| 6.7°C Dublin

Research is the key when buying a good used car


ALWAYS KICK THE TYRES: Danny DeVito as used car salesman Mr Wormwood in 'Matilda'

ALWAYS KICK THE TYRES: Danny DeVito as used car salesman Mr Wormwood in 'Matilda'

ALWAYS KICK THE TYRES: Danny DeVito as used car salesman Mr Wormwood in 'Matilda'

Buying a used car can present a minefield of potential problems - but whether you buy a car from a dealer or a private seller can have a noticeable effect on satisfaction levels.

According to a recent survey by the AA, a third of those who bought a used car within the last five years were not entirely happy with their purchase.

Of those who were dissatisfied, the most common reasons specified were a tsunami of repair bills and the overall reliability of the vehicle.

Poor after-sales service by the seller, suspected fraud, condition of the vehicle and fuel efficiency also featured as reasons for dissatisfaction.

More than two-thirds of respondents who bought a car from a registered SIMI dealer described themselves as very happy with their purchase, compared with only 53pc of those who bought from a non-registered dealer. Some 55pc of buyers from private sellers were very satisfied.

Most people think buying a used car privately rather than from a dealer will save you money, but this is only if you know the risks and can avoid them. If you buy from a dealer you will have the full protection of the Sale of Goods Act, which means the car must be roadworthy and as described in the advertisement.

However, if you buy privately, while it can save you some money up front, you won't be protected legally if the car doesn't come up to scratch.

'Caveat emptor' is definitely the name of the game, as it's up to you to ask the right questions and have the car thoroughly inspected. If you don't, what looked like a bargain may turn out to be, at best, a bad deal and at worst, a potential death trap.

Buying a used car shouldn't be a leap of faith. Here are our top tips to keep in mind when shopping for a used car.

1. Mileage

Home & Property

Get the best home, property and gardening stories straight to your inbox every Saturday.

This field is required

Check this against the most recent NCT cert. The interior of a car can also reveal a lot, carpets in particular can indicate very high mileages. Does the condition compare with the mileage and age of the car? Or does it seem too new?

Other tell-tale signs include worn-out upholstery and window winders, locks, wipers, dashboard instruments and pedal condition. Door sills should also be checked.

2. Bodywork

Dirt could be hiding scratches, dents, rust or shoddy repairs. Look underneath the car too for any signs of rust or damage. Paintwork should be in a good condition, the same colour and consistent all over. Make sure all the panels line up correctly and that none are a different shade, uneven, or heavily chipped by stones.

3. Engine

If you're not buying a show car and the engine bay is clean, be very wary! There's a good chance it's been cleaned to hide a leak or some other problem. Check the oil, coolant and other fluid levels and open the oil cap to check the condition of the oil.

4. Tyres

Have a look at the tread depth as well as the general condition of the tyres, including the spare. Uneven wear can signal suspension issues or if they are just generally worn it may be a sign of a car that hasn't been properly looked after.

5. Electrics and doors

Make sure everything works as it should - turn on the air conditioning or fans at full. Open and close all locks, doors and windows and keep an eye out for any signs of water leaks, paint on door rubbers, windows or uneven door shuts.

6. Service history

Ask for a full service history; this way you will know what kind of maintenance and repairs were done. Also check the registration document and service record - does everything match up?

7. Price

Do some research to determine if you are being asked to pay a fair price. Search online for cars of the same age, condition, mileage and those with similar extras.

Remember there are a number of other factors that will determine the value of a car, including equipment - such as electric windows, alloys, air conditioning, seat heaters and sat nav - number of previous owners and service history. Price will also vary depending on whether you are buying privately or from a dealer.

8. Test drive

Ask for at least half an hour's drive and choose a route that will take in town, open roads and, if possible, a motorway. If buying privately, make sure in advance your insurance will cover you for the drive. A dealer should provide cover for test drives.

Try every gear, including reverse, and test all the controls, including wipers, headlamps, heater and air conditioning. Turn the radio and a/c off and open the windows to ensure there are no unusual vibrations or a noisy exhaust. The engine should idle smoothly and rev evenly.

You should be able to switch between gears smoothly without any grinding noises. If the clutch is too stiff or weak that could be a sign of trouble. Test the brakes, including the handbrake.

After you've finished, lift the bonnet and check for oil or radiator leaks using a torch.

9. Check the car's history

Check if the car has a hidden history, such as outstanding finance or has been written off. Websites - such as motorcheck.ie - offer this service for a small fee.

Finally, use your common sense, be cautious and, above all, don't be afraid to walk away if you have any doubts.