Lately I’m hearing of a lot of inexperienced people going to view, or buying, used cars only to realise they’ve been caught out in some way or another. After reading this guide I hope you’ll be able to be go, with confidence and buy a used car in Ireland.
Where to start?
There are a number of ways and means to view used cars for sale in Ireland. From newspapers, websites and onto the Dealers forecourts. I’m going to take you through buying from both a Car Dealer and a private seller.
Privately – Where to start?
Buying privately can be a daunting task, and sometimes it can be very risky. So where do you start? Assuming you have picked your car from a website or newspapers there are a number of free, simple things you can do before you leave your seat.
What can you do with just the registration? Firstly, you can check if someone else has just bought this car and realised their mistake and trying to flog it off before it costs them any more money. Motortax.ie offer a service by which you can see if the car has changed hands within the last three months.
By typing the registration of the vehicle into the above system you will either find it will say
“No Vehicle Registration Certificate issued in the last 3 months” This means the car hasn’t changed hands in the last three months according to the system.
Note: The car may still be in someone else’s hands, just not the registered owner. This is why you should always check a form of ID with the seller and check the logbook to see if it’s the same. If it’s not you should then ask how they acquired the car. In a lot of cases it could be they have taken it as a trade in or selling it for a friend etc. This is when you should be more vigilant.
“Transferred to an Individual on” This means the car has changed hands in the last three months.
Note: 3 months is a very short period of ownership for a motor vehicle. They could have a very genuine reason for selling (They don’t like the car, it doesn’t suit their needs etc.), but more often than not there is something wrong with the car that the current owner only realised after they purchased the car. Thread carefully with this car, it may very well be one to avoid.
Or “Purchased by a Dealer on” This means the car was taken into stock by a Dealership in the last three months.
Note: No need for concern here, it simply means whoever you are buying the car from is a Dealer.
Time to make the call
Once you’ve checked this and you are happy, you have a little bit more information to back you up before you go and make the first bit of contact with the buyer. In my personal opinion it’s always better to ring the seller. It’s a lot harder for a seller to think up of a lie on the spot. Before you ring, take out a piece of paper so you can write down everything the seller tells you, make sure all this information corresponds to the advert. While on the phone they may tell you they’re selling because of the arrival of a new baby, but in person it may be because of the loss of a job, it’s always handy to have this information so you can question the buyer, and reveal a few hidden facts. Ask as many questions as you can, it may be better to have these written down before you call, so you don’t get sidetracked yourself and forget to ask.
You’re first question to ask someone when you ring is,
“Hi, I’m enquiring about the car you have for sale on/in x-website or y-newspaper” and say no more.
What this does is it makes sure the person you are buying the car off only has the one car for sale. If they say “Which one?” you can then go on to ask a few more questions like are they a Trader etc. Being a trader isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it all depends on what kind of a trader they are.
You can then go on to ask if they car has ever been in an accident and if the mileage displayed is correct (You can ask is the verified by a documented service history). For both of these questions look for a direct answer, don’t let the seller sway off the question with an indirect answer.
So, if after the initial contact it may now be time to arrange a viewing. If it’s the case that the car is in the same county as you currently live in, you may leave a car history check until after you have viewed the car. If it’s the case that you a travelling from Dublin to Cork, it may save your time and fuel costs to do a history check before hand.
Car History Check
As long as you have the registration and mileage you can now do a Car History check. These checks can show up nothing (No news is good news, in most cases), but they can also show up lots of reasons for you to stay away from a car. The likes of motorcheck.ie and cartell.ie offer a history check service. By entering the registration into their system, it will first give you a brief description of the car. If this matches the car you are buying then you can move on to paying the fee to have the full check done. (As above, this should only be used prior to viewing the car if it’s a long distance away and if you are seriously considering buying the car) Once you get the results of the full check, the website themselves will highlight any discrepancies. Simple things you can do yourself are to make sure the car is the same colour, how many owners it has, how often the owners have changed etc.
Note: Any irregularities with this you can either contact the company themselves or you can contact the owner and query it. If they owner sounds as if they knew it all along, and are starting to shy up or mutter their words, it’s time to look for another car.
Viewing the car
Once you’ve done all your checks and gotten as much information about the car and its history you can then decide whether to view the car or not.
Day or night?
If you decide to arrange a viewing, day or night it doesn’t really matter. In daylight you’ll be able to see the condition of the car and depending on the weather you’ll be able to see the condition of the paintwork. At night time (don’t forget your inspection lamp) you’ll obviously be a lot more cautious. The strong light of the inspection lamp will show up more than normal sunlight, which when buying is always a good thing. At night time just be more careful are thoroughly look through the car, in case you miss anything. Never view a car in the rain, it’s the worst possible weather, not only because you can’t see what the bodywork or engine bay is really like, you’ll naturally want to get out of the rain and you will rush the sale along unknowing to yourself.
