New car sales figures tend to attract the most attention as they can be used as an indicator of a growing economy but on average, there are 2.5 times as many used car sales than new car ones in any given year. Moreover, this doesn't seem to be changing, if anything, used sales are increasing as those who held on to their cars through the height of the (sorry for this) depression now begin to re-enter the market.
While buying new is not without its problems - negotiating the finance minefield, pre-registered stock etc. it is easier to right any wrongs than it is on the used car market, which is governed, by Caveat Emptor or buyer beware. The vast majority of sellers are reputable and the cars are as described but the unscrupulous few can easily separate you from a sizeable chunk of cash so here are some tips to follow when shopping for a used car.
Do your homework
Figure out what kind of car you want/need. No point window-shopping for two-seat convertibles if what you really need is an MPV (though we are all guilty of it).
Do your research on the type of car you want - is one model hugely better than the other is? Is one known for certain faults?
Keep narrowing down your options until you are left with a handful of actual cars that tickle you fancy - ones that you have seen online or in the local papers.
Do your research again by running a Cartell.ie check on this shortlist. The report will show whether a car has been involved in an accident, has finance outstanding, has recently been taxed/NCT'd or whether or not it is an import. Decide whether you can live with an import or car without tax (these facts can be used as bargaining tools later) and discard any that show the accident/finance red flags.
Unfortunately nobody but An Garda Siochana have access to a list of stolen cars, there are no checks you can do to that end but if something seems too good to be true it more than likely is.
For the most part, there are four avenues that you can go down when it comes to buying second hand:
Franchised dealer: these dealers have the right to sell cars (both new and used) on behalf of a manufacturer. They are likely to be the most expensive option but that cost does come with extra piece of mind - used cars will invariably have undergone a multi-point check to manufacturer standard so the dealer is more likely to stand over it. Manufacturers are now beginning to offer warranties on used cars which independent dealers will not be able to offer.
Independent dealer: these fall into two categories - those registered with SIMI (Society of the Irish Motor Industry) and those who are not. SIMI registration is preferable but this just means a dealer has ticked the right boxes. Even dodgy dealers can do that when it suits, so be careful. Warranties offered can vary from extended manufacturer ones to three month engine and drivetrain (the legal minimum) so do your homework.
Auction: once the bastions of those in the trade only, auctions are a great place to pick up a bargain if you know what you are looking at. Some dealers use auctions to dispose of undesirable stock - that does not mean bad just not suiting their outlet - but auctions are also where finance houses get rid of repossessed stock. Actions are likely to be the cheapest option but also the most hazardous.
Private: private seller who has stuck their car up on Carzone.ie or similar. Should be cheap and in cases of 'enthusiast cars' the only place you will find a particular model but there is little or no comeback. Some unscrupulous dealers will pose as private sellers to avoid offering statutory terms, so, if ringing to enquire, say you are 'ringing about the car.' If the response is 'which car?', you have rumbled them.
Inspect the car
Whoever you are buying a car from, always make sure to inspect it during the day, ideally when it is not raining (difficult we know) and when the car is clean. Darkness, dirt and rain can hide a myriad of sins.
Check along the flanks of the cars and make sure the panels line up. If there are any inconsistencies these need to be inspected further. Is there paint overspray on the door handles or window rubbers? Could be completely innocent - touch up after a car park ding - or it could be hiding something deeper. Question the seller if you spot anything untoward.
Check the glass - all of it. Do the numbers etched into the windows all match? One being out doesn't throw a flag - windshield replacement after a crack for example - but more than that should. Also, check the lights front and rear. Are they the same and if not why?
Check the tyres for uneven wear and check the treads are within the legal limit (another bargaining tool).
Inside the car, make sure all of the electronic components work - each and every one of them. These can be expensive to put right if not. Are the seatbelts in good condition and do they lock into place properly? Does the wear on the pedals, steering wheel and gear knob match up with the indicated mileage on the car? They may have been replaced to freshen up the interior but badly worn parts on a car with low indicated mileage are a red flag.
This is difficult to do on modern cars with digital dials, but try to inspect the odometer. Are all the numbers lined up properly? Easiest way to 'clock' a car with old revolving dials is with a screwdriver, which tends to knock the dials out of line. Since 2014, a car's mileage has been noted on the NCT so this is where that Cartell check comes to the fore.
Inspect the paperwork
Only applicable when buying privately, but does the sellers name and address match up with the Vehicle Registration Certificate (VRC)? Assuming you are viewing the vehicle at a home address (always a good policy) does the VRC match that address?
Locate the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) and make sure it matches the VRC and the Cartell report, likewise with the NCT certificate.
Check the service history. A full service history with recent stamps from an authorised dealer or known specialist is ideal but not always possible. Ask when the vehicle was last serviced and look for any signs of this by inspecting the colour/consistency of the oil and the air filter - can be used as a bargaining tool if no proof of recent service.
Make sure any keys provided all work in both the doors and ignition. A key that has not been 'cut' by a main dealer (could be completely innocent - some people like having spares) may not be coded to start the ignition.
The test drive
Starting the engine from cold keep an eye in the rear-view mirror for any blue smoke and ears peeled for any strange noises. Dip the clutch and make sure it bites without sounding as if it is going to implode. Test the brakes and make sure there are no strange noises or that it is not pulling one way or the other. More importantly, does it stop properly? Listen for noises from the suspension while cornering and going over bumps.
If it is a high value car you are test driving you may want to employ the services of an independent engineer to check any concerns you have but if the car is lower down the price range it may not be economically viable to spend €200 on having it inspected so the decision is yours. Some problems are easy/cheap to fix others are hugely expensive. If you have any doubt walk away - for all you know, the whole reason the car is for sale is because of a looming expensive repair.
Closing the deal
Cash may be king, but when it comes to buying second hand the Gardaí advise against it - once it is gone it's gone with no comeback. Instead, use a bank draft or bank transfer in the seller's name as this will create a paper trail for you to follow should the worst happen.