Buying a car needn't drive you mad

By Jack Biddle

Cars at a dealer's yard may come with a higher price tag, but they also have more protections for the buyer.
Cars at a dealer's yard may come with a higher price tag, but they also have more protections for the buyer.

Is your ride on its last wheels? Has a new vehicle taken your fancy? Check out Driven's advice on how and where to buy a car.

Buying privately

When selling privately, the seller's only legal obligation is to ensure the vehicle has a Warrant of Fitness not more than one month old at the time of sale.

Even this condition can be avoided if the buyer is prepared to accept the vehicle (in writing, in most cases) with either an out-of-date WoF or no warrant at all.

While you should always insist on a new WoF, remember it simply means the vehicle meets a set of safety criteria and does not take into account the mechanical condition of the expensive items, such as the engine and transmission.

It's very much "buyer beware", especially with older, high-mileage vehicles when buying privately.

Unless it can be proven a seller misrepresented the vehicle at the time of sale, the buyer has little or no comeback if there is a problem a short time after purchase.

Something as basic as assuming the seller will hand over a spare set of keys can be an expensive mistake.

With engine immobilisers fitted to most late-model vehicles, obtaining a spare set of keys can cost the new owner hundreds of dollars.

Franchise dealer or independent

The larger franchise dealers are often a good place to start looking. They may be selling a vehicle they once sold new and can show a proven past history of servicing or general repair.

While their prices are often higher than the non-franchise dealers, they often don't haggle when it comes to sorting out problems which may crop up after purchase (such as the spare keys mentioned previously).

Most franchise dealers, especially in the main city centres, will only sell late-model and reasonably low mileage vehicles, although it never hurts to have a look at their stock or talk to a salesperson about your needs. The smaller dealers often have a better range of older and cheaper vehicles.

Regardless of size, all Registered Motor Vehicle Traders (dealers) must declare and display vital information about themselves and the vehicles they are selling - which a private seller is not required to do.

For example, if there is money owing on the car this must be declared by the dealer whereas it's up to the buyer to ask the right questions or find out elsewhere in a private sale.

The buyer is also covered under the Consumer Guarantees Act (certain conditions do apply) if a major and unforeseen mechanical problem develops a short time after sale.

Websites

Sellers are only going to present the best pictures of their vehicle and use words that at least encourage engagement with a potential buyer.

In other words, never buy a vehicle off a website without arranging a hands-on inspection, especially with a private sale. Websites are a great way to do some homework on prices and specification levels before purchase.

Auctions

This option is often best left to those who know about vehicles in terms of their true value and known mechanical problems. There are great buys to be had at auction but also some very high risks the inexperienced buyer may be unaware of and should not take.

Best advice is to go to an auction with the sole intention of keeping the hands firmly in the pocket and to study the process first before buying on impulse on a first visit.

Pre purchase inspections

Most pre-purchase inspections are non-invasive (ie wheels not removed to visually check actual brake condition), done within a set time frame and cost, and follow a set criteria. The check is great for the mainstream vehicles as it will highlight any obvious mechanical issues or alert the potential buyer to any upcoming high maintenance or repair costs.

If the vehicle is a little unique or has a high specification level however, it is often a good idea to seek the opinion of a repairer who specialises in those vehicles. They may carry out a pre-purchase check which may offer better value for money than a standard pre-purchase inspection.

What to look out for when buying a vehicle privately

Self checks

*For private sale: find out the length of ownership, the number of past owners, and the reason they are selling the vehicle.

*Check if there is any money owing.

*Check the expiry date for the Road User Charges registration if the vehicle is a diesel.

*Ask for past service history records.

Visual inspection

If you are buying privately or through a dealer, it pays to do the following checks:

Body: Check for paint overspray on rubbers, door fit, dampness on carpets and water in spare wheel recess. If towbar fitted, check for corrosion under vehicle.

Mechanical: Make sure you see a spare key, and ensure it starts the engine.

Check the engine oil level. Check the colour of radiator water (when the engine is cold) - it should not be clear or dirty brown, instead can be a variety of colours, such as pink or blue, depending on the manufacturer.

Check for service label.

If it's a diesel engine it should start immediately (a hard start indicates a problem).

Check all interior switch gear, remote locking and audio.

Road test: On a straight road the vehicle should not drift easily towards the kerb or centre line when hands are taken off steering wheel.

Listen for unusual noises from the engine and transmission (turn the radio off).

Carry out a hill start with an auto car - and make sure it doesn't shudder.

Safety: The more Euro NCAP and ANCAP stars the better. The number of safety features will depend on vehicle age.

- NZ Herald

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