Now is the perfect time to get a used car bargain as dealerships go quiet, car sales drop and people spend their money on Christmas. Whether buying from a dealer or from a private seller, Shane Teskey of HPICheck.com shares his top tips for driving a festive bargain:
1. Get the timing right
If you’re thinking about waiting for the New Year sales, think again. On average the cost of a car sold in January is higher than those sold in previous months. November and December are the best months to buy convertibles, however, 4x4s increase in value during the winter, so pick your vehicle carefully.
2. Don’t get into the driver's seat
The seller can smell a sale, once a buyer sits in the driver’s seat. This is where your emotions take over and you start to imagine yourself driving that car, which makes it hard to think with your head. Instead of getting inside, ask the dealer to drive the car out, so you can look at it from all angles.
3. See the light
Vehicles can look a lot more attractive in low-light, especially those which have a few dents here and there, so try to view the vehicle in daylight or at least under a very good light source. Take a torch. A good light source will also help you check under the bonnet to ensure chassis numbers match the car’s documents.
4. Do the colours match?
Check the bodywork to see if there is any variation in the shades – even very subtle differences – this normally tells you the car has been worked on. Ask why this is.
5. Check the bodywork
Most modern cars have bolt-on panels. Check the bolts under the bonnet. If the paint is chipped on the bolts, it may mean the panels have been modified in some way. Ask why this is – it may give an indication of the car’s accident history.
6. Do the gadgets work?
In the middle of winter, it’s easy to forget the air-conditoning, but you’ll be kicking yourself if it’s not working once summer arrives. If the car has an integrated sat nav system, make sure it works. Make sure the disc is present, enter your home postcode and make sure it would get you there. Also check the radio, windows and lights work.
7. Take a test drive
Winter with its cold, damp weather presents unique challenges when it comes to test driving a used car. However you should try to drive as you would in the summertime, take the vehicle up to speed then hit the brakes to test the ABS (when it’s safe to do so). When braking, see how straight the car comes to a stop, as pulling in one direction can indicate brake or alignment problems. Also try taking the car to a large car park and see how it handles on areas where black ice can appear.
8. Rev up research
Check the service history and then conduct a vehicle history check at www.hpicheck.com which charges £19.99 to gain a full picture of the vehicle’s status, ensuring it’s not a banger masquerading as a bargain. Know the car's market value beforehand - pick up a Parker's Car Price Guide (£5.99) from Tesco and WHSmith. Use the AA's vcars.co.uk and whatcar.co.uk to read reviews and Honestjohn is useful for tips on common faults. Also check the service history. Are any parts due to be replaced? A new cam belt costs a couple of hundred pounds but if it fails you might have to buy a new engine.
Remember, the price on the sticker is only the starting price. Take the price of the defects you’ve spotted off of this price for a start.