Most secondhand car buyers know why they’re not buying a new car, but rather looking for big savings and the chance of a great deal. On the downside, there’s no dealership surety and luxury fiddles - buying a private car is DIY. That said, buying a private car can follow all of the usual pointers for the transaction, just like any shop floor deal, as well as a few other considerations. When buying a private car, put on your VIP Buyer’s hat and be prepared to be polite but firm when inspecting vehicles. Take your time and evaluate every detail about the car you want to buy.
Follow these common sense tips when looking for a used car, and you’ll never be caught unawares.
1. Know your budget
1.1 How much do you want to spend?
You’ve set your eye on exactly the model you want, now the hunt for your car starts. When buying a private car, always be one step ahead and do your homework first with your finances. Decide if you are buying cash or private car finance. If you plan to finance, then apply online with companies like Wesbank to get a sense for what maximum amount you qualify for. This will give you an idea of how much you can expect to pay on monthly payments for your new car.
1.2 Monthly insurance premiums
Don’t forget about car insurance costs. This point in the journey of buying a used car is a good time to get a few quotes from different insurance companies for the model of you are interested in buying. This information will equip you with the amount you can expect to pay monthly for your car insurance. Shop around, you will be surprised how different companies evaluate your risk profile when providing you a quote for monthly installments.
1.3 Extended Warranties and maintenance costs
If you are buying an older car that’s out of warranty or near the end of its original manufacturer warranty, then you should get quotes from a few companies on costs to extended or buy a new extended warranty. Most extended warranties can either be purchased outright for the next year or paid monthly. The same thought also applies to service and maintenance plans.
1.4 Should you buy a petrol or diesel car?
With petrol costs on the rise it makes sense not to buy a gas guzzler, but if you are looking for a performance car, then budget accordingly for you monthly petrol expenses. Diesel is cheaper to buy per liter compared to petrol and allows you to drive a longer range. Keep in mind though that a diesel car must be serviced more often, and that these services are also generally more expensive than servicing petrol-driven cars.
2. Search for your car
2.1 Online car classifieds
Make a list of prospective buys with all of their details. Prioritize all of the used cars if you can, listing them in a ranking order. Good places to start include cars.co.za and autotrader.co.za. Relatively simple Google searches like “used cars for sale” or “secondhand cars” will normally give you a few thousand venues to peruse!
2.2 Online forums
Also google specific makes you are after, looking for online enthusiast forums. a search along the lines of VW club or “Toyota enthusiasts” will usually identify forums loyal to a particular make of car. Besides VW Club, other forums to visit include BMW Fnatics, Audi Forum and even Ford ST Owners.
2.3 Private car selling Lots
There are a handful of private car sale lots in South Africa. These are basically showroom floors for private sellers. Valley Auto Fair for example operates from Tygervalley Shopping Centre parking lot in Cape Town every Sunday. They allow sellers to display their vehicles at a central point where 600 - 800 interested buyers visit the area weekly. According to a company spokesperson, “both sellers and buyers benefit, as the middleman is bypassed.” Many such offers exist in towns around the country, making it a little easier to view a group of cars together when out buying a secondhand car.
3. Arrange Viewings
Call through your list, starting with your favourite, and arrange to meet and view the cars. Make the effort to tackle car shopping as a project, and it will be that much more enjoyable.
Once you have a list of firm favourites, when calling to arrange viewing, also ask for the VIN number if it’s not in the ad. You can tell the seller that you’d like to glean a car valuation, and do so for each vehicle that interests you. The most common shortfall of many when buying a car is a lack of research. In 2018, with our online car valuaion tools available, there’s no reason to remain uninformed on any car. It’s good to get an overall idea on car values and current market prices. It’s excellent practice to do a stolen car check as a default exercise on any interesting secondhand car too.
4. Test drive the car
There are a few points to consider when test-driving a secondhand car, and our article on test drives will help both parties understand why it’s important and how to do it. When test driving a car, ask about every little tick or drag you experience. Make sure you go through all of the gears, a few times, and concentrate on what a normal use experience would be with the car, enacting it on the test drive.
An older Golf, for example, has a gear selector that can fail at the top end, but still give you four out of five gears - something you won’t notice unless you get up to speed.
