Cars are expensive. In fact, cars are among the most expensive things in a life that already seems to be getting more expensive by the day. So it’s easy to see why looking for bargains has become so popular.
Now, bargains have of course always been popular. Nothing beats that feeling of paying a lot less for something than its regular price. But with cars, this feeling turns into outright elation.
We’re not here to preach. We totally understand the appeal of bargain hunting, especially for used cars. On the other hand, we need to warn you: Finding a really cheap car has never been easy. These days, in fact, it’s probably harder than ever.
So if you see what looks to be a deal that’s too good to be true, your first impulse should not be to grab it – but to walk away.
The problem with car deals in the Internet age
Only twenty years ago, you could walk onto any flea market or into any thrift store and score a few incredible deals. These days, it has become almost impossible. Why is this?
The simple reason is that thrift store owners, in the past, would often not know the real value of the products they sold. Take vinyl LPs and CDs. With the sheer amount of music being released, it used to be impossible to get a precise estimate of what was rare and valuable and what was simply unknown and worthless. And so, they had to take a guess.
The same applied for many other goods, from furniture and cutlery to clothes and pieces of art.
Today, this has changed completely. If a thrift store wants to know the value of a given album or single, they simply go online and check the current value on sites like discogs. Then, they price their music accordingly.
This means everything now tends towards the same price – offline and online.
Are cars the same as vinyl LPs?
Essentially, yes. In fact, the car market had this problem long before any other segment experienced it. Precisely because cars are so valuable, organisations like Kelly Blue Book or Parkers collect data across the country to let dealers know what they could reasonably ask for a particular model. Although dealers could always undercut this price or, more likely, set their prices above it, they at least had a clear guideline.
Of course, the concept works both ways. If you’re a driver looking for a new car, it has become impossible to find really cheap cars. But on the other hand, no dealer can price their vehicles far above the market average. After all, with just a single click, potential customers can now instantly see what the competition offers – and take their cash elsewhere.
Just as with the music business, bargain hunting became a rather tedious, boring and usually unfruitful pursuit.
So are there no really cheap cars left at all?
That would be putting it too harshly.
For one, there are still regional differences between different parts of the UK. So, for instance, a car could be really expensive in London but quite affordable in Manchester. Or you could get a pretty good price in Scotland.
This is because people in different parts of the country have different preferences and a different purchasing power.
Secondly, condition matters a lot when it comes to the value of a car. So, even though a used Polo should be pretty expensive, a rather worn out model won’t be able to command the highest prices.
Thirdly, some models are simply not very popular.
We will never understand why Vauxhalls lose their value so quickly, for example. But it’s a fact that you can get a fantastic Corsa or Astra at a much reduced price after just two or three years of use. The same goes for a few other brands, which depreciate just a little faster than others on the market.
Finally, dealers will occasionally want to move some cars just to make room for newer – and potentially more profitable – ones. If this is the case, you can get a fantastic showroom model at a much reduced price.
All of these points are perfectly reasonable. But what about some of the other typical scenarios for car deals? Let’s take a look at them in turn.
Write offs: Should You Write them Off?
Let’s start with what should probably be the very last thing on your mind when it comes to car deals: Write offs.
A car is usually written off after an accident. Sometimes, for insurance reasons, it simply doesn’t make sense to repair a car anymore. The insurance company will instead pay for a new automobile and the old one will be discarded.
This, however, does not mean that written off cars are a total loss. Yes, they will have sustained considerable damage and will have to be repaired. But by no means do they need to be scrapped.
This is why even a reputable company like Parkers writes: “Do your homework and there are bargains to be had, because many older vehicles classed as category N (non-structural) have little wrong with them that can’t be rectified.”
They also believe that even a category S write-off can make sense if you can find an engineer “with the right skills”.
The thing is: To make the call which of these cars is a great deal and which is a moneypit is hard, even for experts. And so, there is a very large risk of getting it wrong.
If you have money to spare, a write off may be an exciting way to spend it. For everyone else, the risk is just too big.
Gambling may be unhealthy and unwise. But it can definitely be enjoyable. That’s why we keep going back to ebay and spending the occasional hour in front of a slot machine.
It’s also why the idea of buying a car at an auction can seem so thrilling.
Contrary to a few other methods of getting a great deal, auctions are perfectly legal. They have been around for ages and serve an important purpose in the car industry. At auctions, dealers can shop for cars which were impounded by debt collection agencies, occasionally for fleet cars or former renting vehicles, too. By going through an auction, the bidders collectively determine the true value of the vehicle – something that would be pretty hard to do otherwise.
Consumers benefit, too, since they get access to cheap vehicles overhauled and inspected by trusted dealerships.
What’s not to like?
So why not bid yourself?
This seems like a natural thought. Why let dealers snatch those bargains away from under your nose? Why pay a highly inflated price after they invested a few hours cleaning it – why not invest those hours yourself?
Sure enough, you will always find private buyers at car auctions all the time. And it can’t be denied that some of them really do get great deals out of the experience.
The harsh truth is, though, that they are decidedly in the minority. By far the highest percentage of private buyers spends too much at an auction, on the wrong car, without knowing enough about the risks and potential issues.
We’ve written at great length about this topic in an expansive blog article: Should you buy at a car auction?
