Everything You Need To Know About Buying Used Cars

Sedan parked in front of a car dealership

Want to buy a used car? Consider these tips!

According to the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers South Africa (NAAMSA), more people have been buying used cars in South Africa over the last few years. It’s not surprising especially if you consider the continuously increasing prices of new cars. With more consumers buying used cars, we wanted to share our expertise on what to look out for and how to apply for vehicle finance.

What To Look Out For When Buying Used Cars

While pre-owned vehicles are cheaper, the price should not be the only deciding factor as some could have undisclosed mechanical issues or body damage. There are several pitfalls to buying used cars but this guide will help you make a more informed decision and avoid being duped by chancers.

Documents, Information Checks And Accident Damage

  • Is the seller the registered owner? If not, why are they selling it for someone else?
  • Are there any spelling mistakes on the registration document?
  • Do the VIN, engine number and colour on the licence disc match the registration papers and on the VIN plate?
  • Does it look like the fuel filler cap has been forced open or replaced?
  • Are there inconsistent gaps between panels or mismatched colours that could be a sign of extensive repairs?
  • Does the paint finish appear even across the entire car? Check under the carpets, inside the engine bay and other hidden areas to see whether the vehicle’s colour has been changed?
  • Are there any traces of paint spray on handles, window seals or plastic mouldings?
  • Is there any unusual welding activity under the bonnet or in the boot?

Safety Checks And General Inspections

When buying used cars, we recommended that you always perform the following checks:

  • Make sure all tyres are in good condition with the same specifications and dimensions. Remember, tyres with less than 3mm of tread will have to be replaced soon
  • Check the boot for a spare wheel or that the tyre inflator/sealant kit is operational
  • Ensure the car has a jack and other related tools
  • All seatbelts should be operating correctly
  • If the car has airbags, check that the warning lights operate according to the manual (they are usually displayed on the dashboard when starting the car)
  • Make sure that all the locks, windows, remote central locking, A/C, demister, radio, lights, hooter and windscreen wipers/washers work as expected
  • Check the owner’s manual to see if the car has the right keys, including a spare key or any additional owner codes for remote keys
  • If there are lock-nuts, make sure they include the special tool

Important Engine Checks

  • When starting the car from cold, are there any abnormal noises?
  • Does the oil warning light go out as soon as the engine starts?
  • Are they any signs of excessive visible exhaust emissions?
  • Does the clutch operate normally? If you hear a noise when pressing the pedal or a high engaging point, you may need to repair it soon
  • Is the catalytic converter in good condition?
  • Do you notice any sludge on the underside of the oil filler cap? If so, it could indicate a poor service record or the car has been mostly used for short journeys
  • Is the oil level right?
  • Has the cam belt been replaced according to the service schedule?

Never Buy A Used Car Without Test Driving It

When it comes to buying used cars, the best and only way to make sure you are getting a good deal is by test driving it. If you don’t, how will you know whether it drives properly or if there are any underlying issues? Here’s what you should do when test driving a used car:

  • Check that all the warning lights operate normally
  • Test the brakes and make sure it doesn’t take a long time or extra effort to stop
  • When braking, does the car pull to one side or are there any unusual noises when pressing the pedal?
  • Check that the handbrake works and not only on a flat road but also an incline
  • Pay close attention to any steering vibration or whether the car pulls to one side
  • If the car has ABS, does the warning light go out after you start the engine?

Private Seller Or Used Car Dealership?

There is no right or wrong way of buying used cars as long as you follow the right processes, procedures and checks. Each option has pros and cons but you are more likely going to find cheaper and more premium used vehicles through a private seller.

Going through a dealership is often a little more expensive but it does offer some peace of mind knowing there’s a company promising the quality of the vehicle. Whatever you decide, make sure you do your due diligence to find a trusted dealership.

What’s The Actual Value Of A Used Car?

It’s important to find the book value of the car you are buying to ensure the seller doesn’t try to ask too much. When buying used cars, the TransUnion Car Value Report system can provide you with information on the trade-in and retail value, which is also known as the ‘book value’.

While this tool can help you avoid paying above ‘book value’ for a car, it’s important to note that sought-after used cars might have ‘above book prices. Either way, having the TransUnion report handy could help you get a better price on the car you’d like to purchase.

How To Apply For Finance When Buying Used Cars

When buying from a licenced used-car dealership, they will take care of all the paperwork on your behalf. However, it’s your responsibility when buying used cars from a private seller so it’s important to know the process and required documentation.

Sign the Sales Agreement

A sales agreement may not be mandatory but we highly recommend signing it for your records. It essentially acts as proof of purchase and could protect you from possible disagreements and discrepancies. In accordance with the CPA (Consumer protection act), the seller should disclose all existing faults or exclusions in the sales agreement.

Notification Of Change Of Ownership From The Seller

When buying a vehicle, the Department of Transport should be contacted with the change of address and ownership information. Before a new owner can re-register a pre-owned or used vehicle, the seller must first complete and submit a Notification of change of ownership (NCO – Yellow) form.

Obtain a Roadworthy Certificate

You cannot register any vehicle without having a roadworthy certificate. While the seller can get the car tested and certified for roadworthiness, the certificate is only valid for 21 days so it’s often recommended that the buyer do this instead. To get a roadworthy certificate, the seller or the buyer needs to visit the nearest vehicle testing station with these documents and pay the associated fee:

  • Original Vehicle registration certificate
  • Identification document (ID)
  • Completed Application for Roadworthiness Certificate form (ACR)

Get Short-Term Insurance Cover

Before taking final ownership of any car, make sure to get comprehensive vehicle insurance and choose an option you can afford and with sufficient coverage. The seller will cancel their insurance which frees them of any liability once the car leaves their driveway.

Vehicle Registration Documentation

To get register the vehicle in your name, the seller or buyer must visit the nearest vehicle registration authority and submit the following documents and pay the application fee:

  • Valid Identification Document (ID)
  • Vehicle registration certificate in the seller’s name
  • A roadworthy certificate (if the current registration certificate is older than six months)
  • Proof of purchase (sales agreement or a receipt from the seller)
  • A valid motor vehicle licence with no outstanding fees
  • The completed application form for Registering and Licencing a Motor Vehicle (RLV – Blue) form

For more tips on buying used cars, maintenance advice and other interesting motoring topics, follow our blog and join us on Facebook. Visit our website for all the latest deals on quality pre-owned vehicles or demo models.

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