Used car buyers guide
Some important tips for buying a used car
Searching online for the perfect car
If you are looking to buy a high quality used car at a reasonable rate, one option when deciding where to get your next vehicle is buying from a dealership rather than directly from the current owner through classified advertisements.
This can have great advantages for customers looking for a car or van and there can be a number of benefits to purchasing a pre-owned vehicle through a reputable car dealership rather than from a private seller.
- You can have more choice
- Higher quality vehicles
- You will get greater buyer protection
- Room for negotiation on price and extras
- You can trade in your old car
- In general the vehicle will be safe to drive
- The vehicle may be serviced and valeted
- You may be offered a warranty
- A dealer can offer you finance
- After sales services and peace of mind
If you decide to buy a pre-owned car from a dealership it will offer you greater assurance and legal protection than from a private seller. It can eliminate many of the risks associated with purchasing a car and a customer is less likely to run into difficulties including other hidden costs associated with the car.
Buying from a dealer gives you more security as you will have a guarantee with your vehicle, which you don’t get with a private seller. This means the car has been involved in an official course of inspections and possible repairs of the car.
When buying a certified pre-owned car from a dealer you may be able to receive elements to the car that you wouldn’t get if you were to buy a car from a private seller, which can be a great advantage. This could be new tyres, fully serviced, valeted, NCT, CVRT, etc.
The dealer will usually handle all the paperwork and any financing options associated with the change of possession of the car and car registration making it hassle-free for the customers and takes a lot of the pressure off. It also may be easier to look for a loan when doing business with a dealer as they can be considered more trustworthy.
You may cut back time when looking for a pre-owned car as you may only have to visit one or two car dealerships before finding a car while this process could take much longer when dealing with private sellers. They can offer you a wide selection of pre-owned cars in one place, from one supplier
- Always ask if the vehicle has a service history and if it does, check to see if the vehicle has been serviced regularly. If the vehicle does not have a full-service history, this can assist in negotiating the price down.
- Do your research to see if the vehicle you are interested in purchasing is an old model, facelift model or current model, as this can have a major impact on a vehicle value.
This information is available in a MyVehicle report under “Additional Info”.
- If the road tax is in the high tax band, this may also assist you in negotiating the price down, as the majority of consumers tend to opt for vehicles that fall under the low tax band. This information is available in a MyVehicle report under NCT & Road Tax.
- Always ask if the vehicle has a spare key, as this can be costly and the dealer may reduce the price to accommodate this.
- If the vehicle has a large number of owners, this can affect the vehicle’s value, so bear this in mind when negotiating with the dealer.
This information is available in a MyVehicle report under Owners.
- If the vehicle has been in the dealer's stock for some time, this may assist you in negotiating. This information is available in a history check under the vehicle purchased date and sale history.
- Do your homework as if the vehicle current mileage/kilometers is above the average for the specific vehicle, this again may assist in negotiating the price down. This information is available in a MyVehicle report under Mileage Readings.
- You may be offered a dangerous and defective stolen or written-off car
- Check that the car’s mileage has not been reduced, more commonly known as clocking
- Original parts may have been replaced with sub-quality parts after passing the NCT
- Usage of sealants and other masking agents may hide corrosion or rust holes
- Display of fake NCT certificates and disks, Registration Certs or Motor Tax Disc
Check out our guide to buy used cars at dealerships.
Buying from a private seller
- Are you the legal owner?
- Are you a car trader or a private seller?
- Are you happy with the car's condition?
- Why are you selling the car?
- What is the mileage on the clock?
- How long do you have the car?
- How many owners has the car had?
- Has the car a valid NCT
- Has the car got valid road tax?
- Has the car ever been crashed?
- Is the car written-off or categorised by an insurer?
- Is the car under finance?
- Is there a service history?
- Can you tell me any issues with the car?
- Does the car need any work done?
- Does the car have both sets of keys?
- Does the car have a warranty?
- When can I view and test drive the car?
- Will I be able to drive home in the car without issue?
- Is the price negotiable?
