Thinking of buying a second-hand car? Here’s what to keep in mind

Buying from a registered SIMI dealer gives you legal recourse, which is vital

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So how is the second-hand car market these days? Good and bad, depending on who you ask. Dealers say second-hand

sales have slowed in the past few weeks, with cars valued at €10,000 or less selling well but cars above that not moving as well.

A major factor in the supply of second-hand cars is the value of sterling. We have long been big importers of used cars from Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, so the value of sterling has a direct impact on their price here.

With sterling at its current high, imports have slowed noticeably. Motorcheck.ie says that registrations of imported cars were down 27 per cent in May and down 12.6 per cent over the course of the year. This trend compounds the stock shortage and means the buyer has a smaller selection to choose from. Motorcheck.ie adds that demand far exceeds supply; used-car prices remain high and bargains are hard to find.

But one Dublin dealer says he is routinely discounting cars valued at more than €10,000 by as much as €1,000 for a cash sale, so that he can reduce stock – a critical concern for dealers. So a car valued at less than €10,000 will not carry an attractive discount and the quality of cars on offer is not as high. Once you move above that price there are more attractive offers and better discounts, especially as dealers push 152-plate sales and attract better trade-ins.

What are the pitfalls of buying second-hand these days?

Potential buyers may look at advertising and feel there has never been a better choice, but buying a car is as fraught as it ever was. Sales are generally divided into three categories: buying privately, buying from an advertiser in the trade, or buying from a dealer.

Buying privately is always a gamble. You can be very lucky and find a private seller who has every document to hand, has looked after the car and has a full service history – plus the advantage of having a home address that you can visit. These days you may also find someone (who could be a car “trader” or private seller) who wants to meet you in a shopping-centre car park, asks you to bring cash or bank draft and is vague when answering your questions.

You don’t have to have scored highly in a Mensa test to figure out that this is a complete risk and that you are leaving yourself open to dealing with hucksters. Many of these are contactable only by mobile phone – known in the trade as a “ready to throw” phone. There will almost certainly be consequences. Certainly, you will have no guarantee and no realistic chance of a comeback in the event of a problem.

A more secure option is to go to dealer who is registered with the Society of the Irish Motor Industry. You will pay extra, but you then have recourse through the Simi mediation scheme, the courts and the National Consumer Agency.

Bear in mind that not all dealers are registered with Simi. One dealer with a Dublin premises is awaiting sentence on four convictions relating to the sale of two cars that were previously crashed and whose histories the new owners had no idea of.

Another Dublin dealer says he has dealt with three customers with relatives who had bought cars from the UK that had been written off by insurance companies. Running a check with a company such as Motorcheck.ie is vital before buying these days.

What about “mileage clocking”? And is a valid NCT certificate not a guarantee of roadworthiness?

Mileage clocking still happens, but it’s not as widespread as it once was. If you have been out of the car-buying game for some years, or you are buying for the first time, ask someone knowledgeable to come with you. There are ways for someone with specialised knowledge to check for oil leaks, internal leaks, possible gasket problems, excessive wear and tear, and timing-belt and other expensive issues. A main dealer should be offering you a year’s guarantee for a reasonably new second-hand car and six months’ guarantee for an older car, so that is a preferred option.

If you don’t have the services of a good mechanic, you should buy only from a main dealer. An NCT certificate – beware of fakes – proves only that a car is generally roadworthy. It does not guarantee that the engine is not ready to blow up or that the car has not been crashed and then repaired.

Where to start, then?

Do your research and know exactly what you want to buy before you set out to look for it. Be aware of things like the fact that the average mileage on a car ordinarily used should be less than 20,000km a year, have knowledgeable advice to hand, ensure you carry out a history check, do not meet people away from a home address or an established premises, tend towards a registered Simi dealer, remind yourself that if it looks too good to be true then it probably is, be aware of online “traders” posing as private sellers, demand all appropriate documents (again, beware of fakes), value a car’s service history (yet again, beware of fakes), don’t go to look at a car in the dark or in the rain, and, above all, maximise your options for legal recourse.

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