Getting the Best Deal on a Second Hand Car


You’re in the market for a used car….

Either you’ve done this a few times before and you want to streamline the process, or you’re new at it and don’t know where to start. There are many potential pitfalls when it comes to scouring the market for your ideal used vehicle, complete with countless stories of purchases gone wrong. Getting the best deal is actually pretty easy if you start on the right foot.

Dealer or No Deal

While it’s tempting to think a private sale will be cheaper, easier and less complicated than going to a dealer, any problems with your new vehicle would hit you squarely in the pocket, with almost no onus on the seller to do the right thing. By using a reputable registered motor vehicle dealer, you’re protected by laws including the Fair Trading Act, the Consumer Guarantees Act, the Motor Vehicle Sales Act and other legislation relevant to vehicle trade. It’s much easier to do your homework on a car that’s in a yard. 

Buyer Beware

That’s not to say you can be guaranteed a roadworthy car just because you’re buying from a dealer. There are some unscrupulous operators out there, so to be on the safe side, always assume you’re going to have to put in some legwork to make sure you’re not buying a lemon. 

So you’re on the yard; let’s take a look at some cars. Before you inspect any vehicle, check the paperwork to verify the current owner’s identity – ask to see the registration documents and make sure the vehicle has a current Warrant of Fitness and registration. 

Take a Toolkit

Your most useful tools for inspecting a potential purchase are your eyes, ears and nose. You can also use household items to conduct some simple checks – a torch for looking under the bonnet and body, a fridge magnet to see how sound the bodywork is (if any dents or rust have been filled, the magnet won’t stick), and a matchstick to measure the depth of the tread on tyres. Give the interior a good sniff for the musty smell of damp, indicating leaks. And of course listen for any suspect sounds when you put the car through its paces on a test drive. 

Get The Experts In

Not your Uncle who ‘knows a bit about cars’, or your mate who reckons he’s excellent at spotting write-offs, but genuine independent professionals. Once you’ve narrowed down your options and reached the limit of your own expertise, invest in all the resources available to help you make a good purchase. A Vehicle Information Report gives you a full history of the vehicle’s life in New Zealand – ownership, whether it’s been reported stolen, if it has finance or fines owing on it or has a dodgy odometer. There are several companies which provide Vehicle Information Reports at varying, generally nominal, prices.

Next you need to have a qualified mechanic give the vehicle a once over. Most mechanics and vehicle testing facilities provide pre-purchase inspection services. Make sure you tell them about anything you noticed during your preliminary inspection and test drive. Pre-purchase inspections aren’t cheap, so by this stage you need to be serious about the vehicle you’re having checked.

The Elephant in the Dashboard

Despite the digital displays most modern cars have now, wound back odometers are still a possible risk. Although it’s impossible to tell if the numbers line up nicely on a digital odometer display, there are other ways of checking suspect mileage. You can get an idea of how much a car has really been driven by assessing how much wear there is on the pedal covers and carpet on the driver’s side. The driver’s door of a high-mileage car will show signs of constant opening and shutting as well. If you’re seeing red flags, again a Vehicle Information Report is your best recourse. It will show the mileage readings taken at each Warrant of Fitness inspection carried out on the vehicle, so any discrepancies will stand out clearly.

Before You Drive Away

You’ve found a great deal and everything checks out. Great! Make sure your new car is really yours. Ensure the change of ownership paperwork is complete, your finance arrangements are confirmed, your insurance is in place and you have all the keys and papers for the car. 

You did it! Now enjoy the ride...