5. Validate the service history
When meeting the seller, ask about the service history. With especially upmarket used cars, service histories can have implications beyond performance. Ideally you should be shopping for a car with FSH (full service history), as this is also an indication that mechanically the car has been cared for as suggested by the manufacturer.
Review the service book yourself, check that all the dealership stamps are there along with the recorded mileage and date for each service. In the retail motoring space, service histories can be a big factor when determining trade-in values.
6. Check the Roadworthy Disc
Check the validity of the roadworthy disc. You’ll need a reissue there, when you buy a secondhand car in South Africa, but it should match and describe the car details. Note that If the license disk has expired, the current owner will be liable to pay penalty fees before you as the new owner will be able to licence the car. longer term expiries can attract a hefty penalty fee, so factor that into the deal with the owner if needs be, as you can settle the amount when licencing the car if the owner compensates you accordingly.
Inspect the car license disc carefully, it will also bring to light any discrepancies in what the seller has told you and what presents before you on the disc.
When buying a secondhand car, be polite but resolute, and never gloss over a single detail.
7. Visual inspection of the car
7.1 The undercarriage
Check beneath the car for chassis buckles (something to be avoided at all costs, unless you’re prepared to jig the car and results are never guaranteed). Look at the four corners of the chassis beneath any used sale car and make sure that there are no folds or other visible damage to them. If a chassis is buckled, this should be a definite issue that impacts price, in your favour.
7.2 Tyres and Wheels
Look at the tyres for worn tread (the legal minimum depth of a tyre’s tread in SA is 1.6mm). If they’re worn out, that’s an expense looming, and one to be discussed. if there is damage to a tyre wall inside or outside, that can’t be repaired and isn’t safe to drive and should be immediately replaced. dings and buckles in the rims can make for a bumpy ride too, so have a look and remember to gauge how smooth the car is at various speeds. Even cosmetic damage to rims is expense to repair if you want to bring the car back up to mint condition, and mag rims even more so.
7.3 The engine
Open the bonnet and look at the engine. This is simply to verify that visually, everything looks good, and that things are broadly in order under the hood. This is a good opportunity to check for any covers or bolts that appear missing, loose wires or other issues that you might want to broach with the owner. Remember, no matter how stylish a car might be, its core value lies in its function as an engine-driven vehicle, so make sure that the engine seems to “fit” with the rest of the car.
7.4 The interior
Look at the inside of the car and satisfy yourself as to the condition of the upholstery and electronic cabin. “Immaculate condition” means the car looks like it’s sitting on a car dealership showroom floor and looks brand new. If descriptions don’t add up with the reality of a used car, figure out if there’s auto-electrical work to be done, or perhaps even reupholstering. These considerations should be discussed and they can possibly impact the sale price too when buying a used car.
Competent auto-electricians don’t come cheap, and neither do decent car upholsterers. Whatever else, never underestimate the costs to do repair work in a bid to justify wanting to buy a car. Be thorough and realistic when tallying potential costs.
7.5 The mechanical performance
Ask about the state of the car’s mechanics, whether any bodywork was ever done on the car and also check the wider electrical system, beyond the cabin. Any dull tail lights? Any malfunctioning rear window wipers?
Also check the condition of the windscreen for any chips or cracks, as replacing a windscreen can costs tens of thousands of rands on modern cars that are fitted with rain sensors and other advanced safety technologies.
When you’re out buying a used car, remember that it’s a lot of effort to come back again for another look. Rather take your time and make peace with the fact that the process has to be thorough to glean an honest picture that truly aids decision-making.
8. Find out about accident damage
Ask if the sale car has ever been in an accident and how that was addressed. If the car was still under the manufacturer maintenance plan while the accident occured, some brands like BMW will list the accident as a comment on the motorplan report, so always read the vehicle service/maintenance plan report from the dealership when doing your research.
9. Complete your paperwork for the sale car
If you decide to buy the car, look over all paperwork again and satisfy yourself that all is in order.
9.1 Check the Natis/Registration Document
When you have the Natis certificate (from the buyer, if the car is wholly owned by them, or from the bank, if the car is still under HP), make sure that all of the details are correct and taly with the existing number plates and roadworthy disc. Don’t feel strange if you refuse to pay until you have the Natis certificate. This is expected behaviour and anything else would indeed be reckless. Don’t be bullied into paying until you have the Natis in your hand, and a signed sale agreement and signed change of ownership forms. It doesn’t work any other way.
