Buying a Used Car - An Expert's Guide

Bargain HuntingWhile a buoyant used car market can be good for those of us selling a car, it brings with it a variety of problems for the bargain hunter.
Identifying a 'lemon' from a genuinely reliable car is something even the professionals can make mistakes with and they appraise trade-ins every day of the week.
When you consider that buying a used car is something the average person does once every three years, it's not surprising that thousands of us make costly mistakes every year when choosing a 'newsed' set of wheels.
One person who knows more than most about spotting a lemon is PJ McKenna. PJ is one of Ireland's largest wholesaler and underwriter of used cars,4x4's and LCV's and has handled 10's of thousands of vechicles in his 36 years of buying and selling all sorts.
When it comes to spotting a bargain he's the best in the business, so if you're thinking of braving the classified listings in search of a bargain at home or abroad, here are some tips from PJ's Golden Rules.  Advice he gives car salespersons under the mantra "Better appraisals = Better profit".

The no. 1 Golden Rule in buying a used vehicle "If you are not proficient,take someone who is,along with you, preferably someone with mechanical or bodywork experience (or better still both).

Take Your Time

Schedule your appointment with enough time to cater for the car you're inspecting.

PJ McKenna Cars
Remember that a VW Golf 1.4 is a lot easier to appraise than a Subaru Impreza 2.0 STI, so if you’re talking to the seller prior to setting up an appointment, ask them to allow enough time for you to go through the vehicle properly.
It never pays to rush an inspection and could cost you dearly further down the line.
While we're on the subject of 'time keeping' it can be useful to avoid needing a second viewing of the car. If it's a genuine bargain it will probably be snapped up so ask the seller in advance to bring all the relevant documentation, VLC, VRC, service history, handbooks etc. so you have everything you need on site later.

PJ's Tips

Bring someone with experience

If you are not technically proficient, get someone who is to help you, preferably someone with mechanical or bodywork experience.

See Everything (before you part with your hard earned money)

Never examine a car if it is dirty, while it is raining, still wet, or in bad light.

Take Notes

Try to use a professional appraisal form. It’s a useful record of any damage when your totting up sums later.

Test Drive the Car

It may sound obvious but be sure to test-drive the vehicle. Check the vehicle on full lock for velocity joint and steering/suspension problems. Take the seller with you. They will be impressed if you adopt a thorough method of appraisal and treat any subsequent offer you make seriously.
If for whatever reason you cannot test drive the vehicle, start the car, leave it running, after a few minutes “rev” the engine to 3000-3500 rpm check for excess smoke from exhaust or abnormal sounds from the engine. If in doubt revert to Golden Rule 1.

Double Check Documentation

Establish the exact model e.g. is it an L, a Freedom, an LX or a Ghia? Do not take the sellers word – check the documentation and compare it against a Motorcheck report. Establish how many owners the vehicle has had (again double-check the documentation)

Check the Bodywork

Slowly walk around the car, several times if necessary, taking note of paintwork abnormalities, panel alignment and gaps. Look down both sides of the vehicle, on your hunkers, to get a better view of shopping trolley type marks/dents “dings” as we call them in the trade.
These types of marks are very difficult to repair and if there are several can result in the car not being “sharp” and difficult to sell on.

Under the Bonnet

Open the bonnet! You don’t need to be an expert to visually check for oil leaks, service stickers, timing-belt replacement markings. Cross check anything you find with the service book.
Inspect bonnet-mounting bolts and wing mounting bolts to see if have they been tampered with. Check side valances, headlamp mountings etc. for any abnormality. If in doubt, revert back to Golden Rule 1.

Check the Roof

Check the roof of the vehicle. If someone has walked across the roof, for example, it is almost impossible to repair properly, bar putting on a new roof-skin, which is hugely expensive or filling with 'Isopon'. Both options depreciate the vehicle and most likely excluding it from retail sale. Maybe this is why it’s being sold privately????

Inside the Car

Sit inside car, check steering wheel for wear (shininess), drivers floor mat and pedal rubbers for excess wear, always a good indicator of a “high miler”.
Check cigarette lighter, has it been used?? If the car has never been smoked in, that’s a bonus. Check the roof cloth, interior trims for wear and tear, cigarette burns etc. Open the boot, lift boot mat and check for any abnormalities.

Is it an Irish Car?

If the car is an import, be extra vigilant. Double-check all of the above. Check the chassis no. (VIN) if it begins with SABTVRO it means the vehicle was previously registered in Great Britain on a “Q” plate, which means the authorities cannot verify its origin.
Spare key?? Make sure they have it or deduct accordingly. Replacing a key can cost anything up to €250.

Pay Attention to Detail

Always pay attention to number plate surrounds, rear window stickers, tax holder stickers, key rings, if they all match and are from a reputable dealer, good. “She came from a good stable”

Ask Questions

Always ask the seller if the car has had any bodywork or paintwork? There is a big difference. Ask what was the cost of any repair? Ask to see receipts.
Don’t be embarrassed to ask! Be warned if the vehicle was damaged, you are entering a minefield. Has it had light damage and was badly repaired?
Worse still, has it had major body damage and been expertly repaired.? Vehicles having had repair suffer from depreciation to some extent.

Check it's history

Last but not least - don't regret it, Motorcheck it! You never know what secrets the car may be hiding and getting a Motorcheck report is a great way of verifying its previous history.