So, first things first. Take a quick walk around the car. Check to see if all the panels fit together nicely, no unusual gaps and the car is symmetric. Look at the paint work, does it all look to be the same quality? Is the paint newer looking on some panels than others? Is it all the same shade?
Open the boot. Put your hand in and feel around, is it damp? Check the pockets left and right, are they damp? Lift the carpet; are the spare wheel and the relevant tools there? The locknut? If not, where are they? Any sign of accident damage? Sometimes the presence of a bottle of oil can indicate that the car may be burning oil. Close the boot, make sure it closes and that it lines up. Are the original badges there? Do they look like they haven’t been placed correctly? Do they look new?
Open the bonnet and take a look. Look down and the front left and front right of the car, where two long bars come out to meet the bumpers. If there’s any sign of creasing etc. Or new panels they car may previous of been crashed. Can you see any major rust? Look at the bolts that hold the wings in. Do they look like they’ve been removed? The both wings line up with the lights and the bumpers on both sides?
While you have the bonnet open you can look to see if the timing belt has been done on the car (if the car has one). This is normally marked in white tipex either on the engine cover or somewhere around the engine bay. If this hasn’t been done (Most cars are due by 60,000, some Fords last in 100,000. Check this on Google before you leave) ask the owner about it. If they can’t prove when it was done take into account that this will have to be done, this is a very important part of the engine and can be very expensive to do (and can require a new or rebuilt engine if it snaps.).
Windows All windows have a marking by which company they're made and they also have a year. Look for the marking in the corner of the window, read the name and then look at the bottom. You should see a stand alone number, useless with a few dots around it. Eg .....9 means the window is from 1999 or 2009 , ......2 could be 2002. Also all the four names should match. Along with the front windscreen (a dead giveaway for a replaced windscreen the tax disc holder). If any of these windows don't match, especially on the side it may mean that they have been replaced at some stage.
Numberplates Is there one new and one old numberplate? Or two new ones? If there is one new numplate take note of the bumper, does it look freshly painted? One new numberplate could easily be because one fell off, but more often than not, the old one was damaged.
Checking the oil. This is important. There’s an oil dip stick and an oil filler cap. Have a tissue at hand, pull out the oil dip stick, wipe it off and insert it back in again. And now pull it back out and see where does the oil come to. And the end of the stick about an inch up you should see two markings, one for min. and one for max. It should be up near the max, not very low and not over filled (both are as equally damaging). If there’s no oil, just walk away. Now onto the oil colour. If the oil is as black as coal it will indicate the car hasn’t been serviced in awhile. If it’s golden it normally indicates clear oil and it’s just after being serviced (Most diesel oils will be darker, and the colour may not indicate recent servicing). If the oil on the dipstick is creamy or coffee colour, this normally indicates that the oil is mixing with the water and the head gasket is gone. Again, walk away. The oil filler cap may have this creamy residue on it put that’s normally due to condensation in the engine and is fine.
The inside of the car. So, if you’ve gotten this far, and you’re still happy, start to take a look inside. Some cars wear better than others. A car with 90,000 miles on it shouldn’t have the driver’s seat bolster completely worn, the steering wheel or the handbrake shouldn’t be too worn either. Moderate wear is fair enough, but excessive wear could indicate clocking or and unminded car. Pull the seat belt out. Does it retract back quickly or slowly? A slow retracting seatbelt is the result of excessive use, again, this should be relevant to the mlieage. A "low mileage" car shouldn't retract slowly.
Carpet Feel the carpets. Under the dash and under the pedals. Is it damp? If it's soaking wet, there could be a leak and further problems. You will usually get a damp smell as well.
Buttons Push every button, open and close everything, turn the radio up and down, play a cd, open and close all the windows, turn the lights on and off, push the seat back and forward, up and down.
Now it’s time to start the car. Turn the ignition onto the first click and all the warning lights should flicker on. Make sure all these lights come on (airbag etc.) and they go back off again. If they don’t come on it could mean the bulb has been removed to try and hide an existing, expensive problem. Now it’s time to start the car. (Ask the seller if they would leave the car sit for half an hour or an hour before you come so that you can start it from cold. Starting from cold can highlight some problems which starting from warm wouldn’t. So, start the car, make sure it starts fine and that there are no major rattles or noises (diesel cars are considerably louder than petrol. Petrol cars should be reasonable quiet. Any loud noises from a petrol engine should be a cause for concern.
