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Buying a used car? Tips to drive a real bargain

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Mistrust of car dealers is so ingrained that it is a wonder anybody buys used cars at all. So what’s the problem? Last year the Consumer Association of Singapore (CASE) received 2,916 complaints about the car industry (with the bulk of them reportedly about the used car business), putting it at the top of the naughty list. A fair way ahead of the beauty industry with 1,537 complaints.

The car industry came out on top for complaints about defective goods as well.

As a car buyer you have difficult choices to make: Do you trust anything the dealer tells you? Do you buy new, and pay extra for the extra peace-of-mind that a new car warranty promises, assuming such warranty can satisfactorily resolve any issues with the car? Or do you buy second-hand to save money, and take your chances that things may go wrong and bear the costs and inconvenience of that?

How to drive a real bargain

  1. If you do take the used car route you can act to try to prevent buying a lemon. Sending that prospective car purchase off to an independent centre for an inspection is a good start, as well as keeping an eye on the CASE website, which is regularly updated with warnings about dealers that receive more than the usual number of complaints (check its Company Alert List). CASE also has a helpful evaluation checklist for inspections prior to purchase here.
  2. Go armed with some knowledge about the process of buying, and if you don’t understand something, ask for clarification. If you’re uncomfortable with the process walk away – a nagging sense of something being off is the first step to being unhappy with a car purchase.
  3. Even if the dealer is honest, he may be unaware of a car’s service history (hint: check service records before buying if at all possible), or the reason it has been offloaded by its original owner. Did they need a bigger car for an expanding family? Or were they worried the gearbox was about to die?

In defense of cars

In defense of cars – because we really do like them – a modern motor vehicle is a highly complex piece of equipment and therefore has more potential for things to go wrong. Toyota reckons there are around 30,000 individual parts in a car, many of them moving parts, so the opportunity for problems is manifold. If you purchased 15,000 second-hand saucepans there is a chance the handle may fall off one, but nobody’s complaining about the saucepan industry.

And in defense of the motor trade, car buyers are a notoriously demanding crowd. A CEO of a luxury brand related the story of a customer insisting he speak to the boss with a complaint: It turned out that a free tee-shirt he’d been given at an event had faded and he was very upset and wanted it replaced.

There is no need to be that guy. Just be aware that in the car business there are a few bad apples – as in any other business – and that smart car dealers want customers like you to be happy. A happy customer is a repeat customer after all. And shop around – if you’re as smart with your car purchase as you are choosing to insure it with Budget Direct Insurance, it’s bound to be a happy purchase.

For more motoring warnings and tips, look out for regular posts in this series.

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