- Arrange a viewing, preferably at the seller’s home
- Avoid car parks
- View in daylight
- Avoid viewing in rain
- Is there a spare wheel?
- Is there a wheel scissor jack and wheel wrench?
- Does the car have a wheel lock nut?
- Has the timing belt been changed recently? (If the vehicle has more than 60,000 miles, look for proof in service history)
- Does the car have a spare key?
- Does the car have a full service history (review)
Buying at an auction
- Do your research
- Bring someone with mechanical knowledge
- Strictly stick to your budget
- Check the vehicle’s identification numbers
- Be aware as all cars are sold as seen
- Check if the car has been clocked by doing a vehicle background check
- Do not pay over the odds for any car ( get an iCAP vehicle valuation)
- Be aware that auctioneers only focus on the sale and not the buyer
- Have your finances in place as you must pay when you win the bid
- Auctions can be exciting so by all means, enjoy the experience
Importing a car from the UK
There are a number of extremely important things you need to do to import a car from the UK including Northern Ireland into the Republic of Ireland. (please note: this is just a very brief commentary guide and you must satisfy yourself as to all legal procedures for importation)
Inform the British Authorities that you are exporting the car with the correct documentation.
Once ownership is transferred to you, you will then need to complete the V5C/4 section of the V5C document, “Notification of Permanent Export” and send it to the UK’s Driver & Vehicle Licencing Agency (DVLA), Swansea, SA99 1BD.
Hold on to the rest of your V5C document as you will need that for the Irish authorities.
After importation into Ireland you are required to book your VRT inspection with the NCTS within seven days of the vehicle arriving in the country. You should also have your UK car insured while it’s in Ireland.
The Revenue Commissioners require you to then fill out and present all compulsory documents at the VRT office or the vehicle will not be registered.
- Evidence of previous registration e.g. foreign certificate of registration, (V5C) a certificate of permanent exportation or a certificate of de-registration.
- Sales invoice showing the date of purchase/sale clearly indicated.
- Documentation verifying your name and address (Utility Bill, Bank Statement etc.).Personal Public Service Number (PPSN) e.g. a payslip, P60 or any documentation issued by the Revenue Commissioners which include your PPS number, name and address.
- Ensure you pay the correct VRT and VAT charges. If you can prove ownership and personal use of a vehicle in another jurisdiction for more than six months previously, you are not liable for VRT but you must present the vehicle for VRTinspection
VAT charges may apply on new cars less than six months old or have less than 6,000km on the clock. Vat is still payable, even if VAT was initially paid in another jurisdiction
After you have registered your car with the VRT office and had it inspected, paid your
VRT payable to Revenue, paid the relevant motor tax, you must then book your officially road-legal Irish car with Irish plates for its first NCT
Best time of year to buy a used car ireland
- the seasonality for best price from a dealership
- the weather, to ascertain the physical condition of the vehicle
Best months to buy a car
Obviously, you can buy a car at any time of the year and this is common when buying from a private seller but there are some advantages in hitting the dealerships at specific times.
Best day of the week to buy a car from a dealer
Shop early in the week also. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday are the best times as the weekends are usually very busy in showrooms and you will not get the same attention from sales people. Mondays are particularly slow, so this is a good opportunity to get more attention and a better deal.
Best buying times for cars
- Convertibles - Winter is the best time to buy a cabriolet as the asking prices increase during the summer when they become more popular
- 4x4 Wheel drive - Summer may be the best time to buy AWD (All Wheel Drive) vehicles tend to be more popular in the winter so consider buying in Spring or Summer.
- The last selling day in January as dealers are eager to reach their first months sales target
- The last selling day in June is key as this is the last registration period for dealers to offload their 20(1) cars and make way for their 20(2) stock.
- The last selling days of December are also important for similar reasons before the new 21(1) stock is rolled out.
