Help with Buying a used car

OK, so you decided to buy a used car. Whether this is your first car or not, you should be careful who you are buying from and always pay attention to the detail.

Most used car searches start on the internet, but you can also find the right car in the papers or dedicated magazines.
Anyway, say you have circled a few of them, made few phone calls and arranged a time and date for viewing the cars.
Below you will find  a few points to help you with checking your new car

  • If you have the registration number of the car you are going to finally purchase you can also get an Auto Check Report which might save you money and time.

Get an Auto Check Report for your next used car

1. Always view the car in daylight when you can see it properly and notice small defects that are not usually visible at night.

2. Never bring the money with you if buying from private party. A small deposit of 100Euro should secure your purchase.

3. Never meet in car parks and other public places to view the car. If the seller is not willing to give you his address for security reasons then ask him to drive to you. If for security reasons you don’t want the seller to bring the car down to you, then you could choose a place to meet but as I mentioned above, do not bring the money with you but just enough to put a deposit on it.

4. You meet in a public place, you put a deposit on the car now is time to go and collect your goods. At this point the seller should already have some trust in you to give you his address. If he doesn’t then something could be wrong. Either the car has a hidden history, has been barely fixed just to make the sale, etc. That normally should raise some questions marks straight away.

5. Check the papers that comes with the car. Make sure they match the chassis and the engine serial (VIN) number both the car and the log-book.

6. If the car is older then 4 years, make sure it has passed the NCT. If it had failed for “small things”, please do not take it for grant it that it doesn’t cost much to fix it. Let the seller go for the Re-test. Sometimes those small things could cost a fortune, especially electrical problems.

7. Have a mechanic check the car for you. They could easily spot problems quicker then yourself.

8. Take the car for a test drive. Drive it at low speed on a rough road, also drive it at high speed (check speed limit in the area), preferably Motorway or Dual-Carriage way.

9. Constantly check the brakes for vibrations by pressing the foot-brake pedal, which is caused by warped brake disks and needs to be replaced.

10. When and if driving at high speed (motorway), slightly release the pressure on the steering wheel, just enough to see if the car is trying to go to the side (left or right), which can be caused by bad wheel tracking.

11. Make sure the wheel is not shaking, which is caused by bad wheels balance or a damaged rim that has been badly fixed (alloy wheels).

12. Check all electrical switches making sure they are all in working order, especially electric windows and electric sunroof. Always roll them down fully, then roll them back-up. Also check central locking for all doors if fitted.

13. If  there is a fitted radio this should be checked as well including the CD player or tape-deck.

14. Check all seat-belts by pulling them out and locking them into place. Due to safety reasons a faulty seat-belt will fail NCT.

15. After starting the engine all lights in the dashboard should turn-off automatically. If not there is a fault that needs to be fixed. Before starting the engine check the dashboard light (engine light, ABS, Airbags) that they are working and the bulbs are not missing or burned-out.

16. If the car has NCT, compare the mileage from the speedometer with the mileage written on the NCT papers and also compare todays date with the NCT date. Normally a car shouldn’t do more then 10-15000 miles per year, so doing a bit of maths should give a clue of how many miles the car has done since last NCT ( If the NCT has been done 12 months ago or more and the odometer difference is very small compared with what’s on the paper should raise few questions).

17. Check the Road Tax – when is the last time this car has been taxed (verify the reg plate wit the registration written on the Tax disc). If the car hasn’t been taxed for a long time, there is a chance that the car has been damaged and fixed sitting in a garage waiting for parts. The seller should have a very good reason for it so go ahead and ask.

18. Check the exterior of the car.

19. Look out for scratches, dents, miss-alignment between the door, wings, bonnet, boot-door. The gap (e.g. between the door and the wing) should be equal all around.

20. Check the paint colour. Should be uniform and same shade. A brighter panel colour indicates that it has been replaced or repainted. Is very hard to duplicate the original paint finish.
Now we are not saying that it had had a major damage, these things happens every day and small dents can be even seen on brand new cars, so ask the owner about it.

21. Look for signs of over-spray easily spotted on windows, doors seal, doors handles, especially in small corners (top or bottom corner of the windscreen) which are easily missed by garages after re-paint.

22. Have a person inside the car while you walk around and check all lights to be in working order (indicators, brake light, fog lights, side lights, hight beam and low beam, spot lights if fitted).

23. Make sure the glass covering the light (front, back and side) are not cracked or broken.

24. Now moving back inside the car, check the carpet for damp and leaks. In a hot summer day the smell of damp is easily spotted and can be very unpleasant.

25. Check seats for damages and usage. They can be very expensive to fix. If the seats are covered, remove them and see whats hidden behind.

