Tricks of the Used-Car Trade

Saying that everyone trying to sell you a used car is a conman, is a gross generalisation. But assuming that no-one is, is naïve. Protect yourself by being mindful of these commonly-used tricks.

A used car should always be bought from a reputable dealer to protect your pocket. You’ll easily be able to tell who these are – they’re well-known, trusted and respected, and have been around for years.

It’s difficult, however, to resist a good deal when you spot it on the internet or at a sales lot. But pause before you sign on the dotted line. There could be a very good reason why that deal seems almost too good to be true.

The first possibility is that the seller is trying to get rid of the car because of defect; a defect that they’re not advertising. They’re counting on the fact that potential buyers will be so overwhelmed by the good price that no inspection will be asked for. But this is exactly what you should do: take a mechanic – or a friend with equal knowledge – along to have a good look at the car for you.

If the car you’re interested in is at a sales lot instead of a private seller, don’t be surprised when the car is “sold out” when you get to the shop. Chances are, the cheap car was never available and the second-hand salesman just used it to get you to his establishment. This fortunately won’t cost you any money, unless you’re convinced to buy a more expensive car, which sometimes happens. 

You also have to be wary of anyone who suddenly changes any details of the sale halfway through the transaction. An honest salesman will stick to the original agreement and its terms and conditions. When a car is suddenly unavailable or personal details change or the seller becomes difficult to contact, you have to proceed with caution. You could very well be the victim (or near victim) of a scam.

It seems almost too obvious a point to make, but never make a payment if you haven’t seen the car. It doesn’t matter how believable the excuse seems for why the car isn’t available for viewing, you have to insist on it. Organising a viewing is of course tricky if the car is another part of the country, but this is also when it’s easiest to be duped, so it could be a good idea to back out of the sale if you can’t travel to where the car is.

Tiny details you must make a note of checking out would be the service history, the VIN number, the log book, the Road Worthy Certificates and the personal details of the seller. Their address and contact details have to match up on all the documents it appear. There could be a simple reason why there are two addresses for the seller, but perhaps there is not. Always ask, it is the only way to find out which one it is.

The final piece of advice? Trust your gut, because sometimes you might have taken all the precautions but that little voice will still be telling you that something is up. But if you have done all your homework and you feel good about the deal, go ahead – apply for private vehicle finance and buy that dream car.

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