Let’s face it: when you’re buying from the bargain bin, you can’t expect a car that will look too pretty. Dings, scratches and faded paintwork are the norm, and you’re almost going to have to live with a few of those cosmetic flaws, so do your best to see past them.
What matters most at this price point is whether the car is sound mechanically – so value the car’s maintenance record and the way it drives on its test-drive over and above the way it looks.
Buy from the side of the road
Any seller who offers to meet you in a layby, car park or service station should be viewed with extreme suspicion, even if they give a very good reason or say they’re trying to help you out. It’s more than likely such a seller wants to remain untraceable if – or rather, when – something goes wrong with the car after they’ve handed over the keys.
Even if you meet a private seller outside their house, make sure the house really is theirs – have you seen them come out or go in, or did they meet you on the street outside? Any genuine private seller’s address should match that written on the car registration and/or servicing documents. Be wary, too, of any seller saying they’re selling the car from a friend’s house.
That fully-equipped, top-of-the-range model might look tempting, but if it’s going for the same price as a more humble version with similar mileage, you should ask yourself why – after all, nowhere is the adage “If something looks too good to be true, it usually is” more apt than in the used car game.
If everything checks out, of course, you might be on to a bargain – but you should be especially scrupulous in ensuring all is in order, and always ask yourself: “Where’s the catch?”
Ignore warning signs
If the exact car you’re craving comes up for sale and really floats your boat, it can be tempting to ignore little foibles. But make sure you don’t gloss over anything that could point to a serious underlying problem.
If the air-conditioning doesn’t work, for example, it might only need a relatively cheap re-gas – or it might be a sign that one of the components is in need of an expensive repair. Don’t allow your desire for a particular model to blind you to the latter possibility.