- May, June and November can be slow for new car sales as many consumers opt to wait for a better registration
- Weekdays are always quieter in dealerships than the weekend, so there are bargains to be had mid-week
Check the car
- When the car is started, check that all warning symbols on dashboard initially come on and then go off again
- Listen for any strange or loud noises whilst driving the car
- Bring the car for 10-15-minute drive and try to go up and down through all gears
- Test the steering to ensure road handling is good
- Test the brakes to ensure discs and pads are good
- Walk around the vehicle and look for marks, scuffs, Scratches, etc
- Check that all panels line up correctly with no unusual gaps
- Check to see if the paintwork is all the same shade and quality
- Does bonnet open, close and line up correctly
- Look for excessive wear and tear (steering wheel, seats, door handles, etc)
- Check for dampness on and under carpets
- Lift carpet in the boot and feel for dampness
- Check that all instruments work (every button, windows, seats, radio, etc)
- Check that the central locking works
Under the bonnet
- Check the brake fuel reservoir
- Check for oil leaks around the engine
- Check the oil level and condition of oil with the dipstick. Sludgy black oil could be a sign of engine damage or its not well maintained?
- Is there a milky oil cap? This could indicate that there is moisture mixing with the oil. This is a creamy sludge like mayonaise
- Check the engine coolant reservoir
- Check the timing belt and refer to the service history booklet that it has been changed at the relative time and distance
Test driving a vehicle is vital. This is your opportunity to make sure you are making the right decision and the car meets all your needs. Some Main dealers may even be prepared to let you test drive a new car for an extended time or even overnight, so definitely don't be shy to ask. If you cannot test drive the car yourself, have a qualified engineer inspect the car and test drive it for you.
- Start the car when the engine is cold. It should start straight away and the engine should not labour in any way
- Leave the car running and then check the exhaust for excessive noise as there could be holes in the exhaust
- Check the exhaust. A small bit of white steam-like smoke is fine but if there is blue smoke, there could be an internal oil leak
- Once the engine has been running for a few minutes, the temperature gauge should sit about half-way
- Before setting off on the test drive, turn the steering wheel and check for smoothness and ease of turn and any screeching, banging or knocking
- Test the handbrake by pulling it up just enough to apply a small braking force while trying to drive off. If the handbrake fails to hold the vehicle back, it may need some attention
- Test drive the vehicle on as many different road surfaces as possible,going up and down all the gears including reverse to detect any issues
- While on the test drive, listen out for any knocking, bangs or unusual noises and certainly do not let the seller distract you with chatter and turning up the radio.
Vehicle Registration Tax (VRT)
- CO2 emissions bands for private cars registered since July 2008
- Engine capacity (cc) for private cars or vans registered since July 2008
- Unladen weight for commercial goods vehicles (unladen weight is the weight of a vehicle when not carrying a load)
National Car Test (NCT)
Motor Vehicle Insurance
Types of motor insurance policies
- Damage done to the vehicle regardless of how it was incurred
- Life/accident insurance; loss of personal belongings from the car
- Cost of a hired car if the insured car is off the road as a result of an accident
- Windscreen breakage, etc. (A brand new car should be comprehensively insured.)
- Vehicle Registration Certificate (VRC)
- Vehicle Licensing Certificate Number (VLC)
- Full service history booklet
- Valid NCT Certificate
- Valid NCT Disk (displaying mileage)
- Valid Motor Tax Disk
- VIN / Chassis Number
- Engine Number
- View the Legal Owner’s name in the VRC
- Ask to view Identification to ensure this is the same person
- Take a photograph or photocopy of the logbook including the change of ownership page with names and signatures.
Check out our guide to replace lost vehicle documents
Diesel or petrol or hybrid
Types of Hybrid cars
- Fully-Hybrid (Self-charging)
- Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV)
Dealers regularly provide short-term warranties to cover cars or money-back guarantees for their used cars. The majority of dealers will offer customers an option of trading in your current car against the vehicle that you are considering purchasing, which in the majority of cases is then used as a down payment for your new vehicle and this can make it more affordable for the customer. Some dealers may even offer a cash back option, which means that you don’t put as much equity into the new vehicle, spreadings the remaining amount over the lifetime of the finance agreement.
