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Every risk you’ll need to avoid when buying a second-hand car

So you’re looking for a second-hand car, but you don’t want to break the budget. Where do you go? There are local listings, internet forums and dealerships – but each vehicle has their own hidden history.

The UK Citizen’s Advice bureau analysed 2,519 second-hand car complaints in the first two weeks of September 2013 and found that an amazing 139 cars were worthy of the scrap heap! 4 in 5 of the cars in question also required essential repairs.

Most of us can appreciate the cost of up keeping a vehicle, but when you’re left to pick up the tab on damage that isn’t your fault it feels much worse. So what can you do to protect yourself from a faulty second-hand vehicle?


Don’t be fooled by youthful looks


You wouldn’t go for a classic car without knowing the risks, but don’t be fooled into thinking that younger cars won’t need work too.  40% of cars fail their first MOT test after a mere three years on the road, so even if you can still sense that ‘new car smell’ you’re going to need to take a closer look.


We probably don’t need to remind you that checking the mileage is of great importance, but particularly so on younger cars. Whilst you might think you’re getting a good deal, if the car has travelled quite some distance it could be just as worn as a vehicle twice its age.


Don’t forget the finer details that could save your life


Of course you need to know if a car runs well, but don’t forget about the finer details. Take a closer look at the seatbelts and give them a tug. Do they feel loose? God forbid you drive away with a car that won’t keep you safe if the worst ever occurs. Look for cosmetic damage along the belts too. If the owner has previously owned pets, they may have chewed the material. Make a point of pulling the belts out and checking the full length of them, even if they are tucked away behind seats. The owner may have done this purposefully in the hope you wouldn’t realise the damage.


Run your hands along the steering wheel to double check that you have a good grip and none of the covering comes away. Overtime, the rubber grip pads can begin to disintegrate with age and flake away. This could be extremely distracting whilst driving and affect your grip.


The tires you’ll (hopefully) drive away on need to be road worthy too. Any signs of balding need to be taken seriously as replacing each tire will be costly! Check to see if there’s a spare in the boot too, your new purchase will be no good if you get stranded on the motorway with only three wheels.


Look out for quick fixes that hide the real issues


You’ll also need to evaluate what’s new on the car as it could indicate that the seller has been looking for a quick fix


A common case in used cars is fresh lining material covering up pesky leaks. However, you may be able to smell rust or damp if this is the case. If they’ve recently had work done on the car, always ask why.


Could the car be stolen?


It’s a common issue these days and one that will cost you if you don’t take the correct precautions. You could be driving along in your newly purchased second-hand car, only to be pulled over by the police for driving on false plates. Whilst this won’t impact your own criminal record, your car will be taken from you and it’s not guaranteed that you’ll receive a refund.


How to check your used car isn’t stolen:


· Ask to see the log book and see if it has a DVL watermark.


· Ask the seller for the registration number, make and model, and MOT test number – does this match what’s in the log book?


· Does the MOT history match with the details you’ve been given?


· Is the log book serial number between BG8229501 to BG9999030, or BI2305501 to BI2800000? If so, the V5C may be stolen and you should call the police as soon as possible to check the vehicle.


· Check the vehicle identification number (VIN). This is a code that will be stamped into the vehicle, usually featured on the chassis. See if it matches the details you’ve been given.· Finally, you can double check all of the information you’ve been given by running it through the DVLA’s vehicle enquiry service.



Check the bodywork to uncover signs of collisions


The smallest paintwork blemish can tell the tale of a much more serious collision. Whilst the seller may have tried to cover their tracks, they should be totally upfront about the potential damage. Even if they have sent the car off for repairs, they should let you know the full history of what has happened to the car previously.


If you see a scratch, run your fingers over the area to feel around for dents that can’t be seen.


The final round - Let’s go for a test drive


If it’s your first time buying a second-hand car, you shouldn’t feel nervous about going for a test drive. They are an essential part of any purchase.


Try not to be distracted by the seller and really get a feel for the car. Test the radio to make sure it comes on, but don’t have it playing throughout the drive. You’ll need to be aware of all the subtle sounds that may highlight a bigger issue.


It’s common to hear a few signs of age, such as squeaky brake pedals, but they probably just need oiling so don’t worry too much. However, a clunky gear change might be something worth investigating further.


Your rights if something’s wrong


We hope you haven’t stumbled across this article too late, but in the event that you’ve been unfortunate enough to buy a faulty used car here are your rights:


  • The Consumer Right Act 2015 states that a second-hand car should be ‘of satisfactory quality’, ‘fit for purpose’ and ultimately ‘as described’.
  • You have the right to a full refund within 30 days of your purchase.
  • Keep a record of all communication with the seller to build a case should things go array.


Second-hand car deals can be a tricky situation to navigate, but hopefully with our expert advice you’ll have a smooth road ahead!


Posted by Mark Harris
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