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Buying a second-hand car: the essential points you should check

Buying a second-hand car: the essential points you should check
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Buying a car is a trance that a very high percentage of the population has gone through at some point, and generally, we all end up having to buy a second-hand car to get behind the wheel of our first vehicle.

Today we are going to review which points are the most important when looking for, choosing, and buying a used car, and we are going to do it step by step, explaining what we have to look at to make a correct decision.

Find out about the second-hand market

Before buying a second-hand car, we must do a personal examination, similar to what we would have to do when buying a new car, but perhaps with greater importance. We have to think carefully about what my needs are: type of use, kilometers, number of places that we are going to use regularly, or if we are going to have to mount child seats or need a particularly large trunk.

Based on the type of bodywork that best suits our requirements, we can make a list of all the cars of that type, and from there begin to investigate. In a second-hand car, the reliability factor is essential and through the internet, we can find a lot of first-hand information from owners with which to get an idea of ​​its durability.

Also by investing time in research on the options, we are considering, we will be able to make an X-ray of the weak points of the model in question and those critical areas in which we can look at when reviewing a candidate to enter our garage.

To make a good choice, the best advice might be a very simple one, and that is that you never have to buy the first second-hand car that you see. Making a good purchase takes a lot of time looking at advertisements, learning about it and seeing cars in person, so patience, judgment, and a good dose of critical thinking, because salespeople will always tell us how wonderful their cars are, and our mission is to put it all in hesitate until proven otherwise.

Choosing the best seller for your car

We can find the same car for sale both in the hands of a private seller or a professional one with the exception that professional sellers usually have a stock of newer or better condition cars. This is mainly due to three factors: the obligation to offer a guarantee, higher profit margins, and the care that they must pay as a business to their good reputation.

With the same vehicle, under the same conditions, in a private individual, we can find a somewhat tighter price than in a sale. In return, the professional seller offers us the peace of mind of a company dedicated to the sale of cars with all the added value that this implies, including the mandatory one-year warranty to which private sellers are not required.

In the case of a purchase-sale between individuals, there is no minimum guarantee required and as it is a civil contract, everything will be at the expense of the clauses agreed in the contract. The buyer in any case can claim hidden defects but must prove them within six months after the sale and demonstrate the existence of such defects before the sale through an expert report.

Check the exterior of the car you want to buy

Once we are more or less clear about the type of car we want to buy, it is time to select some candidates. Obviously, the first thing when dealing with a car for sale is a review of its exterior section.

The state of the paint can tell us the type of use it has had if it has slept in the garage or on the street, but there are more things to look at. Checking points such as the exhaust silencer or looking at the front bumper area through the grilles we can sometimes see if it has been repainted, which would mean some not too careful repair.

We can also look at the condition of the tires first to check their condition and second to see how it wears the wheels. An irregular wear could involve adjustment problems in suspension or in the direction. We can take the opportunity to check the state of the suspensions, see if there is rust or if there is any play or damage in the drive wheel transmissions.

What to check inside a used car

Going to the cabin we will have to be as thorough or more than with the exterior when examining a second-hand car. After all, the interior of the car will be where we interact the most with the car and its good condition will make a notable difference between a well-maintained car and one abandoned to its fate.

Beyond the general care of the interior plastics and the upholstery that will reveal the care with which it has been treated, the steering wheel, the pedals, the driver’s mat, the gear knob or the handbrake lever can reveal excessive or careless use

It is essential to be meticulous inside and see that everything works as it should, that all controls fulfill their mission and there are no gaps that reveal abuse or failure. 

By the way, it is possible that we can get a few euros cheaper from a car of a habitual smoker due to the possible presence of odors or damage to the upholstery or center console.

Checking the engine of a second hand car

And now is the time to face the mechanical section of a second-hand car, but no, it is not necessary to be a mechanic or have the great technical knowledge to detect that something is not right. Just pay a little attention to the clues.

Checking all fluid levels (coolant, brakes, steering, and of course oil), checking for oil leaks or looking at cracked hoses is within everyone’s reach, but above all, you have to check the condition of the timing belt in case that it is an engine that uses it.

It should also be noted that it is very difficult for an engine not to be dirty , as it is a very exposed part and it is likely that some area will sweat oil without causing any damage, so an engine that is too clean could also be a reason for mistrust in a car with many kilometers.

If possible and for greater peace of mind, it is always good to do an ‘external audit’ of the car in question, taking it to a trusted mechanic who will confirm the general condition of the vehicle: state of the suspensions, brakes, strange sounds … anything that should put us on alert or warn of possible imminent expenses.

Test the vehicle before buying

vehicle test drive is also a critical part of the decision process. If the seller hinders a test, it is time to be suspicious.

Even if it is a small lap around and without getting behind the wheel, it is relatively easy to detect a worn clutch, loose steering, or sounds coming from the suspension systems.

We can also check how well it starts if it allows us to start the engine several times in a row. In motion, it is also a good indicator to pay attention to the quality of the vehicle’s ride , that it is absent from strange vibrations or sounds from the brake system.

Service book with invoices

A clear indicator of the care that has been taken with respect to a car is to ask the owner to show us the service book of the used car , as well as the corresponding invoices and those referring to additional repairs.

It must be taken into consideration that even if a car does not have the revisions stamped in the official house, it can be perfectly maintained and have received all the necessary periodic attention in other equally valid establishments. Neither having a perfectly completed service book does not guarantee that the car is good.

If an owner provides us with the invoices (in official establishments or not), he will be showing us his attention for the vehicle . If there are no invoices, it does not imply lack of care, but that care cannot be demonstrated. Making use of our research capacity, if the seller tells us where they usually spend the revisions, the workshop may confirm its maintenance.

Check the car documentation

In a complementary way, we must also check the rest of the car’s documentation. We have to make sure that the seller if he is a private individual, corresponds to the information that appears in the vehicle’s documentation, as well as that his license plate and chassis number are also those that appear in the documentation.

In the technical sheet, we can also check an indicator of the use of the vehicle, looking at the stamped ITV and the mileage recorded on each of them. In this way, we can detect how much the car has been used, if some year it has had a ‘drop’ in kilometers or if the state of the vehicle is a disparity with the kilometers it claims to have.

Negotiating the purchase price of a used car

Information is power is often said. After having properly examined the car by following the steps above, we may have some argument to negotiate the price of the used vehicle in question .

Normally and especially in the case of professional sellers the ads are always placed with a certain margin, they are not definitive prices, and with education and good manners it is possible that we get a somewhat more interesting price than the one advertised at first .

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