Don’t Become Scammed with Used Cars


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Buying a used car? “Don’t become scammed” with used cars.
With the value of cars depreciating so quickly, buying a used car can represent good value for money. But make sure you do your homework.

Second-hand does not necessarily mean second-rate. Used cars offer value for money. Nearly-new cars are thousands of pounds cheaper than the same car fresh from the factory, yet they may be only a few months old – weeks old if it is a dealer demonstrator and is still under warranty.

Ironically, second-hand cars can be more reliable than new vehicles. Cars up to five years old will have had teething problems sorted out and still offer years of trouble-free motoring.

Also, a used car’s value will not plummet as rapidly as a new one’s. Buy second-hand and the person who bought it new will have suffered the biggest chunk of its depreciation.

Second-hand can make luxury affordable. For the price of a very small new car, you can buy a much bigger second-hand model with extra-plush features.

You must be careful. There’s the danger of ‘clocking’ – the scam whereby dealers wipe miles off the car’s mileometer to increase its value. Unfortunately the practice is rife and hard to spot.

And there’s always a chance that the bargain in your driveway is a stolen or crash-damaged car, has finance owing on it or is an insurance write-off that should have been scrapped. You may not be able to recover your money and you may end up losing the car as well.

Legal protection is very limited when buying a car privately from a member of the public. There is always the possibility you will pay too much for the car – and nobody likes that (bar the seller).

Buying from non-franchised dealers
Used car dealers have earned themselves something of an ‘Arthur Daley’ reputation for dodgy dealing, overcharging, clocking and poor back-up service, so precautions are necessary.

Check the dealer is a member of the Retail Motor Industry Federation (0207 580 9122, ) which demands certain standards. The more professional independent will also offer cars that have passed an RAC or AA pre-sale check.

Buying privately
This is the cheapest way to buy but it is often the riskiest. Look through specialist used car magazines in your newsagent and local newspapers. Take your time to find the car you want at the price you want to pay.

The drawback is that while on a dealer forecourt you can see dozens of cars to buy, a private seller should only be selling one so you might have to do a lot of shopping around. Buying privately severely restricts your rights in law if the car proves a dud.

Buying from a franchised dealer
Almost every car-maker sells approved used cars through their franchised dealers. These cars have been thoroughly checked, are usually less than three to four years of age, come with an MOT, full service history and warranted mileage, plus mechanical/breakdown insurance.

Buying from a dealer gives you the all-important legal protection under the Sale of Goods and Trades Description Acts as well as the security of having somewhere to take the car back to, but you will pay more. Dealers also sell non-approved cars which will be cheaper but without the legal reassurance.

Checking the paperwork
If the vendor does not have the car’s registration V5 document, walk away. Accept no excuses about the V5 being ‘in the post’ or ‘lying around somewhere’. If it is not present the car may be stolen.

Examine the V5. Hold it up to see it has a watermark. Is the car registered to the person selling the car, and at the address you and the car are standing in front of? If not, why not? The car’s number plate must match the document’s registration number. The Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) on the V5 should match the car’s.

Cars over three years old must have an MOT. Check the car’s details match those on the MOT. If the car’s mileage is lower than the MOT’s it has been ‘clocked’.

Check previous garage bills and look through any service history. Gaps in servicing should ring alarm bells. Mileages in the service history should increase gradually and not be higher than the mileage on the car mileometer.

Checking over the car
Do not go to view a used car alone and always go during the day. Take a friend for security to give you confidence and to act as a witness. If you are not an expert make sure your friend is or pay an expert to come with you.

With a private sale, view the car at the owner’s home. This increases the chances of dealing with a genuine private vendor and not a rogue trader. NEVER arrange to see a car at a pub, a service station, or other public place.

Check the bodywork for any mismatch of paint (evidence of a re-spray after a prang). Peel back rubbers around the windows and open the petrol/diesel tank filler flap. Different coloured paint beneath shows the car has been re-sprayed after damage. Always take your potential purchase for a test drive. Leave if it is refused.

Check that all the instruments, and any electrics like sunroof or windows, are working and do this at least twice. What about the lights, radio, CD, heater and air conditioning? Anything that doesn’t work is a bargaining tool to reduce the price.

How to haggle
Do a bit of research and find out how much cars similar to the used one you want are selling for. Check car magazine prices and take the magazine with you to show the vendor you know what you are talking about.

Hard cash can be your best bargaining tool when buying privately. Few sellers will resist £6,700 in cash for a car they are asking £7,200 for – but make sure the car is theirs to sell.

Take a pen and pad and jot down the car’s faults – each one is a money-saver. For example bald tyres will cost hundreds of pounds to replace, which should come off the asking price.

Used car dealers come to a point where they cannot cut any more cash off the price – but they might ‘throw in’ extras such as a new MOT, full service or tank of fuel, that costs them a lot less than it would you.

Decide on how much you can afford to spend before you start looking, and be strict in sticking to your limit. But don’t let the dealer know what it is. And do not offer more after being told ‘I’ve got two other buyers interested.’ If they were that keen the car would be sold.

Be realistic and keep it friendly. You don’t need to be aggressive or confrontational, especially with a dealer you might be taking the car back to for a service in six months.

Remember, millions of used cars are sold each year so if the vendor won’t come down to the price you want, walk away – the sight of a receding back often prompts another price cut.

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