Buying a car? Spot the lemons with these simple tips

So you’ve saved your pennies, you’ve done your research, you’ve read the reviews and now your ready to start looking at second hand cars. Don’t rush in, don’t buy on the spur of the moment, you could save thousands by reading through this list of tips.

I am in and out of used cars all the time, there is rarely a day that I’m not driving some sort of car from bangers to luxury models, so here’s my list of top things to do when you decide to buy that perfect used car. Presuming you’ve settled on a car you like, you have cash in your pocket what should you do now?

  1. Before you spend any money, use your eyes. If the car has 50,000 miles on the clock then there should be very little ware on the surfaces. Look at the drivers’ seat for signs of fraying/tearing, check the steering wheel and pedals for the same. Look at the shut lines, with the doors closed all the gaps between panels should be even. Look down the side of the car; it should be in a straight line, if it’s not then it may have been crashed.
  2. Does everything work? If there’s a button on the dash press it, make sure it’s all working, the same for electric windows/seats, everything in the car should be working. You would be surprised how many people buy a car and only on the way home do they find out the radio isn’t working!
  3. Even if you don’t know what you’re looking at, look under the bonnet, it should be reasonably clean, no oil spills anywhere.
  4. Test Drive! Don’t be worried about going on a long test, pick a test route that encompasses main roads, motorways and if possible some bumpy bits too. Listen for strange noises from around the car, rattles can usually be fixed but bangs and shakes can be a symptom of something much more sinister.
  5. Even if all the above goes well don’t buy the first car you see, it may be the car you’ve been after but as the saying goes “buy in haste, repent at your leisure”. Take your time, the only one putting you under pressure to buy now is you, go away and think about it.
  6. Take the registration plate, the mileage and get a history check done. Someone like will be able to help you with everything; €35 for a full check is small money to pay to know the cars details.
  7. How much is your insurance and road tax going to be? Can you even get insured on the car? If you’re 19 and looking to buy an Evo 8 then you might have trouble getting insured, the dealer won’t refund your money just because you can’t get insurance.
  8. Get a mechanical inspection done, you can get this done through the AA or you can use a local mechanic. Prices vary for this service but you’ll get what you pay for. Don’t rely on someone who “knows stuff” about cars, get it done properly it could save you thousands in the long run.
  9. Use the internet, trawl through the forums to see if there’s any information about the car you’re buying. has a very busy motors section where you can ask users what they think about the car and its known problems.
  10. Once all the above is good now is the time to talk to the sales man. If you are trading a car the only price that matters is the cost to change, that’s the price difference between the car you’re trading and the one you’re buying, get ready to haggle that price, every penny you save is worth haggling over. Try asking for extras like floor mats or free 1st service, you never know until you ask.
  11. Talk about warranty, how long is it and what does it cover. Some warranties will only cover the engine and gearbox, others will cover mechanical faults. None of them will cover wear and tear items like wipers or tyres. It’s very important you get this information in writing as a verbal agreement isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.
  12. If you’re still not happy with something then walk away, there’s plenty more cars out there for sale.

If you follow all the above you should get a decent reliable car, but use your head and remember drive as many cars as you can before you decide what to buy.

Next time I’ll talk about importing your own car from the UK, and if it’s really worth the hassle.