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Buying A Used Car: The Know How

There is no denying the fact that buying a used car can be a daunting experience; after all, you will want to strike the best possible deal at the best possible price. Our panel of used car experts has carefully constructed this "Buying a Used Car" section with helpful hints and tips on starting your search, to provide you, the buyer, with essential info when it comes to sourcing and purchasing a car. The best of luck in your search!

  • Avoid all contact with sellers or buyers if the offer seems to good to be true..
  • Never buy a car without seeing it first or having it checked over by a professional.
  • Never give out your account details if unsure, if you do and have reservation, contact your bank immediately.
  • Make sure you "Motorcheck" the vehicle to prevent against it being stolen, clocked, outstanding Finance. It might be the best €35 ever spent.
  • Ask to see the log book and if a name is on it ask for ID to verify the seller.
  • Where is the VIN number? (Should match the log book)

Starting Out
In getting this far you have decided that you are going to buy a car, be it used or new. Prior to going and actually sourcing a car, you are going to have to figure out a few things first. What is your budget? How much will it cost you to run this car, in terms of tax, insurance and fuel consumption? Will this car depreciate, or even appreciate? Cars cost money to run and maintain, and for this reason you will have to work out all of the above in order to see what car will fit your budget. Once you've figured this out, you'll now need to decide where to buy.

Browsing private listings...
Where to Buy?
There are four different places to search for a used car in Ireland that we here at Ulster Cars recommend, and they are as follows:

  1. Privately
  2. There are two main ways to source private cars in Ireland: classified adverts in magazines such as Ulster Cars Magazine, or online adverts on websites such as www.cbg.ie After taking a look through both, you will find that privately advertised cars do tend to be up for grabs at cheaper prices than those found at a dealership. The reason for this is that you are cutting out the dealer's margin and obviously the costs that they incur when running a business. Even though a certain car may cost less when bought privately than when bought from a dealer, that does not necessarily mean you are getting any better a deal, however.
    Points to Note: Privately
    • Dealers prices my often be higher than Private owners however there are certain advantages when buying from a dealer e.g. vehicle recently serviced, extended warranty, additional extras.
    • Don't examine a vehicle at night time or during wet weather. You will not be able to spot scrapes and scratches that would otherwise be very visible during dry conditions.
    Recommended Sources:www.cbg.ie, Ulster Cars magazine, word of mouth.

  3. Dealers
  4. When buying a new car, franchised dealerships are the best place to buy from. As this is "Used" Ulster Cars, we will concentrate on making a used car purchase, however. Dealers selling used cars will usually provide paperwork detailing the car's history, something you won't see too often in private sales. Some may even provide a warranty with the car that will cover the cost of any major mechanical faults that might occur within the first year of ownership. Such deals cannot be negotiated when buying privately, however, so you won't get the same "peace of mind". Types of dealer can vary from official dealers to small independent dealers.

    Points to Note: Dealers
    • You can never take enough time to examine the car; arrive early at the dealership and give it the full run through.
    • Ignore salesmen who try to distract you by constantly talking while you are looking at the car.
    • Remember that salesmen work on a commission basis, so they are going to be looking for a high asking price for the car they sell. So never always feel you can haggle!
  5. Auction
  6. Auctions are becoming a popular way to purchase cars here in Ireland, with cars being sold for almost 30 percent cheaper than you are likely to find them in either the private adverts or at your local dealer. There is a catch, however. An auction operates on a "Sold as seen" basis, which means that all cars in the auction do not come with a guarantee, and so dealers cannot be held responsible for mechanical problems after a purchase. This shouldn't put you off, however, as many things are sold this way besides cars, including franchised businesses and houses. Before jumping in and buying a car straight away, you are best to go and take a look at an auction, and see how things are run. Get a general feel for the atmosphere at an auction before starting to bid on cars.

