How to avoid buying a banger

BUYING a car is a major financial outlay, so you certainly don’t want to find out your newly bought dream car belongs to someone else, or you have been left with someone else’s debt to pay. Whether buying from a dealership, privately or from an auction there is a certain level of risk involved.
Here’s a comprehensive checklist to help you buy with confidence.

Before you leave the house
Give serious thought to how much you want to spend, not forgetting insurance, tax etc. Research the cost of the car you want by picking up a guide such as Parker’s Price Guide or WhatCar?.
By putting your finance in place before beginning the search you become a cash buyer, which may put you in a strong position for negotiating a good price.

Where to start
Buying from a dealership is the safest way as there are laws to protect you, but there could be some dodgy dealers out there. The Retail Motor Industry Federation’s Motorline or the Scottish Motor Trade Association can tell you which local dealers subscribe to a code of practise supported by the Office of Fair Trading.

Buying privately is usually cheaper but the risk is higher. The only law you have on your side is that the car must be as described in the advertisement. If the advertisement only gives a mobile number, or the seller asks to bring the car to you to view, be careful. What if the seller disappears off the face of the earth and there are problems with your car?
If the same contact number is seen in several advertisements it could mean that it’s a dealer acting as a private seller to avoid the laws and get rid of cars that are faulty or over-priced.
When buying from an auction try to take someone along who really knows about cars as you will have little time to make your decision. Before you go, decide on the maximum amount you can afford to pay and stick to it.

Is it a banger?
To assess the car’s condition look for rust on the bottom of the doors or under the wheel arches, chipped paint, oil leaks or damaged drive belts. Tyres and seat belts should not be damaged or worn. Test the electrics are working; does the dashboard light up, are the warning lights working? Also look around the windows and sunroof seals for signs of leaks.

Has it been in a bump?
To avoid buying a car that has been in a crash, check the body panels for repairs; see if the colour or texture of the paintwork varies, or if welding has been carried out in the engine bay or boot and check under the carpet in the boot. According to research, 41 per cent of people say they patch up any rust or chipped paint before selling a car. A quarter of people also admit to doing temporary repair jobs to cover up any problems before selling their car.

Gone in 60 seconds
If you unwittingly buy a stolen car the police can return it to the rightful owner or the owner’s insurance company and you will be left out of pocket. You can tell if the car’s identity has been changed by seeing if the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) or engine number has been tampered with. Check the registration document (V5), for spelling mistakes or alterations. Is the watermark missing? Is the seller’s name and address different from the one on the V5? Check that the number plate, engine number and vehicle identification number match up.

Get your spanner out
To check the mechanical condition and safety of the car make sure you look at it in daylight and take it for a test drive. When test-driving the car listen out for unusual noises, check the effectiveness of the brakes, feel if it pulls to the side or if it is not smooth to drive, make sure it doesn’t smell of petrol or oil (research shows that 38 per cent of people spray their car with air freshener to hide unwanted smells before showing prospective buyers). After your test drive leave the engine on, out of gear, the engine should not rattle, check for oil or water leaks and smoke from the exhaust.

Clocking it up
Low mileage is a great selling point, but mileage can be turned back. Check MOT certificates for mileage readings, and see if the general wear and tear of the vehicle looks more than the mileage would indicate.  You could contact previous owners to see what the mileage was when they sold the car.

The history
It is worth spending money on a vehicle history test, available from Green Flag, AA, etc, before you hand over any money for the car. Amongst other things, a history check will tell you if there is any finance secured against the car, the finance company owns any car until all finance is paid off.