The key to navigating the secondhand car market

Fear of ending up with a bad deal can make the hunt for real value in a secondhand car deal seem daunting — but there are ways to make sure you’re getting what you pay for, discovers Ailin Quinlan.

BUYING a used car is an intimidating prospect for many people, especially if it’s your first experience of purchasing such a vehicle.

As the AA points out, there’s always the fear that you’ll end up getting a bad deal, and, through your own ignorance, in effect buying someone else’s problem.

This uncertainty can make the hunt for real value in a second-hand car-deal seem daunting — but there are ways to make sure you’re getting what you pay for.

The good news is that the secondhand car market is “very strong at present”, according to Theresa Noone of the Society of the Irish Motor Industry.

“In 2018 we saw used car imports surpass the 100,000 mark for the first time,” she declares.

“The used car market is hugely competitive at present, with a variety of choice available to the consumers. Since the Brexit referendum vote the value of sterling has fallen sharply and this has fuelled an increase in used cars coming in from the UK.

“This increased flow of used cars into the market has impacted on new car sales as it has impacted on the residual value of secondhand cars in Ireland.

“Sterling weakness is the key driver of this trend of used imports yet the number of new cars coming into Ireland from the UK is practically zero because the new car market here is so competitive and value offers are so strong.

In fact, according to the AA statistics, for every one new car bought in Ireland almost 2.5 second-hand ones are purchased, so you’re in the majority.

Whether you are considering buying an Irish sourced or an imported used car, there are benefits in buying locally from a SIMI dealer, Noone observes.

“The majority of used cars are actually imported by Irish car dealers for their customers rather than by private buyers travelling to the UK.

Your local SIMI dealer will have done the checks on the car for you in advance, and will stand over what they sell, and in the event of any potential issues arising after you buy, these can be resolved locally, rather than having to travel to obtain a satisfactory solution.

“As we approach the 192 sales period in July, retailers will also be receiving trade-ins from those looking to change into a new vehicle, so there will be even more choice available.

“SIMI’s advice to consumers is to shop around and consider the real benefits of shopping in your local retailer, who not only provide value to the customer but also encourage economic activity locally,” she advises.

So how do you ensure value for money when buying a used car?

One strong tip from AA is to avoid side-of-the-road sales — instead it advises, consult dealers registered with the Society of the Irish Motor Industry, buy an AA Autocheck car or failing that, always have the vehicle professionally inspected before purchase. No reputable seller should or will object to an independent inspection.

Another piece of advice from the motoring organisation is to never buy a car in the dark — for the simple reason that this easily conceals various blemishes, and worse, possibly even evidence of accident damage.

A key fact that you want to be sure of is that the car you are thinking about buying has not been involved in an accident. No matter whether you’re purchasing from a private individual or from a dealer ask the critical question — preferably in front of a witness — “has the car ever been crashed or had any bodywork repairs carried out whatsoever?.

However, another piece of good news is that since the National Car Test (NCT) was introduced to Ireland in January 2000, all cars need to undergo an NCT after four years initially and after two years thereafter. This has meant that it is no longer possible to run ‘rolling wrecks’ on Irish roads.

At the same time you have to be aware that there are still pitfalls out there, so do the homework and remember the maxim caveat emptor — let the buyer beware, so it’s worth considering using the AA Autocheck facility, and letting AA do the work for you.

For most people, the kind of car they purchase, points out Theresa Noone, is primarily determined by their budget, lifestyle choices and personal preferences.

To begin with, she suggests making a list of the items that you feel are important in the car of your choice — and then start doing your research.

“You need to be well informed particularly when buying a secondhand car, as you are not the original owner,” says Noone, who adds, however that if you purchase a car from an SIMI member company you have the added reassurance that all SIMI members have signed up to a code of practice. This means that if you feel dissatisfied with the product or service rendered to you by an SIMI member, SIMI offers a free Consumer Complaints Service (or an arbitration scheme).

Areas of concern which can relate to the purchase of secondhand cars, she says, include warranty issues, clocking and written-off vehicles.

