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Buying a New or Used Car? 5 Things to Look Out For

Whether you’re thinking of buying a new or used car, it’s easy to get swept up in all the excitement. Gadgets, tech and a dazzling selection of models are all points of interest, but what about getting down to the nitty-gritty: car finance deals, bodywork, engine condition, warranties and more?

In 2021, more than 2 million Brits bought from the used car market. But with the rise of prices and the push for electric vehicles, there are many questions you should have ahead of your new purchase. 

Here we’ve rounded up 5 things for you to look out for when buying a car before you part with your hard-earned cash:

Take a look at your budget

Before you even consider buying a car – new or used – you need to look at your finances. Your budget is ultimately the most significant deciding factor in what vehicle you end up buying, as it allows you to know how much you can afford. 

Make sure you consider how much you are spending on:

  • Insurance, road tax, maintenance
  • Fuel
  • Mortgage/rent payments
  • Weekly food
  • Entertainment and other disposable income spending 

Once you’ve figured out how much you are currently spending, it’ll be easier to figure out the spend for any new car you consider. 

Find out about car finance

Cars are expensive, and footing the upfront costs without support is often impossible for most consumers. That’s where car finance comes in. It allows you to buy the car you need or want without the hassle of waiting to save the funds or making you spend beyond your means. 

Instead, the cost of your new or used car is covered by the finance company, lender or broker so that you can pay smaller monthly installments to make your purchase more affordable. 

Moreover, car finance isn’t just available for people with a good or excellent credit score. So if you have struggled to be accepted for finance before due to a poor or “bad” score, bad credit car finance is on offer from a range of specialist lenders that believe everyone deserves a chance to own their own car! 

But don’t be fooled by too good to be true deals at the dealership. Make sure you do your homework first and compare prices online to find the best deal that suits your circumstances. 

Concerned about servicing costs, maintenance or warranties? Make sure you ask your lender or dealer about everything that comes with your package. 

Look at the resale value

Before committing to any car purchase, be realistic about how long you plan to keep your vehicle. If, for instance, you are only planning on keeping it for a few years before selling it on, it’s worth choosing a car that will hold its resale value by the time you come to sell it. 

Several factors come into play here. 

Premium motors such as BMW 1 Series SE will be worth more in three years’ time than a non-premium car such as a Ford Focus Titanium despite their similar price tags now. So make sure you compare models, engine sizes and badge appeal before you buy.

Arrange a test drive

Whether you are planning on buying a new or used car, getting behind the wheel is a must before you make any big decisions. It allows you to:

  • Listen to the engine
  • Notice sticky brake pads, odd smells or noticeable rattles
  • How easy it is to gear change
  • You get a feel for how well the car handles
  • See how comfortable you feel behind the wheel

If you can’t see yourself in the car post-test drive, or there are other red flags for you, then walk away. This isn’t the motor for you. 

If the dealer or seller isn’t happy about you going out for a spin, you are under no obligation to buy a car from them. 

Give the car a once over

While this only really applies to used cars, giving any vehicle you wish to buy a good once over is recommended practice for any prospective buyer:

Leaking fluids

One of the easiest things to spot is leaking fluid. Check underneath the vehicle for any signs of leaking – this could be oil residue or sludge – all bad signs.

After, look under the bonnet. Brown or black residue is usually oil; green, pink or yellow is coolant (antifreeze); reddish brown is either gearbox or power steering fluid. You can ask the seller to sort this out at a reduced price.

Fire up the engine

Listening to the engine can tell you many things about a car. If you hear any rattles, breaks or odd sounds, there is likely an unresolved fault with the vehicle that needs to be addressed. 

While the engine is on, look at the exhaust pipe for a few minutes. Blue smoke is a telltale sign of the engine burning oil; excessive white smoke can point to a gasket failure or coolant entering the cylinders while burning fuel. Black smoke appears when the engine is burning too much fuel. 

If you are desperate to buy this vehicle, despite its varying bursts of colored smoke, get it checked out by an expert before any commitment to buy is on the table. 

Check the gearbox and clutch

The real test here is what you can feel, not what you can see. Regardless of whether this is a manual or automatic gearbox, you should be able to engage any gear smoothly and quietly. 

If this is a manual car, find the clutch biting point – typically around the middle of the pedal’s travel. If your foot reaches the floor, the clutch likely needs to be adjusted or replaced. 

Listen out for grinding noises or any feeling of resistance too! 

Interiors and exteriors

Ensure you check for any chips, scratches or rust in the paintwork. Pay particular attention to the rims and around the wheel arches. 

After, sit in each of the seats. Make sure the safety belts aren’t frayed and positively click into place and release easily. Then make sure the upholstery is in good condition. If there is an odd smell, ask the seller to clean the car first or ask for a reduction in the price. 

Don’t forget to look in the boot, and make sure that an extra tire is present and any other accessories included in the sales description. 

Finding the right car for you is all part of the buying game, so make sure you do all your checks before committing to buy! What will your next car be? 

Jeff Campbell