With so many great used cars on offer, more and more people are drawn to the idea of buying a second-hand car. That being said, purchasing a used vehicle is a totally different experience from buying a new one. Not everyone gets it right though. Let’s get started.

Only buying from the dealers

This is a common mistake among many used car buyers and it is based on the presumption that dealer sourced cars are always better than the ones you can find in the local classified ads. This is not always true since dealers find cars just as you might and accept trade-ins. The prices at the dealers are almost always higher than from private sellers and this doesn’t mean that the cars are necessarily better; It means that the dealer needs to turn a profit on the sale.

If you are looking for the best deals, make sure to look in local ads since you can find privately owned, one-owner vehicles with lower prices and in even better conditions. A plus point to dealers is that you can get more post purchase support with warranties, but not all dealers are exactly helpful! The best dealers are usually great, but even then, you should be prepared to pay significantly more than the average price.

Buying without a thorough mechanical check

As we already said, buying a used car is a totally different experience from new. When you’re buying a new car, all you need to do is go to the showroom and drive away in your shiny new set of wheels. When you are buying a used car you want to be sure that the car is mechanically sound, roadworthy and that it is maintained properly.

The best thing you can do is to take the car to a trustworthy mechanic. It could be a certified shop or independent specialist as long as it will tell you all the good and the bad aspects of the car and give you a realistic appraisal of the vehicle. If you are unable to take the vehicle to the shop, you can always ask some of your car mad friends to go with you as consultants. The point is, never buy used cars unchecked unless you don’t like money! Don’t forget that bad cars can sometimes look perfectly presentable from the outside but that’s not always revealing of what’s underneath.

Buying the cheapest version of the best car

You might be tempted to buy the cheapest version of the most expensive car you can afford, for example, a base model Dacia Sandero that doesn’t even have aircon, but this is likely a mistake. Not only will you get a vehicle with a low spec level but you will likely also get a car with a poor resale value which nobody wants because of this. Also, don’t forget that the base model is the cheapest car that said the company makes which means it is likely in worse condition than average, often starting its life as a company car, rental car or just a bought by a cheapskate.

Quite often, the car above the base model is the one to go for, leaving out those expensive options like satnav and lane guided cruise control, but including the best stuff like heated seats and air-con. This way, you will likely also get a car that has been cared for and not used as a company vehicle. Of course, you will pay more initially but the investment is justified by lower maintenance expenses and better resale values!

Credit: Charles CC BY 2.0

Not calculating insurance, maintenance and fuel costs first

There is an old saying which says that you always buy a second-hand car with half of the money you have. The other half you should save for other expenses such as insurance, repairs, tires, regular maintenance, modifications or fuel. It sounds boring but it’s pretty true to be honest! One of the biggest mistakes you can do is to stretch your budget to the maximum and have no money left to actually drive the car.

Sure you can get an E36 M3 for £6000 and that sounds extremely tempting but before you jump in, just think of the enormous cost of insurance, prices of spare parts and the amount of fuel its 3.2-litre and 343 HP straight six uses. Some cars are cheap not because they are ugly, slow or undesirable but because the maintenance and insurance over the course of a few years cost more than the car itself! It might shatter your dreams of a 6k M3, but be reasonable when choosing a used car and perhaps go with the 330ci instead!

Barely checking the paperwork

When you see your future dream car, there’s always the potential to concentrate on the car itself, checking every tiny detail and listening to the engine during the test drive. That being said, a mechanical check is not the only thing that’s required. During the process, always take time and check the paperwork the car comes with. Many buyers skip that part, often leading to costly bills!

What you want to see is a full stack of receipts from services, lists of spare parts that have been bought and installed, documents from registration, insurance papers with insurance claims (if any) and full-service history. This way you can trace what has been done with the car and how the car was treated throughout its life. You should also pay attention to the mileage, service records and wheatear it matches the numbers on the dash.

Sneaky dealers or sellers might tell you that the car is perfectly maintained by a certified specialist but don’t just take their word for it!