How to avoid buying a lemon and pick the best used vehicle for your money

30 September 2021 - 10:48 By Motoring Staff
It is not always possible to find out every detail about a used car’s history, but building a profile that is as complete as possible helps minimise the risk of buying a lemon.
It is not always possible to find out every detail about a used car’s history, but building a profile that is as complete as possible helps minimise the risk of buying a lemon.
Image: stocksolutions / 123rf

With many SA consumers feeling the pinch, largely because of the ongoing pandemic and the economic uncertainties that come with it, WesBank has seen a fundamental shift with new car buyers looking to the used car market for their transport needs.

In August 2021, finance applications for used cars were more than double those received for new cars. In light of this, WesBank offers the following advice to prospective buyers on how to approach second-hand vehicle purchases, as well as some common pitfalls to avoid.

A used car’s history is the most important information a prospective buyer should investigate. Buyers should actively seek out as much as possible about the car they have their eye on, and should be mindful of:

  • Total mileage
  • The age of the vehicle
  • Any possible accident history
  • Overall vehicle condition
  • The service history of the car, as documented in its service manual or digital service book in some more premium models.

It is not always possible to find out every detail about a used car’s history, but building a profile that is as complete as possible helps minimise the risk of buying a lemon. This exercise can also help determine a car’s market value. Any combination of age, mileage, service history, condition and ownership history can affect the price of a used vehicle.

For example, a three-year-old car owned by one person and 30,000km on the clock with a full service history is worth more than a similar car with a patchy or no service history at all. Similarly, a car with higher mileage but in perfect condition can be worth more than one with lower mileage but with worn seats, dented body panels and general neglect for condition.

To budget properly, it is also important to know the replacement costs for wear and tear items such as tyres, brakes, clutches and scheduled services, which can be expensive while adding to the overall maintenance costs and upkeep of a car. For example, higher-specification or sportier models often come with low-profile tyres which generally cost much more than the high-profile tyres on more entry level models. A few simple internet searches for the prices of replacement items on any particular car can help prepare you for these expenses further down the road.

There are also factors that affect affordability, so buyers are advised to consider costs that would affect their total monthly budget. These include costs for insurance, fuel and annual vehicle licensing fees. Contact your insurer for a quote on premiums ahead of purchases, and research what expected average fuel consumptions are for the car you’re looking at. Tally these costs and add them to your monthly budget for a clear picture of any vehicle’s total cost of ownership.

Pay close attention to a car’s current mileage and investigate when the next scheduled service is.

Think carefully before you make your purchase. Buying a vehicle from a recognised establishment can safeguard you from trouble if any issues arise shortly after you take delivery of a used car. The best form of recognition is to look for an establishment that is a member of the Retail Motor Industry Organisation, the National Automobile Dealers’ Association or a major car brand’s franchised dealership.

There are advantages to the consumer when purchasing a used vehicle in the franchised environment. These include formal manufacturer-approved used car programmes as well as manufacturer standards that have to be applied to a used car before it can be sold on the floor of a franchise. A consumer may not be provided with this when buying a vehicle from private sellers, other non-franchised environments.

Another major advantage to consumers when purchasing from a franchised dealer is the factory customer care infrastructure which applies when it comes to complaints and accountability.

A car that is advertised at a price well below its market value is another possible warning sign. A car that costs significantly less than similar models could indicate anything from extremely high mileage, relative to the year model; previous accident damage; or a history of serious mechanical problems. Trust your gut. When it comes to second-hand vehicles, some deals can certainly be too good to be true.

Ask the dealer if the car is still under warranty, or if the car is still in its maintenance or service plan period, or if the maintenance plan has expired. If not, it is advisable to purchase an extended warranty, service or maintenance plan. It is almost always possible for the warranty, service or maintenance plan of a used car to be extended, and these costs can also be included in monthly finance arrangements.

The finance and insurance (F&I) liaison at reputable dealerships will be able to facilitate the purchase of this extension. An F&I is a qualified individual who can assess the needs of each buyer and tailor finance agreements to their respective needs. WesBank advises prospective buyers to engage with the dealership’s F&I liaison when applying for finance, as they will help ensure that customers understand all the documentation prior to signing it.

Even if you’re on a very tight budget, it’s worth paying a little extra for a car that comes with a decent maintenance or warranty plan, as it could actually end up saving you money in the long run.


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