9.2 Sign the Sale Agreement
This can be a very simple document, saying [name and ID number] hereby sells the vehicle with VIN number [...........] being a [colour] car with license plates [.............], and [make/model] to [name and ID number] on the [date], for the sum of R[.....]. The seller acknowledges receipt of R[.....] and the buyer hereby acknowledges receipt of the vehicle in good order. That’s it. That simple one or two paragraph contract - even handwritten - tells any court all it has to know to enforce both parties’ rights. A witness is nice to have, but typically unnecessary for all intents and purposes. Title the document "Sale Agreement" and ideally you and the seller will have a copy, but definitely get yours, where both buyer and seller have signed.
9.3 Make Payment
You will have confirmed with the seller as to a method of payment. If not, no sweat, as cash and electronic funds transfer are rock solid methods of payments no one should complain about. Draw cash and pay the seller or, if carrying large amounts of cash around alarms you, enact an EFT and allow the seller to log in transact with the funds so that they can see it’s genuine beyond doubt. If you don’t share the same bank, pay the fee for the “pay and clear now” option so that the seller has immediate settlement.
9.4 Get a roadworthy certificate
In becoming the new owner of the sale car, you’ll have to roadworthy it by law, and this means paying for the roadworthy disc. It has become custom and practice for the seller in South Africa to pay this expense, although they’re not obliged, so ask for that to be included somehow.
9.5 Seller submits change of ownership form
The seller needs to submit the yellow change of ownership form to the department within 21 days of the purchase of the car.
9.6 Register the car in your name
Register the car in your name with the Licensing Department and obtain a new licence disk. You will need complete the “blue form” to do so - the Application for Registration and Licensing of a Motor Vehicle - and you’ll need a valid roadworthy certificate to get a new licence disk.
9.7 Get your new car insured & Tracker installed
If you’ve financed the sale, insurance is likely to be compulsory, although you should be aware that you are entitled to organise your own insurance, and are not obliged to take “packaged insurance” with the deal. if you’re the outright owner, all the more reason to insure it on the spot - ask your insurer to confirm in words that the car is now immediately covered from when you drive it away. Installing Tracker is at your discretion, however your insurance premiums might come way down if you do.
Always, never be afraid to ask questions! Even questions like “Has this car ever been stolen?” are perfectly acceptable in a car transaction. You would find such questioning completely understandable, if you were the seller, so don’t be timid when buying a used car.
10. Err on the side of caution
Again, if anything sounds warning bells, get a car history check that includes a police report on its status. Touch points for satisfying yourself that a car is legitimate, include:
10.1 Check the number plates when buying a used car. Make sure they are identical and tally with the licence disc displayed on the windscreen. As delivery is sometimes rushed
10.2 Ask to see the VIN number on the car if you can’t readily find it.
10.3 Ask to see the engine number too, stamped somewhere on the engine and, in the event that a car has swapped engines, there needs to be re-authentication paperwork from the authorities, certifying that the new engine was registered to the car’s VIN number,
10.4 Also check that the VIN matches all paperwork, that all paperwork contains no discrepancies and, if it does, question the seller until you’re happy that it has been resolved in your mind. If anything bothers you about the paperwork, call the bank or peripheral third parties who might be able to provide clarity. Don’t rush into buying a used car and always err on the side of caution. Being aware and yet efficient in appraising prospective cars will see you driving away in your new car in no time.
Common pitfalls relating to a buyer’s emotions when buying a used car also include:
1. Buying the first car that you see, if it meets your minimum requirements.
2. Not taking the time to do a decent test drive on a sale car - one that includes enough open road to get into top gear.
3. Buying a car mismatched to your essential needs.
4. Flouting your budget - overspending has to enter the ledger somewhere, at some point, so try to resist the temptation of overspending when buying a sale car, simply because the effects are slightly delayed.
5. Narrowing a car down to monthly installments (when [financing a private car sale](https://www.wheelindex.co.za/blog/how-d ... QMkw6MgUOc)) and ignoring tyre and service costs, which can sometimes prove alarmingly high, even over the short term.
6. Ignoring the reality of the total cost over the term chosen, and also being in denial or trading on some future luck to someday address residual or balloon payments. It’s very South African to shop just a little beyond your price range when buying a used car, but the happiest South African car owners are those who avoid that behavior at all costs.
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