Tips on Buying a Used Car

Feb 2020

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Buying a used car can save you money.

Buying a used car can save you money and it is the quickest way to get behind a wheel. However, with a murky track record and some opportunistic, ruthless salespeople, the used-car market can be risky. The quality of any second-hand car depends on how the previous owner treated it. You don’t want to be stuck with a lemon that breaks down within the first few months of use.

To minimise your chances of getting a bad deal, we’ve rounded up our list of 10 tips and tricks to help you stay one step ahead of those highly trained sales agents that might want to do you in.

1. Ask the Right Questions

Before you purchase a used car, you first have to ask the right questions to determine the car’s current condition and ownership history. For the most part, it’s up to you to find out about any possible problem areas before you buy. It’s best to have a professional mechanic inspect the car to unravel any mysteries that could catch you by surprise on the road!

If possible, try obtaining the vehicle’s history reports. These reports contain important information about the car, such as the number of previous owners, whether it had been in any serious accidents, its maintenance records, and more.

Always Ask for the Car’s Registration Document (NaTIS)

Unless the car is still under finance or has a lien, the dealership or owner should be the title-holder. If the seller still owes money on the car, you could pay the financier instead. The finance provider can then send the registration document indicating you as the title-holder directly to you. 

2. Take the Car for a Test Drive

Everyone knows that a proper test drive is a crucial step before you can buy a used car. However, only a few motorists can perform a sufficiently informed examination to distinguish a great buy from a troublesome lemon. Simply call the car dealership or seller, inform them if you want to test drive the vehicle, and let them know the best time and day for you.

Make sure to call ahead to avoid disappointment. After all, the last thing you want is to show up at the dealership only to find out the vehicle isn’t available anymore. A test drive gives you the opportunity to take a car expert along and be sure about buying the car before you commit to the transaction.

3. A Little Research Goes a Long Way

This one seems quite obvious but it would be worth your while to write down the expectations you have of a car, such as how many people you have to transport every day and whether you want a large or small car, a sedan or crossover, or an SUV or bakkie. Are there certain features that you just cannot live without, e.g. cruise control, certain safety features, or specific multimedia functionality such as app connect or phone mirroring?

Here’s a short checklist to help you out:

  • Should the car have any specific attributes, such as fitting into a small space or being able to tow a trailer?
  • Is it for longer motorway journeys or short city drives? Not all small cars have sufficient power or fuel range to tackle long journeys.
  • Is it better to use petrol or diesel? Diesels are much lighter on fuel but might cost much more to maintain as they age.
  • Do you want an eco-friendly option? There is a small handful of alternative-power options available locally, such as hybrids, but very few electric cars.

Once you have answered these questions, the next step is to research cars that fit your description and to determine their prices. To get a fair indication of what is out there and at what prices, you can always walk into a dealership to look at the cars on their lot. Most dealerships also have online inventories that you can look at in advance and then read up on each type of car. Visit the websites of used-car dealerships such as Citton Cars and browse through car forums online to read about the reliability of the used cars you are interested in.

You have to do all this legwork to ensure you get the best possible second-hand car. Once you have shortlisted your favourite cars, don’t let any sales agent distract you with something else. Stick to your guns.

4. Determine What You’re Going to Pay

Before you even get started, you should have an idea of how much you can spend on the car. There are different ways to arrange finance for a car, such as financing directly through the car dealership (a good option), obtaining a bank loan, credit union, and even paying cash if you have the means. If the car still has some of its factory warranty or motor plan left, you have even more peace of mind.

To get rid of your old car, you can either trade it in at a dealership or sell the car privately. Selling privately may be a time-consuming process, but it could pocket you a lot more money in exchange for the effort. There are many free, online classifieds websites on which you can advertise it, such as OLX, AutoTrader, Gumtree, and 

5. Learn About the Hidden Costs

Whether you decide to buy from a car dealership or directly from a private seller, make sure to budget for all the necessary costs. If buying from a dealership, there may be various additional costs, such as bank and documentation fees, on-the-road fees, and registration fees – not to mention the interest rate offered to you, which might be too high. It is worth your while to ask for a detailed breakdown of the fees. When it comes to asking about hidden fees, you cannot be too inquisitive.

6. Have the Vehicle Inspected

You can always check a few basic things yourself, even if you don’t know much about cars. For example, you can check the service record in the service book, as well as the condition of the tyres and glass. For anything more than that, you would need an expert or formal inspection. Even if the seller insists that the car has no major issues or mechanical defects, you should still opt for a comprehensive inspection at a professional service provider like a Bosch Car Service centre. You can never be sure whether there are undisclosed reasons why the seller might be trying to get rid of the car.

7. Don’t Be Afraid to Negotiate

When negotiating the price of the car, your most powerful tool is access to information. Taking the car for a test drive, having it professionally inspected, and obtaining vehicle reports should give you plenty of data to skilfully negotiate the price of the car. Get a written quote from the car dealership’s sales agent, so there is no doubt about the items that make up the grand total.

8. Check if the Vehicle Is Stolen

You should also have the car’s history checked. The VIN should match the number on the registration document and the VIN plate should not have been tampered with. The car should have a roadworthy certificate and if you are buying a car from a private seller, a history check can verify if the car indeed belongs to them. The last thing you need right now is inadvertently buying a stolen car. To check if the car is stolen or not, you will need the following information:

  • VIN (chassis number)
  • Engine number
  • Year, make, and model
  • Registration number
  • Mileage
  • Colour

Once you have all this information, there are a few ways in which you can check the car’s history:

  • Go to to verify the VIN, year, make, and model of the car. The online report will also show whether the SAPS has listed the car as stolen. This could cost you around R100 but it is well worth it for your peace of mind.
  • You can also go to to check if the vehicle has been stolen. The cost of doing this check is around R150.
  • Or you could just go to the Metro Police or the SAPS to check if the vehicle has been stolen and that the engine number and VIN match the car’s registration documents. You can get this information free of charge.

9. Car Insurance

Short-term insurance is compulsory for cars being financed and strongly recommended for all vehicles. The cost of insurance will depend on what the insurers determine your risk profile is. If you are young and have not had your driving licence for long, you will pay more for insurance than a middle-aged individual with years of driving experience. Where you live, where the car is parked overnight, and the presence of a tracking device will also affect the cost of insurance.

10. Don’t Be Afraid to Walk Away

Don’t walk into the dealership with the intent to buy a car on the spot. Be cool, collected, and rational about it. Being too accepting of the deal’s terms can put you into a position to accept an offer that may not be best for you. The rule of thumb is that, regardless of how good a deal appears to be right now, it’s never the last one out there and it is always worth your while to shop around so that you aren’t pressured into buying something that isn’t a good match for you.

Are you in the market for a used car but don’t know where to look? Check out Citton Cars for some amazing deals and excellent solutions. Feel free to email us, give us a call, or drop by and say hello!