Top tips for buying a used car

Know your budget, do your research and know what to look for when buying a used car.

When buying a used car, whether it’s privately or via a dealership, it comes with a certain amount of risk.

However, if you know your budget, do your research, and know what to look for, you could find yourself a bargain.

Most importantly, know your budget.

“Remember to include car insurance and fuel costs in your budget,” advised Barend Smit, Marketing Director of MotorHappy.

“If you’re purchasing an out-of-warranty car, a maintenance plan and extended warranty offers peace of mind and limits financial risk.”

Once you’ve narrowed down your budget, begin shopping for your previously loved vehicle.

Below are some top tips for buying a used car:

1. Take the car for a test drive and inspect it thoroughly. A physical inspection of the car you choose is vitally important, as it will tell you what the paperwork does not. Enlist the help of an expert if you have access to one. If not, use this list of things to check when inspecting your prospective vehicle:

• Check the car’s service history against the manufacturer’s maintenance period recommendations.

• Open the bonnet and look for oil leaks below the engine, inspect the electrical wiring in the engine compartment for burnt wires, inspect the radiator for leaks and cracked plastic tubing. Also inspect the radiator fluid. This should be a clear, coloured liquid.

• Check the body for misaligned panels, uneven gaps, or mismatched paint. These are signs of potential accident damage.

• Inspect the tyres. Uneven wear is a sign of unbalanced wheels, misaligned suspension, or worn shock absorbers. If possible, turning the tyres all the way to one side allows you to look at the brake pads. Check or question if these still have an acceptable life.

• Start the engine while listening (and feeling) for any “out of place” noises when starting it up, when it is idling, or when it is revved.

• Look at the wear and tear on the carpet, pedal rubber and gear stick. These should match the mileage of the car.

• Test-drive it. Not just around the dealership, take it onto a highway as well. Make sure you concentrate on the sounds the engine makes (so turn off the radio), the “feel” of the clutch, whether the basics such as indicators, wipers, radio, air con, hazard warning lights, windows and doors, fuel gauge, odometer, speedometer and seat belts all work properly.

• Get advice from people you know who have the same car your heart (and wallet) is set on.

2. Consider whether it’s a good lifestyle fit. If you have children or an adventurous lifestyle, check that the car fits all your gear such as prams, infant car seats, bikes and more.

3. Conduct research to find out more about the car’s strengths and weaknesses. Look beyond the aesthetics of a car and assess its worth based on safety, comfort and driveability.

4. Use an online calculator to assess the car’s depreciation rate. This will help when deciding between two similarly priced cars, as you might want to opt for the car with a lower rate of depreciation.

5. Shop around! Try other cars in the price/ car-type range, so you’re able to compare, and get a good sense of what else is available.

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