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Beware of low price cars

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With the launch of the new ’59’ plate fast approaching, there may be a surge in interest in car buying across the UK – particularly second-hand cars. According to new research1 from esure car insurance, three fifths (59 per cent) of Brits are looking to buy a used rather than new vehicle for their next car purchase.

Whereas opting for a new car purchase comes with the added peace of mind of a manufacturer’s warranty, second-hand cars come with the added risk of the unknown. esure urges buyers to do their homework on a car’s history before handing over their hard-earned cash to avoid being left out of pocket – particularly in the event of making an insurance claim when a vehicle’s potentially ‘dark past’ can come to light.

In the current climate, getting a good deal is at the forefront of people’s minds which may explain the popularity of buying privately rather than from a dealer. Half of Brits polled (49 per cent) said that they would consider responding to a ‘car window advert’ – stating an asking price and phone number – whilst two fifths would consider visiting a car auction to bag a bargain.

Many motorists could end up buying a written-off vehicle, a car with considerable accident damage, one which has outstanding finance, a stolen vehicle or one with a costly fault if they don’t do thorough checks. They could also end up paying way over the car’s true market value which may be uncovered in the event of making an insurance claim or at the point of re-sale.

Tips yo buy a second-hand car :

Check the car’s documentation thoroughly:

Always ask to see the car’s V5, MOT (if applicable) and full service history. If they aren’t available, the car may have been stolen. Worryingly, only 41 per cent of Brits surveyed would check a car’s Vehicle Identification Numbers to ensure that they all matched and that they were the same as the V5 document – which is a ‘must do’ when buying any second-hand car. Buyers should walk away if the numbers have been tampered with in any way or look recently fitted or freshly painted.

Beware a price tag that seems too good to be true – it probably is:

If a car is advertised too cheaply then the likelihood is that it has something wrong with it, has a hidden history, is stolen or does not belong to the person selling it. Study the local press, Autotrader, Parker’s Car Guide and the internet for guidance on what the asking price should be.

Only view a car at a registered address:

Never buy a car from someone who wants to meet in a public place, such as a supermarket car park or lay-by. Thieves may favour this type of location to offload stolen cars as they would be untraceable after the sale. Always view a car at the address where it is registered or at a place where there is a recognised business.

Check the car from top to bottom and drive it:

  • Look closely at the bumpers, lights, fixings and trim for any sign of damage or misalignment as this will indicate that it may have been previously damaged.
  • Look at the colour of every panel on the car. If it doesn’t match up exactly to the panel next to it this can show that previous repairs have been undertaken.
  • Look down the length of the car for uneven body panels – a distortion may indicate that a panel has been filled following previous damage and that the car has been poorly repaired.
  • Examine all the tyres including the spare and look for a deep tread pattern uniformly across the tyre. If the tread is worn more on one side of the tyre than the other it can be an indication that the steering or suspension is misaligned.
  • Ideally start the engine from cold and listen for knocking noises or excessive blue smoke from the exhaust. Both indicate the engine is well worn and may need a costly replacement.
  • A clean and presentable car indicates that it has been looked after and the seller is keen to find a buyer. Smell inside for damp or musty smells which might have been caused by a water leak. Check that carpets in the footwell are dry and look for signs of condensation on the windows.
  • Test out all of the car’s gadgets, windows, heater, gauges and instruments, radio, horn, lights and so on. All should work properly and be effective.
  • Drive the car yourself – as long as you have adequate insurance cover in place. Make sure that the steering doesn’t pull, listen out for adverse noises, the gears should select easily and the brakes should be smooth.

Consider paying an independent engineer to survey the car:

This can be money well-spent for peace of mind as an engineer will provide a report on the condition of the vehicle and advise of any problems or issues the car may have – including damage from a previous accident.

Complete an HPI check online:

For a fee, background checks will be made on the vehicle including: outstanding finance; whether the car has been written-off as result of damage or theft; if the car has previously been declared as a ‘total loss’ by an insurer but has been repaired to make it roadworthy; or whether it is a stolen vehicle.

Mike Pickard, Head of Risk and Underwriting at esure car insurance, said: “Although new car sales have recently seen a boost, driven in part by the Government’s scrappage incentive scheme, the majority of motorists are still looking to the second-hand car market for their next purchase. With many seeing car auctions and private sellers as a way to pick up a bargain set of wheels, it’s crucial for car buyers to do their homework before parting with their cash to reveal whether the vehicle or the vendor has an unsavoury past.

Insurers can often be the bearers of bad news when checks made during insurance claims reveal cars’ shady pasts and their true resale values. Every month thousands of damaged cars end up at salvage yards when insurers deem them a total loss and many end up back in the used car market when they aren’t roadworthy. There is also the risk to second-hand car buyers of picking up a stolen vehicle or one with outstanding finance. Buyers should make thorough checks of the condition of the car they’re looking to purchase, its documentation and its history to avoid being left out of pocket.”