Types of Car Warranties
- New car warranty (between 1-5 years)
- Used car warranty (between 3 months to 1 year)
PCP (personal contract purchases)
- The Deposit
- Monthly Repayments
- Guaranteed Minimum Future Value (GMFV)
- End of term options
- Pay a final payment and keep the car
- Hand the car back
- Place the car as a deposit on another car
How to pay for a used car?
Safety tips when paying cash for a car:
- Do not go alone but take along someone with one
- Meet at the sellers home or place of work if possible
- If not a place of residence, meet in a public place
- Do not meet in supermarket car parks at night
- Avoid carrying large amounts of cash if possible
- Check the sellers I.D. and documentation
- Take a photograph of the VRC (Log book) before seller posts
- Make sure you get a receipt or something in writing if handing over money
- Above all, trust your gut instincts and if you feel unsafe; leave
Other things to consider before buying a used car
Here are some important things to do before you buy a used car to help ensure a smooth process!
Here is a recap of the questions you should ask before buying a used car
- How long do you have the car?
- Why are you selling the car?
- What condition is the car in?
- To your knowledge, has it ever been crashed or damaged?
- Have you replaced anything on the car recently?
- Is there any outstanding finance on the vehicle?
- Is there a full service history?
- Is the car taxed?
- How long left before tax is due?
- Does the car have an NCT certificate?
- How long left until the NCT is due?
- Are you the legal owner?
- Has it been stored in a garage?
- What special features does the car have?
- Has the car been modified in a way that could affect insurance?
- Are you open to negotiation on the price?
- When and where can you view and test drive the vehicle?
- Check that all the lines of the car’s bodywork are uniform
- Look for signs of repainting or overspraying or inconsistencies in coloring across all body panels.
- Check for uneven tyre wear as this could be a sign that the tyres are misaligned, which could be a sign of more serious issues
- Check for different or aftermarket headlights as different headlights could mean that the car was in an accident
- Check the pedal rubbers, gear stick and steering wheel for any signs of wear
- Check the odometer for any signs of alteration or interference and crosscheck the reading with the mileage record on your car check. You do not want a clocked car
- Make sure you have two sets of keys and check that they work on all 4 doors and the boot
- Ensure that all of the keys can start the ignition. Aftermarket cut keys may not be the correct kind of “transponder key” required to work with the car’s ignition and mobiliser
- During your test drive, test every gear up and down as well as reverse
- Check all lights, indicators and electrics are working properly
- Ensure that all car seatbelts are in full working order
- For extra peace of mind use MyVehicle.ie to check the car’s history, mileage etc. to ensure the vehicle isn’t subject to any outstanding finance
Why have an On-site Vehicle Inspection?
- Can potentially save lives by identifying major repair defects
- Can save money by highlighting any necessary work required
- Will clarify if the vehicle is safe and roadworthy
What is covered by an On-Site Vehicle Inspection?
- Full Check Report
- 101 multi-point check by Qualified Engineer
- Interior Vehicle Inspection
- Seat Belts and SRS Inspection
- Bodywork Exterior Inspection
- Rear Luggage Compartment Inspection
- Under-Bonnet Vehicle Inspection
- Wheels and Tyres Inspection
- Vehicle Brakes Inspection
- Steering and Suspension Inspection
- Vehicle Lighting and Electrics Inspection
- Under-body Vehicle Inspection
- Road Test
- Gives confidence that you’re making a good choice
The Law on driving defective vehicles
Frequently Asked Questions when buying an used car
Why is it important to purchase a car history check before buying a car?
What do I need to run a car history check?
Why is it best to buy from a dealer?
Should I buy a car that has no service history?
When buying a car, how many questions should I ask?
Why is car finance research important?
Is it possible to speak to the previous owner of the vehicle?
Should I trade-in my car?
Should I be embarrassed about walking away from a car deal if it doesn’t sound good?
Justin Kavanagh is a recognised leader in automotive intelligence and vehicle data supply to the entire motor industry. He has almost 20 years experience in building systems from the ground up. As the Managing Director of Vehicle Management System, he understands the need and importance of trustworthy and reliable vehicle history and advice to both the trade and the public.
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