Times are exceptionally tough, and now more than ever there›s a bargain to be had on the used car market. So this is as good a time as any to publish my findings of a year-long investigation.
After hearing countless horror stories from friends and clients, I decided to find out how deep the rabbit-hole goes. Here are some quick buying tips:
1. Don’t buy a car in winter: When the weather is cool out, even the biggest lemon will run and drive. Give it a few heat cycles and increasing temperatures, and you›ll start to notice issue after issue beginning to pop up. It could start off with the little things like broken window regulators (the plastic guides fail as it gets hot out), failing electronics such as instrument clusters and radiator fans - up to bigger things like gearboxes. Besides, prices for used cars are always cheaper during summer months since demand is low.
2. Ask for detailed photos, videos and information: One of the best things you can do prior to investing your time and effort to go out and see a car, is to ask the seller to send you detailed, current photos of the car. The interior, exterior, engine bay, trunk, wheels and body panels are what you’re looking for. These days, most genuine sellers will have these readily available on hand to send to potential buyers. If the seller refuses by saying “come have a look at it in person”, doesn’t respond, sends “ten feet away” photos or beauty shots of the car like it’s supposed to be in a magazine ad, just save yourself the time and the hassle.
3. Get a price index online - even if those prices are from the US market: Get a ball-park estimate of what the car you›re going to be buying is worth in the global market. The final figure may vary a few points but in general those values are a great yardstick to go by. Simply Google (insert car make and model here) followed by the word «price» or «value» and you›ll be able to see the going rate for that specific car.
4. Test-drive multiple variants of the same car that you intend to buy: If you›ve never really driven the car you›re considering, look up a few and test drive those back to back, preferably on the same day. This will give you excellent insight into how a good example runs and drives versus a poorly maintained or wrecked-and-repaired one. If the car you’re planning to buy is significantly newer than the car you’re currently driving, I highly recommend going to the dealership and test driving a new one. You will be surprised at how better a car that’s just three years newer drives. Use that as a “Noise, Vibration and Harshness” benchmark when test driving the potential used car that you’re about to buy.
5. Zero-in on a specific make, model and type of vehicle: This is something that I keep repeating to those who come to me for advice on buying a used car; select a specific make and model that’s within your budget and have another similar car from a different brand as a back-up. For example, if your budget is BD4000 and you need a reliable daily driver, you ought to be looking at a Toyota Camry or a Honda Accord. That›s it. Let’s expand on the same example with BD4000 as the hypothetical budget; if you didn›t have a specific car in mind, pretty much every single make and model out there is a potential buy. Does that make a BMW 5 series a great deal because it has low miles and is a newer model? No it doesn›t - especially if your budget can›t cash those monthly repair bills. Stick to looking for that Camry.
5. Ask the seller questions outright: Are you a car dealer? Send me a photo of the ownership card. When did you buy the car? Why are you selling it? Has it had any accidents? Make a mental note of the seller›s responses and cross-check the car›s history. If the seller was dubious, you’ve now added ammunition to your negotiation arsenal, or are able to walk away from the deal.
6. Run a VIN check through the Traffic Department and the local dealership: Prior to physically viewing the car, always use the VIN and the license plate number to get the car›s history through Bahrain.bh or the traffic services app.
7. Try to meet the seller at their claimed place of residence: Honest sellers don›t need to disguise their true identity - this isn›t a drug deal.
8. Pre-Purchase Inspection (PPI): If you›re buying from a used car showroom, ask to have the car taken in for an independent inspection to the distributor or a garage that specializes in that specific make of vehicle. Remember that the dealership service center has technicians that see these cars day in and day out. The report that they provide will tell you what’s wrong with the car physically, as well as mechanically and electronically. You can use those repair estimates as a sharp negotiation tool provided that the repairs and the damages aren’t significant. Also, never agree to conduct a PPI at a garage that the seller recommends, because chances are that the seller (especially if it is a used car showroom) has some sort of deal worked out where the report that you’d receive won’t be entirely accurate.
9. Avoid inspecting a potential buy at night: This is a no-brainer, but a lot of people tend to do this very thing. Darkness hides un-even panel gaps, mismatched paint and a host of other damages. Always look at a potential car in broad daylight.
10. Always take a friend along - preferably someone who knows a little bit about cars: A friend can spot things that you miss. A knowledgeable friend (or a car consultant) can even give you a verbal seal of approval which takes the guess work (and stress) out of the process. An extra pair of eyes is always the way to go.
11. Never carry cash: Once the deal is made, tell the seller that you›ll go to the bank to get the money. This offers you two strategic advantages - it allows you a breather for the deal to settle in (and for you to change your mind), and it also prevents any untoward incidents like losing the money or worst case - getting robbed.
12. Don't be shy to ask for a longer test drive: The test drive is the most crucial part of the entire car buying process (and this applies to both new and used). On the test drive, make sure that the radio is switched off, the air-conditioning blower speed is set to low, and that the seller (or your buddy) are staying quiet, thereby allowing you to focus on driving the car, listening for odd noises and paying attention to how the car runs. If you aren’t satisfied with the length of your test drive, or if the seller has a “route” marked out that he keeps guiding you through, make sure you state that you need more time behind the wheel.
13. Never borrow more than you can afford: My advice is that if you don’t have good credit, save up till you do. If you can swing it, always pay cash outright. Never agree to sub-prime or predatory lenders who don’t title the car jointly. Always keep in mind that the purchase price is the cheapest part of any car; the maintenance, fuel costs, insurance and repairs are the true costs of keeping any car on the road, so make sure that you always do your research before you sign on the dotted line.
Better still, you can always email me on [email protected] with all your car-related queries or follow me on Instagram, @sangeeth911.