Cape Town – Prices of new cars are exorbitant, at least for some, but that’s not the case for 36 794 fortunate South Africans who registered their new cars in January 2017.
Over the last five years during January, new car sales in SA remained steady around the 35 000 mark and annually, 547 442 units were sold in 2016 compared to 617 648 in 2015. That’s a considerable difference in sales of 11.4% and pundits say it’s unlikely to improve this year.
Buying a used car in SA
According to WesBank, statistics indicated that 38 343 new cars were sold in May 2016 compared to 89 390 used cars which clearly shows new vehicles sales don’t even come close to used cars.
Who doesn’t love the new car smell or the fact that you are the first owner but second-hand cars simply offer better value for money especially feature-for-feature. Used cars are also likely to ease up on your bank balance with a much lower insurance premium than a new car.
On the flip side, there is that niggling feeling of breaking down in a used car and sometimes sellers don’t really help either. Anyone can get an ‘OBD2 code’ reader and shady sellers can clear codes without fixing any problems.
Rest assured, following these simple steps will help you choose your new (used) car carefully without anyone taking advantage of you.
Step 1: Use your head, not your heart
We’ve all been there and know how hard it is not to fall in love with what seems to be a bargain. Whether it’s your dream car as a child or a reminder of your first true love – be smart and make the right call. Used-car dealers thrive on infatuated customers as they are easily convinced and could end up with an absolute dud.
When you’re looking to buy a car, the secret is to search far and wide and here the internet can be extremely helpful. Consider all your options and be careful buying the first car you see. Give yourself a realistic chance of scouting around and to see what’s out there. Use the first three cars as a point of reference to weigh-up all the pros and cons going forward.
Step 2: Avoid exotic cars
If you’re buying a new car, you can buy almost anything you want as the parts are available and the car will be under warranty. Buying an exotic second-hand car is not so easy mainly because no factory warranty exists and any service or maintenance costs are out of your pocket.
A good example is parts for a Toyota Corolla or a VW Golf versus a Renault. An oil filter can cost as little as R60 but for a Renault in excess of R200. This easily escalates when you own a high-performance or exotic car.
It is more than just considering the price of parts though. You also need to find a service station that can confidently maintain your car. If your engine is more complex than that of a fighter jet, expect to pay premium rates.
In terms of performance, you should ask yourself this very important question; ‘If this Golf GTI, Type R or BMW M3 is so good, why are they selling it?’
It may not always be the case but more often than not, high-performance cars are likely to have been pushed to the limit before they are sold. Steer clear of these unless you are knowledgeable about cars, have a decent mechanic and prepared to pay a premium for parts,
Step 3: Read the seller, not the price tag
There is no hiding from subconscious cues unless you’re a trained spy. Watch the seller closely while you talk about the car and walk around the vehicle pointing out parts. Shifty or nervous behaviour is usually a sign that there’s something wrong with the car.
Keep a close eye on the seller’s body language. If they seem uncomfortable just follow your gut and walk away. Rather this than being stuck with a lemon.
I once viewed a great-looking car for sale but the private seller seemed rushed. Fortunately, I had a good mechanic with me and he pointed out a soapy residue in the oil. For those who don’t know, that’s a tell-tale sign of a blown head-gasket which can be very expensive to repair.
Step 4: Thorough inspection is vital
When the seller asks how much you know about cars, act as if you don’t know much. This means they will only focus on the good points of the car which leaves you with a great opportunity to check the things they didn’t mention.
Specifically, check brake discs for uneven wear; the colour of the oil should be golden brown and not a dark colour. Battery terminals should be clean, tyres in good condition with even wear and the body should be straight. Check the body seams in the engine bay and the boot to identify any signs of accident repairs.
Also, give the car a mighty push with the handbrake up. It should of course not move but if it does, you’ve already identified one problem.
When a car is advertised as having a “new” battery, it could mean there is something wrong with the loom or alternator. Realistically, why would someone sell a car and give you a battery worth R1000? Same applies to new tyres. They’re expensive to just ‘giveaway’ so be careful and keep in mind faulty suspension or problems with the steering.
Lastly, look for body panels where the colour seems a different shade. This could be an indication that the car was involved in an accident and a purchase not to complete.
Step 5: Give it a good test drive
Don’t just jump in and get going. Instead, get the seller to switch on the ignition and let the vehicle idle. Test the wipers, lights and listen to the engine noise. Walk around the car and once it’s been idle for a while, switch it off.
Start the car again leaving the headlights on. If it doesn’t start immediately there may be an electrical problem. Check all lights, aircon, radio, electric windows and mirror switches.
During your test drive, be sure to test all the gears and find a decent incline on your route. Feel for any “flat spots” in acceleration as this could indicate ignition or injector issues. Flat spots are where the acceleration stops momentarily and then picks up again.
Listen for strange noises. Some people are just poor drivers and the old saying comes to mind, “If you can’t find it, grind it” so check for grinding sounds when you brake or change gears especially. This may indicate a serious mechanical fault and it’s best to walk away.
High-pitched squealing noises from the V-belts are also unacceptable under any circumstances and another reason to simply walk away. After the test drive check to see if any fluids have leaked onto the ground. Oil or coolant could indicate serious problems with oil seals, engine or the cooling system.
Last on the checklist is to trust your gut. Does the vehicle “feel right” to you? If the answer is yes, it’s time to sign on the dotted line and happy motoring until the next buy.