What to be aware of when buying a second hand car

It’s a big purchase buying a car, whether it’s second hand or new, here’s a selection of pointers to be aware…

1. Age

Typically cars will have some kind of warranty for the first two to three years if buying from a dealership (private sellers normally won’t offer a warranty – for obvious reasons = £££), and during this time they don’t need to pass government tests unless they have particularly high mileage (12k miles a year) in which case it’s better to get it checked more often. However, if you are looking at cars that are between 3-10 years old think about asking for a six-month warranty if you’re buying from a dealer or purchase some additional warranty cover from an independent insurance company just to cover your back.

It’s worth looking for car reviews online as well as in-car magazines as they’ll usually publish annual reports on the most reliable cars in the UK, once that hold their value and repair costs etc.

2. Mileage

As suggested above 10k-12k miles per year is normal for a car in the UK, if it’s significantly less, like, for example, it’s got 45k miles for a 6-year-old car then it’s likely to have had an easy life so should be less prone to breakdown. If it’s higher than average, say 80k miles for a car of fewer than 5 years old then it probably had a lot of use and so you may want to do be slightly more cautious.

Generally, cars should last 10 years or 100k miles without significant problems.

3. Write-offs

Often you will see a classified ad showing a car – normally from a dealer – which says either cat C (soon to be replaced with S)  or D ( soon to be replaced by N) this means they have been written off by an insurance company but a garage has rebuilt them to go back onto the road.

Category D (N) means the car had cosmetic damage and therefore is structurally safe, but at the time it wasn’t economical to fix, the garage has fixed it and is selling it as its own decision, to make some profit.

Category C (S) means it has had serious structural damage and can normally only be repaired with specialist equipment and extensive engineering. More info on write-offs click here.

If you’re considering a car that has previously been written off it’s worth paying the AA/RAC or a trusted garage to check the vehicle for you, as it might be hard to discern what work has been done on it to make it safe.

Garages are obliged to declare if a vehicle has been written off, but individuals might ‘forget’ to mention it. If in doubt do a registration check online, the free one from the DVLA will tell you what road tax it should pay and when the MOT runs out, and if any of the details don’t match you should ask why, it should tell you if its been written off as a category C (S) but not Category D (N). If you want to doubly check before you even view a second hand car you can plug the number plate an online checker that will tell you, they only cost a few pounds but are worth it for peace of mind. If something seem too good to be true, then it probably is!

4. The value

Consider the value of the car in a couple of years by checking on Autotrader what the price of cars a bit older than yours is with more miles on the clock, it’ll give you a heads-up on what you can sell it for in a few years time.

Some cars hold their value better than others, so it might be worthwhile paying a little bit more on your first car, if you are going to get more back in 2-3 years when you trade it in or resell it

BRAINBOX: If you really want to plan costs, estimate the loss in value, add it to the running costs over a couple of years (including the insurance costs) and work out a monthly cost. This will probably make you realise why Uber does so well, and why it may not be cost-effective to have a car if you live in a big city.

5. Breakdown cover

It’s safe and advisable that you get breakdown cover, it gives you peace of mind that if something happens, someone has got your back, especially if you own a car that’s a few years old and you’re not used to driving it. Shop around though, don’t always take the first deal you see.

Hope this helps!

For top tips on what to look out physically on a second hand car click here.