    In order to participate in the auction you will have to attain a bidding number before the auction starts, which will require a E250 deposit. This is to prevent timewasters from bidding on cars, and then not actually paying for them. Vehicles will pass through the auction and then the bidding begins. The auctioneer will start calling out cost figures for the car and if you are interested in that particular figure, you raise your hand. At the end, if you are the highest bidder you must raise your bidding number and, congratulations, you've just bought a car! Remember that all auctions will charge the purchaser a Buyers' Premium. You can enquire at the auction about the current scale of charges. The lowest fee should be in the region of E60.

    Points to Note: Online Auction
    • Online auctions such as those found on eBay are becoming more and more popular nowadays, especially since Internet access has increased significantly nationwide. In comparison with regular auctions, online auctions carry a far greater risk, as buyers do not get to see the car they are bidding on in the metal - instead, the buyer must gauge the car's condition etc. from photos alone.
  7. Importing
  8. Importing has become an increasingly popular fad in Ireland within the past five years. Prospective buyers have the chance to pick up high quality, low mileage cars at an asking price well under both private and dealers' rates. At present, the most popular country from which to import cars is Japan. There are countless Japanese wholesalers that specialise in exporting cars. You can purchase from these wholesalers online. Importing a car is a serious commitment, and we here at Ulster Cars would not recommend it to either first-time car buyers or to the non-mechanically minded. On importing the car from Japan you will have to pay for shipping fees and VRT (Government tax). You will also have to get the car NCT-ed!

What to Look For When Buying a Used Car

From the Outside

  • Walk around the vehicle, looking for signs of body repairs and patches of paint that differ slightly from the original. Run your hand along the panels to check for any rough bodywork that may have been re-sprayed. Minor scratches and chips can be fixed but cracks and impact craters are another story.
  • Telltale signs of repair include one headlight that looks newer than the other.
  • Rust can be in hidden places, such as the inside of doors.
  • Don't forget to look for rust spots underneath the car, and check for signs of oil leaks and other defects at the same time.
  • If you can, bring a magnet with you when viewing the car. Run it along the bodywork. It will not stick to filler, telling you if any panels have been crash-repaired.
  • Study the condition of the tyre sidewalls, and check the tread for signs of uneven or excessive wear. Check that all tyres are the same size, too.

Under the Bonnet
  • Be brave and look under the bonnet. Corroded battery terminals or holding brackets, an oily engine, frayed wiring and cracked hoses are all signs of neglect.
  • A coating of oil or sludge on the inside of the radiator cap is cause for alarm. To check this, remove the radiator cap and rub your finger along the inside of the cap to see if there are any substance buildups. There shouldn't be any.
  • Remove the radiator cap and start the engine from cold. Look out for air bubbles surfacing in the water, which could indicate a defective cylinder head gasket.
  • Check the oil level. To do this, remove the dipstick and clean the oil off with some tissue. Dip the stick back into the oil reservoir and gauge how much oil is in the engine. There will be a level indicator on the dipstick to tell you the required oil level. Low levels of oil indicate poor maintenance or a possible oil leak. This can be extremely expensive to repair and � in a worst case scenario � cause the engine to seize.
  • Brake fluid levels are crucial � if there is no brake fluid, the vehicle will be unable to stop. The brake fluid reservoir is located under the bonnet in the back right-hand area of the engine bay. Remove the rubber cap to show the brake fluid level. Low fluid levels could signal a leak.
  • To check the shock absorbers, bounce the corner of the vehicle up and down several times � when you release it, you should feel the vehicle bounce back twice, any more and you may need new shock absorbers.

On the Inside
  • Check the brake and clutch pedals. If they look overly new they may have been replaced for the wrong reasons; if they look old and worn the car may have covered a bigger distance than claimed. They should have average wear for the claimed mileage.
  • Ensure that all the controls (including heater, wipers and so on) are working as they should. Examine the windscreen, which is an expensive item to replace.
  • Check to see if the oil, brake and battery gauges light up. Problems with any of the three could signify mechanical issues or owners' neglect.
  • Check the headlights, brake lights and reverse lights before you take it out for a test drive. Also, test the horn and indicators.
  • Observe the steering, clutch and brakes; the steering should not move more than two inches in either direction without turning the wheels; once you put the vehicle in gear, how far does the clutch rise before the vehicle moves? If it doesn't work until it returns to its original location, it may need an adjustment or replacement (replacing a clutch can be expensive).

