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Tips for Buying a Used Car

Tips for buying a used car

Buying a pre-owned vehicle is a great option when shopping on a budget. But there are some precautions to take into account – here are eight important tips to consider when buying a used car.

Used-vehicle sales have been on a steady climb in South Africa over the past few years, according to the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers South Africa (NAAMSA).

As the prices of new cars continue to rise, it’s expected that more consumers will opt for the second-hand car market to find the perfect vehicle for their personal needs.

However, while used car prices can be friendlier on your pocket, some pre-owned vehicles might have mechanical gremlins and body damage issues that are undisclosed by the seller, cautions the Automobile Association of South Africa (AA).

What to look for when buying a used car:

If you’re looking at buying a used car, here are eight tips to help you:

  1. First steps for buying a used car
  2. Buying a used car privately or through a dealership
  3. How to research a pre-owned car dealership
  4. How to research the actual value of a used car
  5. How to research vehicle running costs in South Africa
  6. How to check a used car isn’t stolen
  7. How to complete a used car inspection
  8. How to negotiate a used car deal

1. First steps for buying a used car

Start by creating a personal motoring budget and setting a price cap. Before you test drive any cars, first figure out how much you can realistically spend. Use an online calculator to help work out what you can afford and what your monthly instalments will be if you decide to get vehicle finance

The AA also highly recommends investigating the safety features available in a vehicle and, if possible, checking the vehicle’s safety rating with them. It’s also important to determine what sort of fuel consumption you will be happy with.

Also, bear in mind future maintenance and service costs (including replacement costs of items such as tyres and brake pads), and don’t forget to factor in the cost of insuring your car.

2. Buying a used car privately or through a dealership

Each option offers pros-and-cons, but you may find cheaper (more premium-spec) used vehicles through private sales, which is especially important if you’re on a tight budget but still want some modern motoring features.

On the other hand, dealership buys can bring some peace of mind that there’s a company standing behind the quality of the vehicle you’re purchasing. Do your homework first to find a trusted dealership.

3. How to research a pre-owned car dealership

Buying a used car from a pre-owned dealership can provide you with greater peace of mind, particularly if you’re buying from a reputable, established outlet.

The Retail Motor Industry of South Africa (RMI) can assist you with information on local car dealerships that are members of the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA).

It’s also recommended that you investigate social media platforms to see what other motorists have to say about the dealer you’re considering buying from.

4. How to research the actual value of a used car

You can use TransUnion’s Car-Value-Report system to gain insight into the trade-in and retail value of a used vehicle. This is also known as the ‘book-value’. The ‘book’ refers to TransUnion’s monthly Auto Guide, which lists vehicles from A to Z in terms of their original retail price compared to how the value of the car has depreciated.

This tool can help ensure you aren’t paying above ‘book-value’ for a car, but it’s important to note that sought-after used cars might command ‘above-book’ prices. Having the TransUnion report might help you negotiate a better price on the car you’d like to buy.

5. How to research vehicle running costs in South Africa

Shop around and compare various models’ features and prices. When researching, pay attention to kilometres on the odometer, investigate things like the car’s service manuals and ask about its accident history and if it comes with the spare key.

Fuel consumption and the cost of the car’s parts is another important research point and you can use Kinsey reports to assess the cost of running, servicing and repairing various car makes and models in South Africa.

6. How to check a used car isn’t stolen

Whether you’re buying from a private person or a dealership, you have a right to check whether a vehicle is stolen, or has been stolen and recovered in the past. A vehicle verification will help you to see the status of the car you’re considering buying. All you need is the car’s VIN (Vehicle Identification Number).

Gumtree’s head of used cars, Jeff Osborne encourages buyers (and sellers) to trade safe via their site. “We have partnered with an automotive third-party service, Buy Safe Sell Safe, to ensure that consumers trade safe, especially when such large amounts of money are at stake,” Osborne says.

You may even consider letting a knowledgeable friend or family member know you are going to look at a car, particularly if you’re buying privately, to avoid being scammed on the test drive.

7. How to complete a used car inspection

Buying a used car means you’re taking a wager on the vehicle’s mechanical history. But you can limit unexpected repair and maintenance expenses if you determine the actual condition of the car through an independent check-up.

When buying a used car through the Gumtree website for example, Buy Safe Sell Safe can assist you with a DEKRA-test and inspection as well as ownership ‘certified by TransUnion’. You can also ask a private seller to provide you with a DEKRA test certificate, which can be conducted for a nominal fee at vehicle roadworthy testing centres countrywide.

8. How to negotiate a used car deal

Once you’ve done your research on your dream car and you’ve decided that you’re going to buy it, you can start your negotiations with the private seller or dealership. But be patient in this process as the seller might reduce the price if you can give them a good reason to, based on your research.

It’s important to remember that walking away is your right as a buyer, and you should be prepared to leave if you feel pressured or uncertain about a vehicle.

After deciding on the price of the car with the seller, sign an offer to purchase. You may also have to pay a deposit for surety reasons (10% of the asking price is usually more than enough, but this also depends on whether you’re buying cash or financing a portion of the vehicle’s cost). Osborne adds that you must always get a receipt for any deposit paid.


Next step

Visit our Car Insurance and Vehicle Finance pages for more information, or head to the car loans section in the Community to speak to other Standard Bank customers and consultants about buying a used car.