We know how to maintain a car cheaply and how to keep a car going for many miles. We also know how to drive to maximise the car’s life, as well as how to minimise the fuel we use. But what if you’re especially prepared and you haven’t even bought a car yet? How do you buy a cheap one? Let’s buy a cheap used car today. Check out the various car myths before buying. They could save you a lot!
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What is the car for?
We need to have an idea as to what we need the car to do. Is it going to be mainly for town driving, or are we going to mostly be on the motorway? Do we need to regularly go through places that may be slippery? Do we have a large family? If in doubt at all, we should try to go for a car that doesn’t restrict its abilities to one niche. This is why I would by default recommend hot hatches and sports saloons. Or a Ford Focus. They tick a lot of boxes.
I’m less keen on SUVs though I understand why people buy them. But if you’re able to avoid buying one, I would support that. They aren’t always as stable in an emergency action, and they tend to be more expensive to run as they’re heavier. Plus, they are not as kind to the environment. Now that this is out of the way, I’m off to buy a Range Rover….
How much can we afford?
Being able to buy a car is not the same as being able to afford it. Affording a car means buying and running it. We need to consider insurance, tax, servicing and fuel economy. Allowing a bit extra for surprise repairs will never do any harm. There is a big difference between spending £10,000 on a used Fiesta and £10,000 on an old 911. This sounds obvious but I know of a few occasions where this has been overlooked. A good rule to follow is that when we can afford twice the purchase price of the car, we can probably afford the car quite comfortably. The second rule that I use as a guide is to look at the price of the car when it was new. If the ‘new’ price far exceeds our annual income, it’s probably not the car for us.
What are our possible options?
Now we’ve established what sort of car we want, and how much damage it’s likely to do to our bank account. We now need to establish our possible options to narrow down the search. What really matters to us? Safety? Long Term Reliability? We can check a number of cars against each other for these criteria. Then we will end up with a few great options that we can actively pursue. And it’s up to us how much we want to delve into this.
Using safety as the example, we have active and passive safety, and both of these are measured by Euro NCAP. Active safety tries to stop us going wrong in the first place. Passive tries to keep us alive if we do. Both are important and our priorities vary.
For many, the options part of the car buying process takes longest. A car is a big investment even when it’s cheap, so this is no bad thing.
Where should we buy from?
Two main options here: dealer or private. Dealers are mainly more expensive but offer more protection via warranties, guarantees, breakdown cover and the like. Dealers are more likely to put more effort into getting a car into a saleable condition. Worn parts are more likely to be replaced and this can offer assurance to buyers. In terms of when we should buy the car, dealers tend to have monthly or quarterly targets. Timing our purchase with one of these can land us a better deal, as new stock is due to arrive. With private sellers, there isn’t this variation. Though if a car has been on sale a while, that may be sufficient ammunition to drive the price down as well.
When we find a car, what should we check?
Before we go and see the car we should also check the car for any outstanding finance, whether it has been a victim of theft. Has it been imported? Was it involved in an accident? Are there any aspects to its past we are not entirely comfortable with? We can find all this out before even seeing the car in ‘person’.
Once we’re happy, we’ve all heard about the importance of a service history. This can indicate how well the car was taken care of, but we shouldn’t stop here. There may be certain items that should be replaced but aren’t included in a normal service. We need to check for any damage, any major rust and any parts obviously missing. Checking the tyres will give a good indication of how well the car has been maintained. Are they the correct size? Do they fit correctly? Are they from a reputable manufacturer? Do they all match? If the answer is yes for all of these, the signs are pointing in the right direction.
Make sure the engine starts convincingly from cold, and that there aren’t any worrying noises, leaks or smoke. Bear in mind some cars sound strange all the time, so if in doubt, ask more questions. Even listen to a good version on youtube, and if it’s too far removed, we know we have a problem.
How should we carry out the test drive?
If possible, try the car in a wide variety of environments. Make sure that we are comfortable with the size, and the driving position before we set off. Some problems, such as wheel balance, may not surface until we travel at higher speed. Keep an eye out for smoke, and listen out for any suspension noise or wheel bearing grumble. Use any quirks (kwirks) as appropriate when it comes to negotiation.
Sealing the deal!
If the car has passed all the tests so far, great! We’re nearly there. We should haggle, unless the car is an amazing deal to start with. In that case, we should haggle anyway. We are under no pressure to buy the car, but the seller needs it sold eventually. Ensure all the paperwork is present and up to date before anything is signed. If there’s anything amiss, then we walk away. Even if everything is present, let’s walk away anyway unless we need the car right now. The seller may get back to us the following day with a better deal. We have the power. Let’s use it!