I recently got the itch to swap my car for a newer model, and as a result spent several Saturdays travelling from one dealer to another around Dublin, hoping to find the perfect combination of condition, mileage, style and price – no easy task. There are a few tips and tricks you can employ, however, to make the search for your new car a little easier.
Dealer or private?
The age-old question – do you buy private or trek along the forecourts? It’s definitely a tricky one. Dealer cars are generally more expensive but usually come with a warranty and hopefully a service, and you can rely on your consumer rights should you realise they’ve sold you a lemon. However, just because it’s a dealership doesn’t mean they’re reliable. Always do your research beforehand – search forums like Boards.ie for other peoples’ experiences.
Buying private can generally save you money, but you don’t have the same consumer rights, as private sellers aren’t acting as a business. If you go down the private route, always bring a mechanic to inspect the car, or at least someone who knows their way around a car. Checking the car’s history is also a good step – reports from services such as Motor Check and Car Tell generally start from around €10 and can provide important information on whether the vehicle was written off, imported or has outstanding finance (the same goes for a car from a dealership).
Start the search
If you’re buying from a dealership, you could pick a spot like the Naas Road/Long Mile Road in Dublin and simply wander from dealer to dealer in the hopes of finding. Chances are, however, that most dealers might have only one or two cars that will interest you. Instead make the most of online resources like Carzone and DoneDeal. I’ve found CarsIreland.ie to be a particularly useful tool, with additional information such as green rating, fuel economy and NCAP safety rating.
Just be sure to double check the information on the forecourt. One recent dealer advertised their car online for €1,000 less than the price on the forecourt. Needless to say, I didn’t stick around.
Regardless of where you purchase your new car, always carry out an inspection (preferably by an independent mechanic). Make sure there’s nothing out of place – check for possibly resprayed or damaged panels, if colours are different in adjoining areas, or if one of the headlights has been replaced, as this could mean the vehicle was in a crash.
If you can, check for rust underneath the car, and have a look under the bonnet to make sure everything looks in order. The timing belt can be one of the most expensive items to replace – generally mechanics will indicate in Tipp-Ex on the engine cover as to when it was last changed. Dip the engine for oil – coffee-coloured oil could indicate a problem with the head gasket, which should send you running.
Inside, check that wear around the seats, dials, steering wheel and gear knob corresponds with the mileage. If there’s significant wear and tear but low mileage, it could be a sign of clocking (where the odometer has been altered). Check that all switches, buttons and lights are in working order, and check the seals around the doors and the boot for any signs of water entry or damage.
Take a test drive
This probably goes without saying, but always take a car for a test drive. If the engine is still warm, wait for it to cool down, as you’ll get a better idea of its driving condition. Turn the radio down or off and listen out for any rattles, squeaks or other noises that shouldn’t be present. Test out the brakes, acceleration, handling and gears and try it out on as many road surfaces as possible to test the suspension. Keep an eye and a nose out for any smoke coming from under the bonnet or the exhaust.
The key word when buying a car is patience. Don’t rush out and buy the first car you see – take your time to research the best model for your driving needs, and thoroughly assess the car before you even think about handing over any money – get a mechanic to go through it with a fine tooth comb and you could save a lot of money further down the line. Don’t be afraid to walk away if you’re not completely sure!
The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission has a handy checklist to get you started.
An amended version of this article first featured on You & Your Money.