What you should check and be aware of when buying a second-hand car privately

The used car market in Ireland is thriving. Normally there are almost 2.5 used cars purchased for every new car, but anecdotal evidence indicates the marketplace is busier than ever.

What hasn’t changed is the fact that buying a used car can be overwhelming and a bit of a minefield. That said, buying a used car is thankfully not as much of a lottery as it once was. Cars are now more reliable than they were previously, and there are websites you can use to check the history of a car before you decide to buy it. Information on a car’s previous NCT record is also helpful in giving you an overall idea of the quality of the car. 

This is particularly important when buying a used car privately rather than from a reputable dealer. After all, buying privately can make financial sense. However, you still need to be cautious and use common sense. The tips below will help you buy a used car with confidence.

Making the Right Choice

There are two main rules you should try to keep in mind when buying a used car:

⦁    Buy with your head and not your heart. 
⦁    If you are unsure about anything, be prepared to walk away. 

Remember, unless you are looking for a rare or classic car, another option will be just around the corner.

Some of the points below are challenging to resolve. These are the situations where you should seriously consider walking away. However, there are other situations where issues may present you with a negotiating position that you can use to either get the seller to fix the problem or reduce the price.

Always remember when buying a used car privately that it is up to you to spot potential problems. The seller may not volunteer information, so you need to ask the right questions.

Key Questions to Ask

⦁    Can I see the logbook for the car? 
An obvious one, but this proves the legitimacy of ownership.

⦁    Has this car ever been in a crash or been written off?
This can also be checked on various websites once you pay a small fee. Asking the question can also be a way of checking the honestly of the seller, even if you know the answer.

⦁    Does the car have a full-service history?
A full-service history is a great way to know if the car has been cared for consistently over time. Also, understanding the background of the car helps you predict how reliable the car will be.

⦁    Does the car have a valid NCT?
It is compulsory to have an up-to-date NCT on your car if it is four years or older. This is the responsibility of the vehicle owner. If the car you are considering has recently passed the NCT test, it is reassuring and is an indicator of quality. It is not a guarantee, of course, as the NCT is about safety rather than quality. But a valid NCT is better to have than not.
If the car has a valid NCT that will be expiring soon, you might be able to haggle off some money.     

⦁    How many owners has this car had?
This information should be readily available through online sources or the logbook. That said, there is no harm in asking. As a general rule, most used car buyers prefer cars that have as few previous owners as possible.

What to Check

So, what do you need to check before buying a used car? Here are the main areas:

⦁    The engine – this is the heart of the car, so it requires regular maintenance. You don’t need to be a mechanic to do a few basic checks. Start by checking if there are any warning lights on the dashboard. Also, have a listen to the engine when it is running – does it sound smooth, or can you hear bumps, rattles, or strange noises?

⦁    Leaks – leaks are among the easier things to spot when checking a used car. A well-maintained car should not leak, so check underneath to see if there are tell-tale signs. You should also open the bonnet and check around the engine for leaks. 

⦁    Check the gearbox and clutch – the gearbox and clutch are all about feel. Whether the car is a manual or an automatic, the gears should engage smoothly and quietly. If they don’t, you may be in trouble. 

⦁    Check the bodywork – any discolouration in the car’s bodywork might suggest the car has been in an accident. You should also check for any signs of rust. Rust often begins by bubbling under the paint. If left unchecked, it can force the paint off, eventually rusting through.

⦁    Mileage and warning lights – once you turn on the ignition, you will see if any warning lights appear on the dashboard. You can also confirm the car’s mileage is as advertised.

⦁    Wheels and tyres – check all four tyres for signs of damage and the depth of the tread. Also, look for signs the wheels might be damaged. Don’t forget to check the spare wheel, too, if the car has one.

Finally, make sure you take the car on a test drive. Not only will this tell you if you like the car, but you might also spot potential issues.

Bonus Tip

If you decide to purchase a used car, it is always a good idea to get it serviced as soon as possible. You should factor this into your budget and then book a servicing slot with your local First Stop branch.

Click here to find your nearest First Stop Tyres & Car Services Ireland branch.