Buying A Used Car

Buying a second hand car is a potential minefield. Recent surveys show that up to one in four second hand cars bought has a major problem within its first month. These problems can range from major mechanical failure to discovery of illegal sale. To help you avoid this minefield, the Driving School Register has prepared some helpful advice on buying second hand cars.

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First and most important, always check the car’s log book or registration document to validate ownership, accuracy of age and mileage. Whether you’re buying from a dealer, through a private sale or at an auction, don’t rely on the MOT as evidence of a car’s condition.

You should always consider commissioning a vehicle history check from a reputable data source
in order to check on previous owners, and possible insurance claims.

First impressions count! Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Does the car appear genuine? If you feel pressured into a buy on a car that is a good deal (on price) anyway, there could be a hidden reason for the salesman trying to move the car faster.
  2. Does the model badge match the specification on the registration documents? Adding a plastic letter to the model badge is a cheap way of pushing up the asking price.
  3. Are the body panels consistent and is there any evidence of repaired accident damage?
  4. Does the colour and texture of the paintwork match all over?

Check the bodywork with a magnet to show up any dents touched up with body filler. Check for paint bubbles and rust particularly on the sills, wheel arches, seams, door bottoms and suspension mountings. Check beneath the bonnet or under the boot for bad welds, untidy seams or any other evidence of accident repairs. Whilst you are looking for rust, look for vehicle identification marks. These are a unique code that is embossed into the metal chassis, engine and windows of the vehicle. If you can’t see them immediately, ask to be shown them. Look for signs of tampering, and check that they are the same as the identification codes in the driver’s manual and on the rest of the vehicle.

Check headlights, dashboard warning lights and other electrical equipment. Electric window and central locking repairs can be expensive. Check the obvious things, such as the hazard lights, windscreen wipers and the horn. If there is a stereo fitted make sure it is included in the sale and that it works. If the stereo is loose or can be removed check it’s wiring and fitting.

Look for oil leaks, defective or damaged hoses and drive belts. The general condition of the engine can reveal the degree of care and attention the car has received.

Check oil and coolants for low levels or any sign of contamination. If the engine is reconditioned, ask for evidence; a bill or preferably a warranty. If the engine does not have a matching identification mark, ask why. Ask for evidence; a bill or preferably a warranty for the new engine. New engines are generally only fitted as a result of excessive mileage on the vehicle or major damage to the old engine. If the mileage on the vehicle is low, ask how it came to have a new engine.

Make sure the seatbelts show no sign of damage or wear. Check for loose buckles and faulty mountings. Badly worn seats, pedals, gear stick and steering wheel can suggest high mileage more accurately than an odometer reading, especially if there is no service history available. If the mileage is low, and the driving controls are badly worn, ask if the odometer has been ‘max-clocked’ i.e., reached its maximum, then returned to zero. Ask if the mileage is correct (it is an offence to alter the mileage of a vehicle). Check door, window and sunroof seals for any sign of leaking. Damp patches in the carpet could mean a rusting floor panel.

Test Drive
Always take a drive that is long enough to test the car properly. Try a route involving a variety of road conditions: hills, stop-start urban driving and open roads. On the drive listen out for any odd noises that could indicate problems. Make sure you are comfortable in the car! This may seem like a simple thing, but you are going to be spending time in the car. If you can’t adjust the seat to a comfortable driving position, you are not going to enjoy your purchase. Make the most of the opportunity to test the priorities: steering, brakes and clutch. At the end, let the engine idle and check under the bonnet for oil or water leaks. Listen to the engine! It speaks volumes about the car. Whirrs, clicks, bumps and squeals all point to things that you might not be able to see when you look under the bonnet.

Check all tyres including the spare for tread depth and damage. The grooves of the tread pattern must be at least 1.6mm. Under-inflation not only shortens the life of the tyres, it can also mean higher fuel consumption, longer braking distances and a noisier ride. Check for any bulges or cuts in the tyre walls which could lead to a blow-out at speed.

Hints and Tips
Determine how much you wish to spend prior to going to buy a car – do not exceed this amount. Decide which questions you will ask prior to going to buy the car – record the answers to these questions on paper and ask the seller to sign and date the document. Ask whether the vehicle has been involved in an accident or whether it is imported. Check engine numbers/chassis numbers match the documentation provided with the vehicle. Ask to test drive the car, but ensure that appropriate insurance is obtained.

Your Rights
When buying a second hand car, your consumer rights vary, depending on whether you purchase your vehicle from a private individual or a dealer. As a rule, you have more rights to recompense if you purchase from a dealer, and later find the vehicle to be at fault. If you are considering a claim, consider the time involved from your purchase and conditions experienced by your vehicle. The closer to your time of purchase, the more validity you claim has.

If your vehicle was bought from a dealer, you have rights under basic consumer law. Firstly, as with all goods purchased from a merchant, you have basic consumer protection. A second-hand vehicle must match its description, be fit for its purpose and be of satisfactory quality. However, the standard for meeting the requirement that the vehicle is of satisfactory quality will be lower than that for a brand new vehicle because it is second-hand. A second-hand vehicle should be in reasonable condition and work properly. When deciding whether a second-hand vehicle is in reasonable condition it is important to consider the vehicle’s age and make, the past history of the vehicle and how much you paid for it. If a second-hand vehicle needs more extensive repairs than seemed necessary at the time it was bought, this does not necessarily mean that the vehicle is not of satisfactory quality. A second-hand vehicle can be of satisfactory quality if it is in a useable condition, even if not perfect. If you have a complaint about the vehicle, it will have to be established that the defects were present when you bought it.

Breach of Contract
In addition to the sale of the vehicle, you and the dealer may have agreed other terms and conditions, for example, that certain repairs would be done before delivery or that delivery would be by a certain date. If the dealer does not keep to these agreed terms they will have broken the contract.

Criminal Offence Committed By The Dealer
The dealer may have committed a criminal offence by giving a false description of the vehicle, or by selling an un-roadworthy vehicle unless it is made clear to you that the vehicle is only suitable for breaking up or needs major repairs. An MOT certificate does not mean that the vehicle is roadworthy. It is also an offence to sell a vehicle with an altered mileage. If you believe that the dealer has committed a criminal offence, you should report them immediately to a trading standards office, giving as much detail as possible.

Additional Agreements
You may find that your rights are enhanced if you have entered into an additional agreement such as credit or extended warranty with a 3rd party. However, these extensions of your rights do not usually cover the vehicle itself, other than indemnifying you against further payment.

Private Sales
Basic consumer law covering goods purchased from a merchant do not apply to private sales. The only laws which apply are those regarding description and roadworthiness. Specifically, that the vehicle is correctly described is roadworthy and that the seller has good title (this means that they are the legal owner of the vehicle).
If you can show that the vehicle did not meet its description the seller will be liable under consumer law, even if the seller believed the description to be true. It will strengthen your claim if you have written proof of the false statement, for example, an advertisement. Verbal false statements are harder to prove, unless someone else was present who can act as a witness. If the seller fails to do something they specifically agreed to, for example, that certain faults would be fixed or that the vehicle would have an MOT, they will have breached the contract.

Dealers sometimes pretend to be private sellers, by using the small ads and a private address and telephone number. It is a criminal offence to do this. If you suspect that the person who sold the vehicle was a dealer posing as a private seller, you should contact the local trading standards office who will investigate.

If the seller was a dealer it does not invalidate the purchase, but it does mean that you have the same protection under the law as if the vehicle were bought from a dealer in the normal way.