Car buying tips - what to look out for

MotorCheck Car Buying Tips

Buying a used car is probably the largest purchase most people will make outside of buying a house. Regardless of whether you are buying privately or buying from a motor dealer, the process itself can be fraught with risk and should be entered into with care and attention every step of the way. At MotorCheck we are all about assisting the car buyer to make better informed decisions and avoid the risks involved with buying a used car.

We’ve put together this helpful car buying guide to help our customers navigate this tricky process. It includes the following sections:

Buying Privately vs Buying from a Dealer
Questions to ask the seller
Check the physical condition of the car
Check the paperwork and identity of the car
Always check the history of the car
Checking a UK import

Buying Privately vs Buying from a Dealer

If you buy a second-hand car from a dealer you have certain rights under consumer law. This doesn’t there are no risks, but what it does mean is that if something goes wrong you are well protected under law. In summary under consumer law a car sold by a dealer:

  • Must be of merchantable quality
  • Must be fit for the purpose intended and roadworthy
  • Must match the description of the car given verbally or in the advertisement

If you buy from a private seller you are not covered to the same extent under consumer law so the process is inherently more risky.

You should always perform a Car History Check whether buying Privately or from a Dealer to ensure what you are being told about the vehicle matches the history data on file for the vehicle.

Questions to ask the seller

A car history report from MotorCheck will show the most important items of information about the vehicle and this will often trigger some very important questions which should be asked. The questions you should ask a seller regarding any used vehicle purchase include:

  • Has the car been serviced regularly?
    Ask the seller for evidence that the car has been serviced regularly. Normally the service provider will have stamped the vehicle service book with the date of the service and will have recorded the mileage at the time of the service. Ask to see the service book. If the service book is missing this is not a good sign. Check the records in the stamped service book against the mileage records in your MotorCheck report.
  • Has any major mechanical work been done on the vehicle, by you or by previous owners?
    It may seem obvious but you should always ask if the vehicle is in good mechanical order. Ask if the vehicle has any major or minor mechanical or electrical faults. Look for lights on the dash board when you start the car. Ask if there have been any major components replaced or has the engine been replaced?
  • Has the car ever been written-off, crashed or had bodywork repairs?
    There is a distinction between written-off and crash repaired vehicles. A MotorCheck car history check will inform you regarding certain categories of write-off, but you should always ask the seller if it has been previously written-off and repaired. You should also ask if the vehicle has been previously crashed or had bodywork performed so that you can inspect any repairs made and satisfy yourself that they have been made to a good standard.
  • Is the mileage on the vehicle genuine?
    You should always ask the seller if they guarantee that the mileage on the vehicle is genuine. A MotorCheck car history check will check over 350 million available mileage readings for the historically recorded data but this should always be compared against hard copy sources of information such as the service book and/or previous NCT Certificates or previous CRW/CVRT Certificates. If there is no mileage history available for the vehicle this may indicate a deliberate attempt to hide the previous history and you should ask MotorCheck to perform a mileage investigation.
  • Is there any outstanding finance on the vehicle?
    A finance check or full check from MotorCheck will reveal if the vehicle has outstanding finance. It is worthwhile asking the seller if there is finance outstanding or if finance has recently been cleared. The result of a finance check may show the finance is still outstanding a bank will typically wait up to 10 working days after a final payment has been received before clearing the finance to ensure the payment does not bounce.
  • Is the seller the owner of the vehicle?
    You should ask the seller if they are the owner of the vehicle as shown on the Vehicle Registration Certificate (logbook)? You should verify that the name and address of the seller matches the name and address shown on the logbook. You can do this by asking the seller to show you the logbook along with some identification and/or a utility bill to verify their address. If the seller is a private seller and they do not match the name and address shown on the logbook then they may not be in a position to pass legal title of the vehicle to you as the buyer.
  • Was the car first registered in Ireland or has it been imported from the UK or another country?
    If it has been imported ask for the vehicles UK registration number and do an online check. You can check the MOT history through the UK’s Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency’s site using the registration number.
  • Does the car have a spare key?
    all cars are provided from new with a spare key. If this if not available with the car they can be expensive to replace.

