Buying a car should make you happy. Excited. Satisfied. At the very least, it should make you feel as though you made the right decision. As it turns out, meanwhile, that’s not what most buyers experience. Especially when it comes to second hand car purchases, a large percentage of buyers end up disappointed and having to fix problems they knew nothing about when agreeing to the deal.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should avoid used cars. Quite on the contrary, they can still offer excellent value for money and may actually turn out to be more ecologically friendly than a new model. What it does mean, however, is that you need to stay alert at all times and make sure you are well prepared before signing the paperwork.

Complaints on the rise

As the BBC have reported, complaints about used cars have been on the rise for some time. According to a study commissioned by the Office of Fair Trading, “many motorists ended up fixing problems with their new purchase themselves, at an estimated average cost of £425, when in fact they were the dealer’s obligation to correct.” The outcry from customer watchdogs has accordingly been considerable, with many urging customers to read up on their rights and for the government to improve buyer protection.

Used cars: Good, but not perfect

At the same time, everyone involved acknowledged that consumers need to stay more alert as well. One could expect dealers to sell cars that were safe and meet some minimum quality requirements, but one could not expect used cars to be perfect.

As the report explicitly specifies, many buyers tend to have ‘unrealistic expectations’ about their purchase, which by default will lead to disappointment. Also, taking some time to weigh the different offers and implications of a purchase should be self-evident: As AA president Edmund King was reported as saying: “With two-thirds of used-car buyers spending less than a fortnight to choose a car, while many will spend months planning a holiday, rip-off merchants are handed easy pickings on a plate.”

Check list

So what can you do to improve your chances of finding a used car that may actually be able to make you happy, excited and thoroughly satisfied? We have put together the most important points that should be on your check list:

  • If you’re not an expert, invite one of your car-crazy friends to accompany you on your visit to the dealer. Even if you’re fairly knowledgeable when it comes to cars, it can never hurt to get a second opinion.
  • The price of a car will always play a vital role in your decision. It isn’t everything, however. Make sure your dealer is also willing to provide you with good service and back-up in case something goes wrong.
  • Look at all the relevant documents. If you’re uncertain, consult someone who has gathered experience and can explain them to you.
    Conduct a test drive and make a note of everything that doesn’t feel quite right.

Also, the Retail Motor Industry Association has compiled a list of concrete points to look into: “Checking the underside and bodywork, making sure tyres have the correct tread of 1.6mm or more, ensure paintwork is in good condition, make sure the locks work, and check all the rubber seals including windscreen wipers and doors because leaks can be expensive to fix. On the outside, make sure that no panels are a slightly different shade, or rippled, or uneven, or heavily chipped by stones. The inside of the car can give clues about how well it has been treated and whether the mileage is accurate. So look at the state of the seatbelts, see whether the carpets are in the condition you would expect, and look at the milometer, dashboard instruments and pedal condition.”

In addition to these points, the financing of a used car can contribute significantly to the success of your purchase. Make sure to get the best deal available and to work with a respectable financing company.

It might not get you excited, but at the very least, it should make you to feel happy and satisfied about your purchase.