The Test Drive
  • The wheel should be in the correct straight-ahead position. Although correcting any deviations could entail no more than a slight adjustment, it could also indicate suspension damage.
  • While the engine is running you should listen to see if it "idles" well. This means that there should be a constant and steady ticking over.
  • Loud knocking or whines should be checked out by a mechanic. It may just need to be tuned; however, it could also lead to more difficult mechanical repairs.
  • Observe whether or not it is easy to change gear. If you hear a grinding noise there may be transmission or clutch problems. If it is only happening on one gear, it is more likely to be the transmission.
  • If the steering wheel shakes when making a turn, there may be a suspension problem. If all appears well, take the vehicle up to motorway speed and up some hills to test its performance. If the steering wheel vibrates at higher speeds, there may be an alignment problem.
  • Press the brake pedal down fully and hold for just under a minute �it should hold firm. If it doesn't there could be a leak and you should drive with extreme caution. Check brakes at a slow speed to see if there is any pulling, screeching or sticking. If there is a pull, they may simply have to be readjusted; however, if there is screeching, it could mean the brake shoes are worn and need work. When it is safe to do so, check the brakes at higher speed for the same problems.

The Tyres
  • Check the wheel arch width: The way to do this is by placing your hand into the wheel arch and checking the space between it and the tyre (see pic). If they do not match, the car may have been involved in an accident.
  • Study the condition of the tyre sidewalls, and check the tread for signs of uneven or excessive wear. Check that all tyres are the same size.

When Does a Tyre Need Replacement?
  • A new tyre typically has a tread depth of 8mm, measured from the lowest point of a groove to the tyre tread surface.
  • The law states that: "The grooves of the tread pattern must be at least 1.6mm deep throughout a continuous band comprising the central three-quarters of the tyre and round the entire outer circumference of the tyre."
  • The Garda�, AA, RAC, RSPA and many vehicle manufacturers recommend that tyres should be replaced if the tread depth measures between 2mm and 3mm.
  • In wet weather, the stopping distance of a tyre with 1.6mm of tread can be double that of a new tyre with 8mm.
  • On fitting new tyres, valves are replaced and the wheel assembly is balanced. You should ask for a wheel alignment check, as an incorrect setting can result in abnormal and premature wear to your tyres.

Exhaust Emissions
  • If the engine is cold, a white emission is okay; however, if the engine is warm this could be a serious problem. A blue emission will probably mean work is needed on the engine and black means a small adjustment is necessary.
  • When the exhaust pipe has completely cooled off, wipe the inner surface with a rag or your finger � white or grey dust is normal, but if there is a thick, greasy residue, this means the vehicle burns a lot of oil, which can be serious.
  • When the engine has been running a few minutes, turn off the ignition and check the oil. Locate the dipstick with care � the engine is still warm. Pull it out and wipe it clean, then reinsert it and pull it out again to see the oil mark left on the dipstick. There are usually three markers on the stick � low, safe and full. Driving the vehicle with low oil is very bad for the engine.

If In Doubt

If there is anything that worries you about the vehicle, have a qualified mechanic look at it before handing over cash. This will be an extra cost but if you think you've found the right vehicle for you, it is well worth getting a professional opinion.

Do not be afraid to question the owner on their car's history. We have compiled a list of the top 10 questions to ask the owner when viewing a car for sale.

What to Ask:

Owner Details
  • When did you buy the car?
  • Why are you selling the car?
  • Could I see the log book?
  • Do you have ID and is your name on the log book?
When Checking the Car's Body
  • Has this car ever been crashed?
  • Was the car first registered in Ireland/was it imported?
When Checking the Car's Engine
  • Has there been any mechanical work done to it?
  • What is the mileage again? (Refer back to the clock)
  • When was the last full service carried out, and by whom?
  • When was the timing belt done?
  • Where is the VIN number? (Should match that in the log book).