One of the greatest attractions of second-hand cars is that someone else takes the hit for depreciation. A Ford Focus 1.6 Zetec will be worth only 35 percent of its list price after three years, and most cars lose 40 percent of their value in a year. Pre-owned cars can be bargains, and many fine ones are there for the taking – durability, build quality, safety standards, and paintwork have all improved massively in the last decade. Pre-owned cars do, however, carry certain risks.
Anyone seeking a reliable second-hand car would be best off with a Honda, Lexus, or Toyota. This was the finding of a survey by <em>What Car?<em> magazine in conjunction with Warranty Direct, based on 50,000 policies from Warranty Direct for cars that were from three to 10 years old.
Eight Japanese automakers were in the top 10, while the premium carmakers, Audi, Jaguar, and Mercedes Benz languished at the 26th, 27th, and 29th places. Land Rover was the least reliable manufacturer of all, with 71 percent of its vehicles breaking down at least once a year.
In 2012, Honda took the top spot for the seventh year running, making a pre-owned Honda a very enticing prospect. You'd be hard-pressed to find a more reliable car than a Honda Civic. This car also offers great luxury. Eight years after making its debut, the Honda Civic remains distinctive, having a unique cinema-style rear seat, large trunk, and well-proportioned cabin.
Another car deserving a mention is the Astra. A well-maintained, pre-owned Opel Astra will have the aura of a new car and is also dirt cheap. Its body structure is robust. The stereotypical used Astra will have clocked up around 7,500 miles a year, so it would be prudent to check the ball joints and steering rod.
It's worthwhile to check that a second-hand car isn't stolen. The first big, red flag is a price that's too good to be true. Papers may well be in good order, but you should check the car frame numbers against those in the log book. There are various commercial services that can be employed, such as Experian.
It's wise to only purchase second-hand cars if they possess a full service history. Receipts count for more than stamps in a book. To be absolutely sure, you could have a vehicle inspected by a professional or at least someone who knows about cars. It will be evident if the car's engine has been subjected to less stress, and it will then generally last longer and provide better fuel economy. Autos should only be viewed in daylight and never in the rain. Weld marks are evidence of a repair job following an accident. Milage should be consistent with the appearance of the car.
On this occasion, a little lying can be productive: say that you saw the same car elsewhere. You should always be prepared to walk away, as dealers won't want you to go to their rival, and a private seller will wish to get the thing off their hands. If you ask a private seller about “the car” and receive a response of “Which car?” then beware – this is a dealer trying to avoid legal obligatiosn by posing as a private seller. You shouldn't buy a car from a friend if you'd like to remain friends.