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Buying a used car can be a confusing and worrying experience, especially for first timers. There's so much to consider at once. A buyer will be looking at different models, mileages, whether they have a full service history. But possibly one of the most daunting aspects of buying a car is where to purchase it from. Private sellers, car supermarkets or franchise dealers? They all have their pros and cons. Unfortunately, there are plenty of scammers who are just waiting to trick you out of your hard-earned cash and into a polished piece of scrap metal.
This guide will help you through the vast and often mind-bending world of car buying.
Used cars are sold everywhere, but how can you know which sellers are trustworthy? Well, franchise dealerships are a good place to start. For example at Hendy Group, every vehicle we sell has had a full background check, had any faults have been rectified and they have been serviced and MOT tested as required. A warranty is also provided with every car. Official dealers operate to a high standard set by the franchise itself, so you can be sure that any problems you have will be resolved.
Buying privately means you can get some great deals but be careful, private sellers are not regulated and are not really breaking the law when selling you a car with a hidden defect. There are a number of websites that require sellers to have an account so you can check their history. When buying online, make sure you see the car in person and have a test drive.
Car supermarkets are good for variety and normally operate under some guidelines. Quite often however, they have a fixed price policy with no haggling. Check the marketplace for prices so you can be sure you are getting the best deal.
Before buying a car you need to ask yourself a few questions.
When you can answer those, here are five questions you should put to any seller before even thinking about touching your wallet.
How can I check that the vehicle's MOT certificate and registration document are genuine? Make sure the vehicle details match what is on the document. The main parts to check would be the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) and the previous owners to ensure they tally up with what is on the document and what was advertised. You can also check for a forged registration document by phoning the DVLA on 0870 241 1878 or check MOTs at www.motinfo.gov.uk.
How can I make sure the service history is genuine? Ask the seller to show you receipts or you can phone the dealer whose stamp is in the service book, explain the situation and ask them to check their records.
The majority of sellers are genuine, but there are still an alarmingly large number of vehicles on the market that have a hidden past or defect.
By keeping these tips in mind you should be able to spot a bad apple straight away.
Never buy a used car without seeing it in person first. Make sure you see it in good daylight and, if it is wet, ask to see it dry as water can hide faults in the paintwork. Most franchise dealers offer a money-back guarantee scheme so if you don't like the car you can get a full refund.
Check the underside of the car. Look at the ground underneath the car for any signs of fluid leaks. It could be water or oil and no matter how small the drip; question it! While looking under the car, check the tyres. Make sure the tread isn't too low and that they are worn evenly (uneven wear could be due to a damaged wheel or the wheels being out of alignment). Also, make sure the car is sitting level on the suspension.
Check the oil. Check the oil dipstick; you are looking for a brown or golden colour between the maximum and minimum marks. If it looks black or barely shows on the dipstick then you know the vehicle has been neglected. Remember to check the coolant level and inspect the hoses for cracks.
Be wary of an over-clean engine bay. It may have been cleaned to hide an oil or coolant leak.
Always test drive the car. Make sure you are starting the car from cold. If not, ask the seller why the engine was pre-warmed. Drive the car at various speeds, test all gears and controls and listen carefully for noises that shouldn't be there. Test the car on a slightly bumpy road, if possible, as this will reveal any rattles or knocks.
One of the most common scams on the used car market is clocking. This is where a vehicle's odometer is changed to show a lower mileage than the car has actually done. Not only is this against the law, it also means you could miss services and other scheduled items such as the cambelt change, and if the cambelt snaps you are looking at a hefty bill!
You can check to see if a car has been clocked at motinfo.direct.gov.uk. This free service is provided by VOSA (an official government department) and allows you to check the mileage of a car as recorded in MOTs and repairs.
With the number of cars on finance or hire contracts in the millions, a staggering 1 in 5 vehicles checked have outstanding financial agreements on them.
The scam that many are trying is to sell a car, with unsettled finance on it, privately for cash. This means that the finance company still owns the vehicle and can legally repossess it.
On occasion you may have seen a used car advertised privately for a price that seems too good to be true. If you have, it probably was.
There is a scam where a "seller", usually based abroad, will advertise a car for sale at a very low price (to draw people in) with full details and pictures. As soon as a potential buyer enquires about the vehicle, they will then be talked into sending their money to a foreign bank account or an apparently secure third party company. As soon as the money is transferred, the seller, the car and the money disappear seemingly into thin air. The "seller" never actually had the car and the advert would have been lifted from an old magazine or website.
A fast growing trend for criminal gangs is to clone stolen cars. This means that the documents, ID and plates from a legitimate car are forged. Then, a car of the exact same model and colour is stolen, the details and plates are swapped including the VIN plate (riveted or welded under the bonnet or carpet), and finally the car is put up for sale. The standard security checks cross reference to the legitimate car so it doesn't flag up as stolen. The biggest problem arises when the vehicle is found to be cloned. By law the car must be returned to the rightful owner and the buyer is left with no car and no money.
To avoid falling into these traps, you can follow these eight simple steps:
Demand to see all official documentation so you can check it over before making any commitments. Remember, official DVLA paperwork has a watermark running through it.
Be wary if the seller can't or won't provide a landline number for you to call.
Be suspicious if the seller won't meet you at the home address listed on the log book.
Forget it and move on if the seller declines both the number and the address.
Check the VIN plates for any signs of tampering.
Look for signs of a re-spray - normally there will be slight over-spray in the wheel arches or under the body skirts.
Never pay cash for a car, as cash is harder to trace.
Follow your instinct - if you feel that something is wrong, it probably is, so just walk away.
With the internet playing host the largest selection of used cars on the planet, the population of scammers on the market is, of course, thriving. Therefore, it is important to stay one step ahead of the criminals. Here are some tips to bear in mind when you are car shopping online.
If you are going to view a car, always arrange to see it at the seller's home address and check that they come out of their front door. Check the address against the registration document to ensure they tally up.
Take someone with you, not just for protection but it is good to have a second opinion when viewing a car. Also, don't carry any cash.
Make sure the vehicle is as it was advertised. If the condition of the vehicle has been exaggerated then be careful. The car may have some hidden faults.
Don't be afraid to ask questions. Most people will give as much information about the car as they can but there is a limited amount of space when advertising, so ask as many questions as you need to.
Only use online payment services if you are sure that you can trust them. Remember, no forms of online payment are 100% secure.
If you don't want to pay online, take the seller to bank to transfer the money.
Here at The Hendy Group we are fully committed to providing a top class service to all of our customers and used car buyers are no exception. As a long established company, having experienced all the ups and downs of the motor industry, we understand how challenging used car shopping can be. If you are looking for a worry free, no-pressure environment in which you can be safe in the knowledge that, if you choose to buy, you will have complete peace of mind as you drive away in your new, hard-earned purchase.