Not many of us have the deep pocket to buy a new car or ‘tear rubber,’ as it is now called. Used vehicles have, therefore, become the alternative. However nice a second-hand vehicle may look outside, it does come with problems, hence the need to exercise due diligence when buying one.
Finding a great second-hand vehicle shouldn’t be a matter of good luck or even divine intervention.
It just takes a bit of homework and some patience to locate the right model at a reasonable price. No good comes from rushing into things.
Research your purchase
The proliferation of automotive websites that offer professional reviews and post owners’ experiences is a helpful trend and an excellent way of gaining insight into the second-hand models you’re contemplating.
Online forums frequently discuss reliability concerns, things like jerky transmissions and short-lived air conditioners. New car reviews rarely mention these issues, but many owners aren’t shy about spilling the beans. Look for any angry buzz online regarding your model before you step on the car lot. If for nothing else, documented problems can help you negotiate a lower price.
Shop the less popular brands
Everyone knows the leading brands that command premium second-hand prices. But why surrender to these unkind market forces? There are other lesser-known competitors that for a variety of reasons didn’t sell well — models that can give you similar quality and features for less cash. Automakers such as Suzuki, Mitsubishi and Kia made some very good models that were undersold and overlooked. Keep an open mind rather than fixate on one model.
Knowledgeable bargain hunters familiarise themselves with all of the segment models and are often rewarded with a great vehicle for a considerably lower price than the big-selling brands.
Word of mouth
Don’t underestimate the value of letting your friends and colleagues know you’re looking for a used car.
Someone always has an elderly aunt who wants to sell her mint-condition Hyundai i10 to the right buyer. If you’re not picky, these often make the best deals, since sellers may not know the exact market value of their vehicle, or may not be motivated to go through the tedious rigmarole of prepping their vehicle for sale.
That’s not to say these sellers are ripe for the picking — some may harbour unrealistic notions of what their car is worth, unaware of the precipitous depreciation that can ravage their net worth.
Have a budget in mind
It’s smart to know how much money you can spend on your next car. What is your trade-in worth? Unless your present ride is a recent model, chances are the dealer will be wholesaling it to another retailer, and the wholesale value is all you’re going to get.
If you already have a car, consider selling your present car privately. With a bit of spit and polish, you may get a couple thousand cedis more than the dealer would give you. That money can go a long way in helping you leverage your next automobile purchase.
Having cash in your pocket gives you the upper hand when it’s time to negotiate. Have a tight fist when it comes to bargaining for a second-hand car, after all, in Ghana, such cars have no warranty.
Find out how much it costs to insure your model. A steep premium may compel you to look at something else.
Take a close look
Used cars are like snowflakes: no two are exactly the same, so scrutinise each one carefully. Look for paint overspray on door seals, mufflers and wheel-well liners — a sure sign of collision repairs.
You may find shattered glass fragments under the seats. A mildew smell indicates a stubborn water leak. Fresh undercoating may be masking recent structural repairs.
Lit warning lamps may be a portent of expensive engine repairs. Motor oil that resembles a frothy milkshake often means there’s a blown head gasket or worse. The transmission fluid should be bright red or reddish brown; any darker and there may be problems.
Drive it like you own it
Rather than a five-minute spin around the block, tell your sales representative you’re going to be on the road for a good 45 minutes.
It’s usually enough time to take the vehicle on the highway as well as on some potholed roads where you can test the car’s structural integrity.
Keep the radio off and listen carefully to various noises. Pay attention to how the transmission shifts and test the air conditioner. To assess it properly, drive it like you already own it; don’t baby it. If the representative is not agreeable to giving you the vehicle for a good hour, then take your business elsewhere.
Befriend a mechanic
Settled on the vehicle you want to buy? Have it mechanically inspected by someone you trust. Vehicles that have been repaired after a collision aren’t always easy to spot, which makes a professional inspection on a hoist all the more critical.
A good technician can detect creases in the unibody and paint overspray. There are garages that only do vehicle inspections and do not perform repairs (vintage car collectors use them).
Many shoppers won’t invest the half-day to take the car for a third-party assessment, which pretty well negates all the careful shopping they’ve done.
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