Considerations when buying a car

Looking to buy a car for the first time? Considering a trade in on your current vehicle for a newer model? Buying a car can be a good, or bad experience, depending on whether you’ve got all your bases covered. Not least of which is knowing the difference between a patched up Code 3 and a future classic that’ll make you the envy of your friends. Let’s cover a few tips for buying a second hand car from a dealer or a private seller.

What should I check before buying a second hand car?

Whether you’re buying a second hand car from a private seller or a car dealer, it’s important to keep in mind that you’re procuring a vehicle that’s been pre-owned by one or many other people. This means that you’ll need to be on the lookout for any signs of bad ownership and tardy maintenance.

Keep the following in mind when shopping around for a second hand car.


This is a major factor when buying a second hand car. The kilometre reading on the car will tell you how much work the engine has done. Also consider the amount of kilometres covered over a period of time. For example, a car that’s covered 50 000 kilometres over 2 years wasn’t put through the wringer quite as much as one that covered the same amount in just six months.


Oil and water leaks aren’t just signs of bad maintenance, but can also indicate that there are bigger problems under the bonnet. Unattended water leaks usually lead to overheating engines and can cause problems with the water pump or cause the head gasket to blow. These can all lead to expensive repairs. Oil leaks can be even more troublesome. Your best bet is to avoid buying a vehicle that shows signs of oil and water leakage.


Don’t go anywhere near a modified vehicle unless you’re interested in it for specific purposes. Otherwise, If you’re in the market for a reliable vehicle to get you and your family from point A to B reliably, a modified vehicle shouldn’t be on your list of considerations. Modifications tend to devalue cars and you run the risk of inheriting a laundry list of problems that you didn’t expect from your purchase. However, if this is the kind of purchase you’re looking to make, then do so at your own risk.

Unusual sounds

Signs of trouble with a second hand car can usually be spotted with a keen ear. Sounds to listen out for will include a tapping sound coming from the top of the engine, a whining sound from the wheels, a knocking sound when turning, a tapping sound when the car is driving up an incline to name a few. If your knowledge of car wear and tear is fairly pedestrian then you should take a knowledgeable mechanic with you to examine the car more thoroughly. Failing this, ask the seller if he or he is willing to have the vehicle inspected by a a service centre for a full report on the vehicle.

What are the hidden costs of buying a car?

Much of the hidden cost of buying a car will come from maintenance and repairs you’ll have to fork out for after the sale. This is why checking the car thoroughly is extremely important. Other hidden costs to be aware of when you buy a new or used car will include:

Car insurance

Getting insurance on your new car will be a big priority and something you shouldn’t consider going without. Your insurance premium will depend on the type and value of the car you’re buying. Price shop around for the best deal for your requirements and assess your options before committing to a particular service provider.

Service plan

The cost of a decent service plan will also vary on the type and price tag of your vehicle. Make sure you have an idea of the kind of mileage you’ll cover and calculate the cost of a service plan based on this. A service plan might seem like a waste of money initially, but can save you a lot of money over the long run.

Fuel prices

Fluctuating fuel prices are a reality for the South African car owner. Fuel prices are already notoriously high, so be prepared to spend a bit on fuel for your car. While managing fuel costs can be tough for the vehicle dependent driver, it’s a necessary expense you just can’t get away from.

On the road charges

When you buy a car from a car dealer they will include registering the vehicle under your name and having new number plates made for it. Also, a pre-delivery inspection as well as fueling of the vehicle is typically included.

Buying a private car checklist

Buying a car from a private seller requires a bit of vigilance. Protect yourself by using the following checklist when you buy a car privately.

Confirm ownership

Fraudulent car sales happen all the time. Make sure the seller is in fact the legitimate owner of the car by verifying the information on the car’s license details against identification documentation.

Ask questions

Don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as you need for peace of mind about what you’re buying. Sketchy sellers will usually evade questions and give vague answers about any pressing questions you may have. If your gut tells you that your seller isn’t exactly forthcoming, walk away.

Get all transfer documents signed

You’ll need two very important documents to be completed and signed by the seller. The transfer of ownership document (yellow form) and the new vehicle registration documents (blue form) will ensure that you get your new vehicle on your name without a hitch. Be sure they’re filled out properly to avoid any issues when registering your car.

Service history

A regularly stamped service history book is a good sign that the seller kept a good hand on the car. Check the service interval dates to get an idea of how regularly the vehicle was serviced and ask for any invoices relating to repairs that were done over time. This will give you a good profile of the vehicle and will inform you on how to best maintain it in future.

VIN Number

Check the VIN number on the vehicle and that it matches the owner registration and roadworthy documents. This is important for protecting you from buying a stolen vehicle. Make sure that the VIN number doesn’t appear to have been tampered with. Also be sure to check that the registration documents all correspond and that the car isn’t a “Rebuild” or “Accident Repaired”.

Due diligence will pay dividends

While most car owners only have superficial knowledge of what makes a car tick, there still are ways to avoid making a really bad purchase. Make sure you take the necessary precautions to prevent being saddled with a ride that leaves stranded more often than not.

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