Cape Town – New car prices are exorbitant, at least for some, but that’s not the case for the 36,794 lucky South Africans who registered their new cars in January 2017.

For the last five years during January, new car sales in South Africa were stable around the 35,000 mark and annually, 547,442 units were sold in 2016 compared to 617,648 in 2015. That’s a considerable difference in sales. sales of 11.4% and experts say it is unlikely to improve this year.

Buying a used car in SA

According to WesBank, statistics indicated that 38,343 new cars were sold in May 2016 compared to 89,390 used cars, clearly showing that new vehicle sales are nowhere near even those of used cars.

Who doesn’t love the smell of a new car or the fact that you are the first owner, but second-hand cars simply offer better value for money, especially based on function? Used cars are also likely to lower your bank balance with a much lower insurance premium than a new car.

On the other hand, there is that annoying feeling of breaking down in a used car, and sometimes salespeople don’t help either. Anyone can get an ‘OBD2 code’ reader and suspicious sellers can clear the codes without fixing any problems.

Rest assured, following these simple steps will help you choose your new (used) car carefully without being taken advantage of by anyone.

Step 1: use your head, not your heart

We’ve all been there and we know how hard it is not to fall in love with what appears to be a bargain. Whether it’s the car of your dreams as a kid or a reminder of your first true love, be smart and make the right choice. Used car dealerships thrive on customers in love as they are easily swayed and could end in outright failure.

When you are looking to buy a car, the secret is to search everywhere and here the internet can be extremely helpful. Consider all of your options and be careful when buying the first car you see. Give yourself a realistic opportunity to explore and see what’s out there. Use the first three cars as a benchmark to weigh all the pros and cons going forward.

Step 2: avoid exotic cars

If you are buying a new car, you can buy just about anything you want as parts are readily available and the car will be under warranty. Buying a second-hand exotic car is not that easy mainly because there is no factory warranty and service or maintenance costs run out of pocket.

A good example is the parts of a Toyota Corolla or a VW Golf versus a Renault. An oil filter can cost as little as R60 but for a Renault higher than R200. This is easily increased when you own an exotic or high performance car.

However, it is more than considering the price of the parts. You also need to find a service station that can maintain your car with confidence. If your engine is more complex than that of a fighter jet, expect to pay higher rates.

In terms of performance, you must ask yourself this very important question; “If this Golf GTI, Type R or BMW M3 is so good, why are they selling it?”

That may not always be the case, but most of the time, high-performance cars have likely been pushed to the limit before they were sold. Stay away from these unless you are car savvy, have a decent mechanic, and are prepared to pay a premium for parts.

Step 3: read the seller, not the price tag

There is no way to hide from subconscious signals unless you are a trained spy. Watch the salesperson closely as he talks about the car and walks around the vehicle pointing to the parts. Restless or nervous behavior is often a sign that something is wrong with the car.

Keep a close eye on the seller’s body language. If they seem uncomfortable, just follow your instincts and walk away. Rather this than being stuck with a lemon.

I once saw a great looking car for sale, but the private seller seemed rushed. Fortunately, I had a good mechanic with me and he pointed out a soap residue in the oil. For those of you who don’t know, that’s a tell-tale sign of a broken head gasket that can be very expensive to repair.

Step 4: a thorough inspection is vital

When the salesperson asks how much you know about cars, act like you don’t know much. This means that they will only focus on the good points of the car, giving you a great opportunity to verify the things they did not mention.

Specifically, check the brake discs for uniform wear; the color of the oil should be golden brown and not dark. The battery terminals must be clean, the tires in good condition with even wear and the body must be straight. Check the bodywork seams in the engine compartment and trunk for any signs of accident repair.

Also, give the car a hard push with the parking brake on. Of course, it shouldn’t move, but if it does, you’ve already identified a problem.

When a car is advertised as having a “new” battery, it could mean there is something wrong with the loom or alternator. Realistically, why would someone sell a car and give you a battery worth R1000? The same applies to new tires. They are pricey to just ‘give away’ so be careful to be aware of faulty suspension or steering issues.

Lastly, look for body panels where the color appears a different shade. This could be an indication that the car was involved in an accident and a purchase that was not completed.

Step 5: test it well

Don’t just jump in and get going. Instead, have the salesperson start the engine and let the vehicle idle. Test the windshield wipers, lights and listen for the engine noise. Walk around the car and once it has been idle for a while, turn it off.

Start the car again leaving the headlights on. If it does not start immediately, there may be an electrical problem. Check all lights, air conditioning, radio, power windows, and mirror switches.

During your test drive, be sure to test all gears and find a decent incline on your route. Feel for any “flat spots” in acceleration, as this could indicate ignition or injector problems. Flat points are where acceleration momentarily stops and then picks up.

Listen to strange noises. Some people are just bad drivers and the old saying “If you can’t find it, grind it down” comes to mind, so check for squeaks when braking or shifting especially. This may indicate a serious mechanical failure and it is best to walk away.

High-pitched squeaks from V-belts are also unacceptable under any circumstance and other reason to just walk away. After the test drive, check if any liquid has spilled onto the ground. Oil or coolant can indicate serious problems with the oil seals, engine, or cooling system.

The last thing on the checklist is to trust your gut. Does the vehicle “feel good” to you? If the answer is yes, it’s time to sign on the dotted line and drive happily until your next purchase.

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