Tips for Buying A Used Car

Buying used cars can sometimes appear to be a risky business, especially if we’re thinking about making a private purchase. There are always the concerns over what happens if something goes wrong, and what possible redress you may have. Of course that’s not to say that we always trust any garage or car dealer that we may approach either.

Here are a few tips, things to be aware of, whenever and wherever you may be buying a used car.

  • Always ask to see relevant documentation. This should include service history, vehicle registration and vehicle licensing certificates. If the car is pre-1993, ask for the log book.
  • Confirm the year of the vehicle – date of first registration. Confirm also how long the seller has owned the car. There would be no concerns if it’s a number of years – if it’s a couple of weeks, you may want to ask why. Either they’re trying to get rid of the car quickly for some reason, or they may be be an unregistered dealer posing as a private seller.
  • Confirm that the car is the sellers to sell. If selling on behalf of someone else, speak to that person. Ensure the car isn’t on hire purchase or lease – if it is, it isn’t the sellers to sell. If necessary, ask for proof of identity as well as relevant documentation.
  • Has the car been crashed? A garage should tell you if a car has been crashed, though an individual may not, or be hazy regarding details or seriousness. You should check for telltale signs such as ripples in the bodywork, paint blobs from respraying or slightly different colour body panels. This shouldn’t necessarily stop you purchasing the car, as long are you are aware of the full circumstances. Possibly have the car checked out by a professional to confirm.
  • Is the car a foreign import? This again is not necessarily a reason not to purchase the car. However, you should confirm that all liabilities such as VRT and VAT have been paid upon importation to Ireland. Any outstanding liabilities could fall to you as the future owner. Ensure that the car has no “quirks” that may be explained away because it is an import – such “quirks” may not comply with Irish legislation and be liable to prosecution.
  • View the car at the sellers residence – Do not buy from a car park, a petrol station area or general public area (even if the seller says it’s for convenience) as it will be harder, if not impossible, to contact the vendor if a problem arises. Be wary of dealing with someone who is willing only to contacted through a mobile number.

Things to look out for when examining a used car –

  • Tyres – Are they painted black to make them look better, or to cover up something?
  • Interior – Is there a strong smell of air-freshner? Is this just good house-keeping, or is it trying to cover up some other smell?
  • Body – Be aware that if you’re viewing the car in wet conditions, the rain may make it look shinier, newer, and help to mask scratches.
  • Starting the Engine (i) – Be aware that the car may have been warmed up prior to your arrival to ensure a good start and minimum engine noise.
  • Starting the Engine (ii) – Make sure the radio is off when starting the care – it may have been left on to cover up any dodgy noises as the car starts.
  • Exhaust Pipe – Check the exhaust pipe for any carbon deposits as this may give evidence to a smoky engine.
  • Baby Seats – Have been known to be added to cars to give the impression of them being sedate family cars rather than hard driven boy-racer types.

Consumer Protection when buying used cars

It is usually cheaper to buy a used car privately but you have fewer legal rights. The vehicle must still be ‘as described’ but that’s where your legal protection ends.

According to the National Consumer Agency, if the car was bought in a private sale (i.e. not bought from a garage), but a problem arises with the car and the seller refuses to do anything, the consumer may not be entitled to anything under the Sale of Goods and Supply of Services Act.

If the car was sold by another consumer (i.e. privately, and not as part of a business), it is reasonable to expect that the seller may not have been aware of, or, had the expertise to recognise a potential fault. Though, for example, if the seller says that the car recently passed the NCT when it clearly wouldn’t have passed, then the car is not “as described”.

However, the consumer should be advised to consult a Solicitor to explore other legal remedies. Bear in mind, however, that there is always the practical difficulty of obtaining awarded by the Courts from a private individual.

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