All of these questions and more are available in a helpful form for you to download in the MotorCheck Car Buyers Checklist.

Check the physical condition of the car

A MotorCheck report will provide information regarding previous write-offs and may also contain some data regarding condition alerts, for further information click here. However, we would also advise that you perform a thorough physical inspection of the vehicle and if your budget allows have the vehicle independently checked by a mechanic or automotive engineer. MotorCheck can assist with this if necessary.

Some cursory spot checks that you should make include:

  • Run your eye along all panels and ensure they line up correctly. Look for dents, scuffs and scrapes.
  • Looks for odd lines or signs of damage to the sills, wheel arches, bumpers or cracked lights.
  • Check paintwork for the orange peel effect that can be caused when panels have been re-painted.
  • Look under the bonnet and under the carpet in the boot to check for signs of overspray.
  • Look on the ground under the car and around the car for signs of leaks, either oil, water or other fluids.
  • Check that all the tyres are approximately the same wear and the same brand and size.
  • Check that the spare tyre and all of the tools for changing a tyre is available.
  • Check the steering wheel, handbrake lever, gearshift, seating, carpet mats and under the carpet mats for excessive wear and check if the physical wear on these items matches the recorded mileage on the vehicle. If there is excessive wear and the mileage is low this is a warning sign.
  • Check that the headlights, dipped lights, break lights, fog lights and indicators are all working.
  • Check that all of the electrical switches work, eg: radio, air conditioning, electric windows, mirrors etc.
  • Check that all of the fluid levels are correct, oil, brake fluid etc.
  • Ask if the timing belt has been changed – most vehicles will require a timing belt change between 60,000 and 100,000 miles depending on the vehicle. The owners manual will provide a recommended interval.
  • Check the odometer reading shown on the dashboard. If the odometer uses the old cylindrical dials, make sure all of the numbers line up correctly and are not off-centre. Check the mileage reading on the dashboard against the service book and readings recorded in your MotorCheck report.
  • Check that the car starts first time from cold. If you arrive to view a car and the engine is already warm then it has likely been driven recently and should start easier.
  • When the engine is running listen that it is idling smoothly.
  • Check that the accelerator pedal is working smoothly and check that the clutch does not feel spongy when depressed.
  • Take a test drive and ensure to test the gear changes and brakes during the test drive. Listen for any odd noises coming from the engine, wheels or components during the drive.

If you are buying from a Dealer they should provide you with a warranty to cover the engine and components. The length of the warranty will be dependent on the age and mileage of the vehicle. If a dealer does not want to provide a warranty this is a cause for concern.

Check the paperwork and identity of the car

As mentioned above, if you are buying privately, you should check that the name and address of the seller matches the name and address of the owner on the logbook. There are also a number of other identity checks you should perform to verify the provenance of the vehicle itself. You should also check that the physical Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) of the vehicle matches the number on the Logbook and that this is validated against the official number within your MotorCheck report. You should also check that the certificate number of the Vehicle Registration Certificate matches the official number on file within your MotorCheck report. Similarly, the NCT Certificate number can be validated against the official number on file within your MotorCheck report. All documentation checked should be checked against the original documents not copies.

Always check the history of the car

A car history check from MotorCheck may reveal some very important information about the vehicle including if it has an outstanding finance agreement, if it has been declared as a write-off by an insurance company, if it has been clocked, if it has ever been used as a taxi or hackney, what was the ownership history, was it imported from the UK and what was its previous history in the UK. For more information on the types of data that is included in a report and any limitation of this data please see our FAQ’s. A car history check will help you to make a better informed purchase and should be used as part of your decision making process if you are buying a used car.

Checking a UK import

MotorCheck provides history on all UK registered vehicles as well as Irish registered vehicles. Your MotorCheck report automatically include the UK history if the car has been previously imported from the UK. You can also check a UK registration number via MotorCheck if the car has not yet been registered in Ireland.

Before importing a vehicle to Ireland you should check the Vehicle Registration Tax.  MotorCheck provides a free VRT Calculator for this purpose.  Please note the VRT calculations are provided from the Revenue Commissioners data and are estimates of what the VRT payable will be.  The final VRT amount can only be determined on inspection of the vehicle by the VRT office.