Driving the car It’s now time to take it for a spin. Remember you’re spending €€€’s on this car so make sure you get a good ten – fifth teen minute spin. Drive the car up the revs in all gears and make sure to change back down through the gears as well. Is there any smoke coming out of the car on harsh acceleration? A hint of blue in the smoke indicates the car is burning oil. The car should smoothly change up and down gears Note: All cars differ, so some will drive differently from others. You’ll have to be able to differentiate yourself between a car that isn’t driving right to a car that is driving differently to your own. Test the brakes; make sure you have a good clear path behind you and that the passengers know you are going to hit the brakes hard. Any weird feelings? Do the wheels wobble badly?
Once you’re happy with the way the car drives, take it back and stop. Turn the car off, leave it 20 seconds and start it again. It should start smoothly (for turbo engine cars, leave it a minute or so before starting again.)
When was the car NCT’d? Check the condition of the tyres. If the car is due an NCT soon (in the next 2-3 months) ask the owner would they be willing to put the car through an NCT beforehand. If not, why not? Bigger cars can cost a small fortune to put through on things like emissions, suspension etc. so thread carefuly.
Unfortunately people seem to rely on an NCT in this country. All an NCT means is the car isn’t overly rusty, all the warning lights work and most of the mechanics of the car are fine, brakes etc.. Note: The NCT does not mean the engine is in perfect working order, or that the car hasn’t been crashed before. Is it taxed? If not, why not? How long is the tax out?
Open the glove box and look for the manual. Look for the service history book and read through it in details. If there isn’t one you are going to have to trust your instincts to know if the car is genuine or not. If it’s during the day you could easily ring the garage where it was serviced to make sure it has been. To point out the obvious, if the whole service history is written in the same colour pen with the same colour hand writing it could well be fake and it’s time to walk away.
Opening the bargaining with a general phrase like “How are you fixed on price?” is better than offering the seller 2,000 less than what they want. A general phrase will always let you know how up for bargaining the person is. It also depends on how well the car is priced, they may not bargain with you at all. It’s not about how much you get off; it’s about how much the car is worth. Like if you were buying a car for 2,100 that you knew was worth 2,600, you wouldn’t walk away from the deal just because they won’t come anyway lower than 2,100. Priced to sell is generally priced to sell and most sellers will hold out for the money they want.
It’s always better to have a second person with you, four eyes are better than two and all that.
And remember you are not obliged to buy the car. If it's not right, if something doesn't feel right, just walk away. If there is an underlying fault with the car the seller has wasted your time, you haven't wasted there. Always feel free to leave.
Lots of people either want cash or draft. If it's anything over €5,000 you should arrange a safe way to deliver the money. Always meet the seller at their house. If something does not feel right just turn around and walk away. If you are going on a test drive make sure the money is well secured in your car.
I hope the above helps people in the future, and hopefully it might stop one or two being caught out.
Excellent post LM and thanks for taking the time to write it up.
Good write-up. Lots of stuff to look out for
Grand advice for petrols but in a diesel, the oil is gonna be black. It doesnt suggest when the oil was last changed.
Sorry, I'll change that. I've dealt with mostly petrol in my time!
Nice write up to see, but I can't concur with the notion that viewing a car in the dark is ok.
I'd only recommend viewing a car in the dark if you really have to, but never do a deal on a car you've only seen in the dark. Come back the following morning or whenever in daylight hours to conclude any deal or purchase. Many many people have regretted buying in the dark.
really good post limerick man. almost an idiots guide to buying a 2nd hand car...
Thanks for this Limerick Man.
I'm going to be selling my second car soon, so i'm going to use this as a snag list on it.
I'll even give it to anyone who inspects the car if they are unsure about the buying process.
The most important part about buying a 2nd hand car is not to buy one off Limerick man
I didn't know about some of these checks and I'm looking for a new car at the minute. This will be very useful.
I think I'll print it out.
well done on an excellent guide and appreciate all the effort you have put into it. Mods can we please make this a sticky in the motors forum !!!!!
That is a Great Guide. Thanks for spending time on it. Good job .
Just change the details regarding the Diesel engine oil, as suggested previously. The colour of the Diesel engine oil should be dark graphite with some clarity at the thin layer covering the dipstick.
I Can't see any mention of FINANCE, vital to check there is no finance on anything less than 8 years old.
Don't take the sellers word for it.
If there is finance outstanding this needn't be a show stopper, but make sure its clear before you pay or pay the finance house directly yourself with the balance to the seller.