26. Check the rubbers fitted on the pedals. Excessive use should tell you the car has done a lot of mileage and sometimes the car can fail the NCT for it.

27. Check heater which should blow hot air if the engine was running for a little while. Make sure all speeds are working.

28. Check the Air conditioning if fitted. It should blow cold air instantly.

29. Moving to the boot area – look for the spare wheel, jack and the jack lever, making sure they are there. You never know when you are going to need them.

30. Pull up the carpet in the boot and look for signs of over-spray, damage and water leaks.

31. Moving to the front of the car and look under the bonnet. Engine should be clean, no signs of oil or water leaks. The bonnet should open easy enough and the alignment between the bonnet and head-light should be the same.

32. Look at the chassis leg – should be straight and have no damage signs or over spray.

33. Check the panels behind the headlights for signs of damage.

34. Make sure all wires are in place and without visible damage or loose.

35. Inspect the water tank area. Dark yellow dried dust indicates engine over-heated. Also the tank should be full.

36. Battery and battery terminals should be clean.

37. Check the brake-fluid level.

38. If you spot an alarm siren under the bonnet find out if it’s working and see if the remote controls are available. 
Now you have seen the car, and took it for a test drive and you are willing to buy it, so is time for negociating the final price.

Price Negotiation for your next Used Car.

This is probably the hardest part of buying a car and doesn’t last longer then 10min.
You have your facts right, you like the car ( never let that away to the seller ), you know and found the bargaining points, you know the asking price so lets go ahead and ask “What is the last selling price?”. This is a very frustrating question, some sellers didn’t allow for negotiation when setting  the price and they might not want to bring it down at all. But hey business is business and you are prepared for it and so should  the seller.
One very important point I would like to make here:
Learn to say NO and walk away from a deal. You want to buy a car not conquer the world, and you want satisfaction for yourself. Don’t let the seller insult your intelligence. If the seller is not willing to negotiate, then move to the next one you found, but before you go make sure you give the seller your phone number to call you just in case he changed his mind. There are tons of used cars on the market, and rushing things doesn’t usually help. 

You and the Seller should be able to compromise for the final price easy enough and when the deal is made your are both happy. Once the deal is made, sign all papers, adding the time and date of the purchase made (very important), sign a receipt, make sure you get all the keys and remote control if available, get all the documents that come with the car, except the log book which has to be posted to the Vehicle Registration Office in Shannon by the last owner and drive home safely.

The above should apply both Private or Garage Sale, the only difference is from Private Sellers is that you get no warranty on the car, while Garages or Dealers do give the least 3 months on engine and gearbox.

Talking about buying from Used Car Dealers and warranty, reminds me to say: Never buy a car “As Is” or “As seen” and always get written documentation about what the warranty offered and for how long. Even if you pay cash, always get an invoice for the purchase you have made.
Buying from a garage or used car dealer you are protected by the Irish law – Sale of Goods and Supply of Services Act 1980 – within limits, due to the fact that you are buying from a person that owns or works for a business registered in Ireland as selling used cars, which is not the same as buying from private sellers where the law is only on your side if the fault found is likely to endanger the people driving it and even that is very limited. 
If you find a fault with the car, bring it back to the garage and let them sort it out for you, making sure you got receipts and written confirmation of what has been done. Papers can be  a life saver, so always keep them safe, you never know when you might need them. If the garage fails to fix the problem, find out if the business is a member of the SIMI and give them a call about it. This has to be done within 3 months from the time of purchase the vehicle.
You can also get more information about your rights at The National Consumer Agency which has made some documentation available on-line for download – Here -> or give them a call @ 1890 432 432 or visit their website:  

Buying from Car Auctions.

Highly NOT recommended, as you will need a lot of experience and that have little or no come back.
Auctioneers have their own Terms and Conditions which lets you know before signing it that there are no warranties given on your purchase for any faults you might find after, so make sure you know what you are doing.

This is by far complete but we are looking into it and will add new points as we find them, and should help you  in getting a decent car without some sort of hidden history.

Now if you finally purchase the right car, staff will like to take this opportunity and wish you “Happy Motoring and Safe Driving” and hey don’t forget – “Speed Kills” or as you see on some signs on our roads – “Get the Point not the Points“.

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2 Users Responded in " Help with Buying a used car "

Conorino said,  

Excellent guide. Plenty of detail. Thanks a million for your help!

hello dave here from
just visiting website and read above advice
very informative ,well written ,and great detail

i would recommend a diagnostic test also as many cars with underlying faults will have “info” stored in the onboard computer(aka ecu) the engine light or “mil” light may not be illuminated however many fault codes can be stored regardless

great site!!

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