Once you find the car you are looking for, you should ask the dealer for the service history of the vehicle and determine the type of warranty which is available with the car. The length of warranty, on a new vehicle is generally determined by the manufacture while a used car can be negotiated at the time of the sale.

When purchasing a secondhand car, do think about getting a mechanic, an auto engineer or a person with some mechanical background to inspect the car — they will be able to look for wear and tear, any damage, leaks and the overall condition of the car, she points out.

Next, make sure to get a vehicle history check: “This is a must as this will give you the available information on whether the car has been the subject of an insurance claim, if there is any finance outstanding on that vehicle, along with NCT and tax information, number of previous owners and in some cases the mileage history.

“There are a number of companies who offer a car history checking service,” she explains.

“We can’t emphasise enough the importance of doing your research when buying a second-hand car.

“Try to find out as much as you can about the car through a history check provider and try to find out as much as you can about the reputation and reliability of the garage selling the car.

“Buying a car from a dealer means as a consumer you will be covered by consumer protection laws. If you buy privately you are not buying from a business and are therefore not afforded the same protection i.e. in the event of something going wrong you will have no comeback so it is a case of ‘buyer beware’.”

LAST but not least, given that your car will probably be one of the most expensive items you buy in life after a house, some advance financial planning is advised.

If you can afford it, saving up for a car makes the most financial sense as there is no loan interest involved.

Setting up a savings account and doing the research to ensure you get the best interest on savings can go a long way towards helping you buy your car without needing a loan — you can for example, open a savings account with your credit union.

You can also take out a personal loan, which means you own the car while paying it off, However, bear in mind that you will be paying interest on the amount borrowed and your credit rating can be affected if you miss repayments.

Credit unions offer loans to their members, so just call in to your local branch and inquire.

Another option is the personal contract plan, under which a buyer pays a deposit, or covers it with a trade-in — and then agrees a monthly fee for a set number of years.

Once that period is up, the buyer can decide between paying a lump sum to own the car, giving the car back with no further repayments, or using the value remaining in the car to cover a deposit on another new vehicle, starting the cycle again.

A hire purchase agreement means that the garage acts an agent or intermediary for a finance company and earns commission to arrange the finance. The finance company rents the car to you for an agreed period of time in return for monthly payments over a number of years.

Once you have bought it, it’s important to be aware of the basics of looking after your second- hand vehicle.

First, have it serviced regularly by a reputable garage.

“A car is a big investment, so it’s important that you service your car in accordance with manufactures specifications to ensure that it is kept in a safe road worthy condition,” says Noone.

On top of that, she says, there are simple everyday things that a motorist should do to look after their car also:

  • Ensure your car tyres are at the correct inflation pressure.
  • Check your lights are all lighting regularly and replace bulbs as necessary .
  • The engine oil is the life blood of the car as it lubricates, cleans, protects and cools the car’s engine. It is important that the oil is checked regularly and that the oil and oil filter are both changed in accordance with the manufacturer’s guidelines.
  • Check the levels of your coolant and antifreeze, power steering and fluid brake fluid.
  • Make sure your windscreen wash is regularly topped up and that your wipers blades are in working order
  • The Road Safety Authority and SIMI have produced a booklet that shows you how to undertake 12 Basic Vehicle Maintenance Checks to help maintain your vehicle. https://www.simi.ie/en/road-safety/your-vehicle

    More on this topic

    Man's best friend: Loyal dog refused to leave owner's side after fall

    Late Aaron Wan-Bissaka own goal gives France Under-21s victory over England

    Baseball fan spotted feasting on giant jar of mayonnaise in stands

    Thomas hopes crash will not derail defence of Tour de France title

    More in this Section

    Classy offering falls down in driving stakes


    Lifestyle

    Bake: Michelle Darmody's recipes for the perfect summer picnic

    Why Doug and Monique Howlett are moving back home to New Zealand

    Learner Dad: 'It’s not unusual for someone to go home in a different pants to the one they arrived in'

    What’s the Occasion? What to wear on your next big day out

    More From The Irish Examiner