Registration Forms

These forms are valuable as they show the true owner of the car you want to buy. The car registration form is an original document that includes the car’s details and the owner’s. Every time the car is sold to a new owner, a section of the form is sent to the motor tax office and a new form is sent back to the new owner. 

When dealing with a used car dealer, you must ask them to show the original car’s registration form. Without that form, you might never know the car’s real owner. If they don’t have the form, you might be looking at a stolen car. 

NCT History

National Car Test (NCT) is a legal requirement in Ireland once a car reaches a certain age. NCT determines that a car is suitable and safe for the roads. If you drive a car without the roadworthiness test, you will face Class C fines and penalty points.

NCT includes the following:

  • Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)
  • Odometer reading
  • Electronic braking system
  • Anti-lock braking system

Ask the owner or dealer to provide the NCT history of the car. You can verify the car’s previous performance and know if the car faced any penalties by failing the roadworthiness test in the past. 

  1. Prepare a Checklist

You must go over the car physically and the best way is with a checklist. The previous documents give you information about the car’s history and performance. So the last step before finalising your decision is to visually inspect the car.

Start With Car’s Interior and Exterior

The sub-checklist should start by comparing the car’s interior and exterior with the car’s history, as mentioned in the documents. Things like the colour of the car will be listed in the logbook. If it’s not the same, it could have been repainted after an accident. Compare the car’s age with how you’d expect a car that old or new to look. If it’s in good condition, the previous owner probably cared enough to also take good care mechanically. If it’s extremely worn it might mean the opposite. 

While checking the car’s interior and exterior, look for any damage. Some owners or dealers might never tell you and hope you don’t notice. 

Check Body Panels

Check the car’s body panels and look for different shades of colours. Unfortunately, that colour difference in the body panel is likely due to a crash. That’s why it’s been replaced or repainted. If it was a minor repair and the seller informed you, this may be ok. 

When you find out the different coloured body panels, check whether it’s mentioned in the service history. If the owner hasn’t mentioned it, they are hiding more damage but not telling you, it could be a much bigger crash. Therefore, it’s better to abandon the deal.

Check Car’s Electronic Components

Coming to the electronic components, start with the outside, checking the car’s lights. It seems obvious but it could be months before you realise a fog light is gone. Turn on and off the car’s lights and check them individually. If you’ve brought a friend ask them to confirm they’re working, otherwise ask the seller to get in the car and you check visually instead. 

Check the car’s tech features like:

  • AC
  • Stereo/infotainment 
  • Navigation

These features enhance the car’s value. However, some dealers might not repair these features and will inform you even before you inspect the tech features.

After checking all the electronic components, it’s time for a test drive.

Take a Test Drive

We don’t recommend buying a car without a test drive first. Start the car and focus on any unusual noises. Ensure that the ignition and the engine’s revving are normal. Get out of the car and open the bonnet, listen for any squeaking which could mean a timing belt or pulley is getting worn. Wait for a moment and let the engine warm up. Meanwhile, check for warning lights on the dashboard.

Once the car is ready, hit the road and check the following:

  • Acceleration
  • Brakes
  • Steering
  • Tires

Progress with the deal only if you are satisfied with the car’s performance. 

Final Words

Buying a used car is also a big decision. You must always check the car’s history, performance, service, and other documents. Follow this guide the next time you need a change or upgrade.

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