Do your homework, and don't be afraid to haggle
Yes, new cars are desirable -- but more and more of us are buying used examples. Shane O'Donoghue tells how to get it right
GIVEN how big a cash commitment buying a car can be, it's surprising how many of us do it without consulting with experts or enlisting help from experienced friends and family.
It's not a black art though; here are a few steps to have in mind before you go out in the big bad world of used car sales.
1 Know what you want
Before you lift the mouse to look online or open the classifieds in the paper, have a good long think about your budget. If you have a car to trade in, do a little research into how much it's worth and consider selling it privately.
It's more hassle, but most of the time you'll get more for it that way. If you go down the trader route think of the 'cost to change', which is the difference between what you're offered for your old car and the price of the new one. People often get obsessed with the actual value of their own car.
Once you have a total budget in mind, make sure you've factored in potential upfront costs such as road tax, insurance and an NCT. Think about your monthly outgoings and how much fuel you can afford to put into it.
All these things will narrow down the type of car that suits your needs. Be realistic. If you have a baby on the way, don't even consider a model with just two doors. Make a simple checklist with must-haves and definite must-not-haves and stick rigidly to that.
2 Research, research, research
With a budget and car type in mind, it's time to start browsing the classifieds. The newspapers are a good starting point, though websites such as www.carzone.ie, www.beepbeep.ie and www.donedeal.ie all have sophisticated search engines that make it easier to narrow your shortlist.
Virtually all used cars will have 'haggle room' in their posted price, so don't rule a car out for being advertised a little over budget.
Once you get a feel for what you can afford and what you like the look of, start considering where to buy. Generally, a main dealer will be the most expensive place to buy a used car, but you'd hope that it has been properly checked over and comes with a warranty. Independent dealers will be cheaper, though they may still offer decent warranties. Take the time to read the small print to see what you're getting. It's worth checking if a dealer is a member of SIMI (Society of the Irish Motor Industry), as they will have signed up to a code of ethics.
Don't rule out buying from a private seller, as you may get the best price, but be aware of the risks.
3 Take your time
Never hurry your inspection of a car. If the seller is rushing you then either put your foot down or walk away.
If at all possible start the car up from cold, as that's when most issues will be obvious. Likewise, inspect the car when it is dry and clean -- and not at night. Beads of water and dirt can hide scratches and damage to paintwork -- as can the dark.
As soon as you start the car, get out and look underneath for leaks. Check again after it's been idling for a while. Make sure the exhaust smoke isn't too blue, white or black, though ideally you'd have a mechanic or experienced friend along to help with such things. They should look at the condition and level of the oil on the dipstick and at the coolant too.
Inspect the exterior paintwork for signs of repair, dents or scratches. Inside, wear and tear should tie up with the mileage on the odometer. If in doubt, walk away. No matter what you find, be open with the seller and ask for more information.
Always take the car for a test drive. Make sure you're insured to do this, either through your own policy or the trader's. Listen out for any strange noises and check if the car tracks straight and true. Test every single switch in the cabin. This can take time, but the most common failing of a modern car is its electrics -- and they can be expensive to fix.
4 Boring paperwork
Don't take the seller at his word regarding a car's history. Take your time and inspect every piece of paperwork that comes with the car. Ideally it will have a full service history with receipts to prove the work was done. Confirm that the increase in mileage through the years has been regular.
Check NCT certificates for evidence that the reading on the odometer is correct and that it has not been tampered with. It should go without saying that you should be very suspicious of any car that does not have its registration book (the 'logbook').
5 Final checks
It's advisable to see as many examples of the type of car you're interested in as possible. That will quickly give you a feel for the condition they should be in for the price and year. It will also make it easier to spot a banger that could potentially cost you a fortune.
It's worth doing a history and finance check on the one car you reckon you'd definitely like. Cartell.ie has a range of options, from a simple history and mileage check for €20 to a service with all the bells and whistles including an engineer inspection and UK HPI check for €295. That may sound expensive, but it could unearth facts about the car that would end up costing you further down the line.
6 The dotted line
Every used car price has haggle room in it. Don't be afraid to walk away, or to threaten as much. Don't make stupidly low offers though, as the seller won't take you seriously.
If you're a cash buyer, that should make haggling easier. If you get a personal loan from the bank or credit union, that essentially makes you a cash buyer in the eyes of a trader.
It's also worth asking the dealer about finance offers that could spread the costs.
Sunday Independent Supplement