Why buying a used car in the winter could be a canny choice.

It’s getting chilly out there, the Christmas lights are winking through people’s windows and the motor trade is about to enter a 10-day slumber before waking up to the excitement and noise of the new number plate in January. Santa ain’t got nothing on the 151-plate…
The very last thing on most of our minds is buying a second hand car – all the focus is on Christmas itself and then the start of the new car sales rush in the new year. But actually, this time of year, and the next few months, are a better time to be thinking about, and actually getting out and, buying a used car.
Just as it’s cheaper to get hotels and flights in September when everyone is thinking about getting back to school, so buying a used car in what is effectively the industry’s ‘off-season’ can make for a very canny move. As with any opportunity, there is a degree of risk, but with a bit of help and some tips, we reckon you can actually use the cold and damp to your advantage.

Type of vehicle

Firstly, it’s important to think carefully about what car you want to buy. Certain cars will actually go up in value when it’s wintry out, and I of course mean 4x4s. That is real 4x4s with actual four wheel drive, useful for tackling slick and icy roads and driveways – those SUVs with mere front-wheel-drive will hardly rise in value at all. So don’t expect to find a bargain Land Rover or Jeep hanging around dealer forecourts if it’s an icy start to the year.
Conversely, and rather obviously, the value of convertibles and cabrios dips sharply when there’s a nip in the air. OK, so a rag-top is hardly the most practical car for Irish conditions, but the fact is that convertibles have evolved to the point where, with the roof up, they’re generally every bit as well insulated as a car with a tin-top. If your heart is set on one, now is the time to snap one one.
Now, the cold weather can put extra stresses and strains on a car and that can allow you to suss out potential faults and failings that might not present themselves in the summer. Obviously, heating is at the very top of that list, and not just in terms of warming the car up. Air conditioning is vital for clearing fogged-up windscreens so if the ‘screen is slow to clear, suspect a system that needs re-gassing or more.
The cold weather should also be quicker to show up any excessive stiffness in things like the gearbox mechanism and although you have to make some allowance for everything heating up to a proper working temperature, anything that seems to be especially creaky or stiff should be cause for concern.
The flipside, and indeed the downside, is that you can’t test for heat-stress – you can’t for instance make sure that the engine’s cooling systems are all operating properly, and slippery roads mean that you’ll probably be less inclined to push the car hard enough to discover issues with the steering or suspension on a test drive. Major problems should still be readily apparent but it’s worth bearing in mind.
In terms of inspecting the car, you’re going to just have to get down and dirty. Wear older, weather-proof clothes that you don’t mind getting mucky and bring along a good torch and a cloth for probing at the car’s underside. The cold should also show up flaws in the cabin if the car has been sitting for a long time. Condensation, mould and mildew can all set in pretty quickly inside a car in the winter, so if you spot nasty green stuff on the inside (seatbelts seem to be especially prone to this) then it’s an indication that the car has been sitting, unloved, on the forecourt or the driveway for some time. Not an insurmountable problem in and of itself, but indicative of the car and attention the car has been receiving.

Supply and demand

winter car buyingFinally, there’s the effect of the time of year. OK, so anyone buying a new car in January, February or March will have to contend with the fact that everyone else wants to buy new at this time of year too. It’s the industry’s boom-time for new car sales. 22,000 new cars were sold just in January 2014, and that figure is expected to climb, potentially significantly so, in 2015.
The good news for those buying second hand is that pretty much every one of those new buys will have a used car being traded in against it. That means a glut of used cars hitting dealer forecourts – cars that they will be keen to move on and get sold as quickly as possible. That gives you an opportunity to argue yourself a better deal, and if you’re buying privately, the arrival of so many used cars on the market in one lump will put downward pressure on prices. True, you probably have your own car to trade in, so it's a case of swings and roundabouts, but you can always make up a little more on the roundabouts than you lose on the swings, if you do your homework and legwork right.
So, don’t go assuming that the onset of winter means you cant’ or shouldn’t think about buying a used car. In fact, it could just be the best time of all to do so…
Needless to say, when you’ve found the car you want, make sure you get its history checked with us here at motorcheck.ie – we can tell you all the stuff that a test drive can’t – no matter what the weather’s like.