Here’s a summary of what makes auctions so problematic.
And there are quite a few issues!
- Auctions, for dealers, are a routine procedure. For you, however, it can be a rousing and emotional experience. As a consequence, overbidding is a serious risk.
- It is hard enough telling the value of a car at a private sale. With auctions, this is even harder. You will have a few minutes to inspect the car at best. And a test drive is definitely out of the question.
- You buy the car as seen. Except for wilful omission, this means that if you experience problems afterwards, you are solely responsible for resolving them. Which can turn out to be expensive.
- Auction prices tend to be good, but not spectacular. This is simply because dealers know exactly how much they can make with a car. If they know they’ll be able to move the vehicle, they’ll happily bid more and accept a slightly smaller profit margin. All of this means that cars are seldom sold at rock bottom prices.
- You never just buy the auction price. There are several additional costs which you need to add to it to arrive at the final number.
Simply put, auctions are not worth it and often outright dangerous. They’re not a safe place to go hunting for bargains.
The Internet has changed the world. And cars have led the way.
Although it took a while before dealers and private seller started offering automobiles online, the web made it a lot easier to search for deals. Only two decades ago, people would buy catalogues the size of phonebooks to find out about potential cars of interest.
Today, that thought seems absurd. Instead, with just a few clicks, we have access to even more occasions, with more information and a much reduced risk.
If you’re buying from a private seller online, then things are pretty much the same as ever. You search for models you’re interested in, you take your pick, you take a look at it, test drive it, wait a few days to think things over and then you decide on whether to take the plunge or not.
Can you make great deals this way? It’s unlikely.
The reason, simply, is that the web has made it much easier to compare prices.
Even if you had no idea how much to ask for your car, it would cost you five minutes max to get a pretty good idea what it is selling for on the market. And so, the only way for you to get a bargain is for the car to be in a bad state so you can haggle the price down.
But that, of course, obviously comes with risks of its own.
What about online car dealers?
Just like most other companies, car dealers have also taken their business online. And just as is usually the case, this has been good news for consumers.
Car dealers are now no longer just up against local competitors. They also have to ward off private sellers (of which there are a lot more) and dealerships in the near vicinity. If the price is right, they might even have to deal with cars sold at the other end of the country.
Ironically, most experts tend to agree that the move towards the web has all but wiped out true bargains. This is because the few car buyers who actually enjoyed sales talk are now finding it harder to haggle. Haggling was a true offline activity and very few dealers still engage with it – thanks to their online sales channel, they can usually offload most cars effortlessly.
Then again, reducing the price by a little is no longer as hard as it used to be. Even if you truly detest haggling, you can request a discount simply by dropping the sales manager an email. Very often, they will offer you a rebate. It may not be as sizable as in the old days. But for most customers, it will be better than nothing.
That said – this certainly isn’t a bargain.
Really old cars
Used cars will always be cheaper than new ones. And really old cars will usually be cheaper than ‘just’ old ones. (We’re making an exception here for classic cars and antiques which, depending on their condition, can occasionally be extremely valuable.)
But what about cars that fall somewhere in between a regular used car of five to six years and a classic? What about a car from the 80s or 90s, for example?
For some experts, these will already be oldtimers. To our mind, however, they are still a far too common sight on our roads to classify for that distinction.
One thing’s for sure: These cars can still drive, their electrical system won’t be entirely out of date and they won’t make you look like a pensioner on a nostalgic race. Best of all, you can get some of them at pretty good prices.
Are these veritable bargains? In some instances yes, absolutely.
Especially when it comes to a few unpopular models, you can get very attractive prices for what is still a perfectly functional car.
But, as with every bargain, there’s an additional risk of repairs a little further down the road. Especially when it comes to really old cars, the main issue is finding suitable replacement parts.
For some models, this will not be an issue. For others, it most certainly is. Make sure to talk to someone knowledgeable on the subject to distinguish one from the other.
We rarely think about them this way. But cars are sometimes sold at a discount at your dealership. If you know when this is going to happen, you can get a truly great deal here.
There are very typical moments when dealers will be more willing to give you a good price:
- At the end of the quarter to get a better sales result.
- At the end of the sales year to claim a higher bonus.
- In the colder season, because people buy less cars then. (Conversely, it’s going to be very hard to get a good price in the Summer, because that’s when absolutely everybody wants to buy a new vehicle.)
- At the end of a model generation to create space for the new one.
- If they have too many pre-registered cars standing around and want to get rid of some of them.
It does make sense to take these aspects into consideration if you’re looking for a new car. After all, these cars are safe to buy and not the typical buy-at-your-own-risk deals.
The downside is that you can neither be sure that you’ll find the right car for you this way, nor that dealers will actually engage in any of these deals or that the discount will be as steep as desired.
These factors can not be controlled. So you may have to exercise a high degree of patience.
Cars at CCC
Instead, you can just visit our Manchester showroom and take a look at the models we have on offer for you. Alternatively, many of our best deals can also be found on our website.
Best of all, Concept Car Credit can set up financing for you, even if you have a bad credit rating.
This is one thing that’s all too often forgotten, after all: The sales price is an essential ingredient of a true bargain. But so is the cost of financing.
Talk to us now to find out how we can help you find a great deal.