Tips for buying used cars

A vehicle fresh from the factory with a full manufacturer's guarantee and all the necessary extras - the dream of a new car appeals to many drivers. But not infrequently, this dream is associated with high costs. In addition, the strong loss in value in the first few years should not be neglected. A used car is not only more lucrative to buy, insurance premiums are also usually cheaper. It is therefore not surprising that the used car market is booming in Germany, the range is plentiful and the search for the right vehicle is not difficult.

But whether it's a private purchase or from a dealer: there are a number of pitfalls on the way to a used car. The supposed bargain quickly turns into a cost trap that needs to be avoided. Find out here how you, even as a layperson, can assess the condition of a vehicle and which other criteria are relevant when buying a used vehicle.

The basics of buying a used car

When it comes to doubts, it is not easy for laypersons to assess a car. If you lack the expertise or if you have first doubts, take an expert with you to view the vehicle. Since the devil is often in the details, the assessment should take place in daylight. You need a powerful flashlight to illuminate the engine compartment or the corners of the vehicle compartment. If you want to listen to the expert opinion of an expert, you have the option of a professional check at TÜV, ADAC or KÜS. The examination by a specialist naturally costs 90 to 120 euros, but it can give a layperson certainty. Repair costs can quickly rise to four figures, which may make the investment worthwhile.

Private individual or dealer - advantages and disadvantages

A question where opinions differ. There is no general answer as to whether buying from a private person or a dealer is more worthwhile. Personal preferences and expectations are crucial here. Buying from a commercial dealer offers more security, as a one-year liability for material defects is required by law in Germany. If a defect only becomes noticeable after the fact, the dealer is obliged to take back or repair the damage. As a private person, you are in every case fine, since the burden of proof lies with the dealer.

In the case of private sales, the situation looks less rosy for the buyer. A seller can decline any liability by means of the corresponding clauses in the purchase contract. The lack of security is of course reflected in the lower price. You also benefit from a larger selection.

Body gives information about the past

Once you have discovered an appealing offer and made an appointment with the seller, it is about assessing the outer body. If the surface of the vehicle is not smooth or if there are differences in color, this can indicate earlier damage caused by an accident. Examine, among other things, the windows of the vehicle. A falling stone in the windshield can quickly cost money.

Visible damage from corrosion should not be taken lightly. If rust is easily visible, the sub-floor is usually also affected. Finally, it is time to check the tires, which should be worn evenly and should have a sufficient profile. If you notice damage to brake discs, rims or lights, investigate the causes of the defects. A reputable seller will not avoid your questions and will inform you in advance about defects in the vehicle.

Assessment of engine compartment and underside of the vehicle

Check the engine compartment for signs of corrosion and potential leaks. Lines, hoses and clamps should all be in order. Oil marks on the engine or white marks on the oil cap indicate possible damage and a defective cylinder head gasket. Then check the level of the fluids, such as the engine oil, brake fluid and cooling water. Too low a level can indicate poor past husbandry conditions.

The underside also provides information about the condition of a car. It is particularly difficult for laypersons to assess a car based on its underside. As in the engine block, escaping liquids or corrosion are to be regarded as warning signs. Eye-catching welds should also be viewed critically, as they indicate repairs to the vehicle.

Review of papers and documents

If the car is in a reasonable condition, all important documents have to be checked. Don't let your good feeling fool you: checking the papers provides information about the condition of the vehicle and can reveal potential fraud. The vehicle's checkbook provides you with the first clues. If it is not available or entries are only sporadic, poor maintenance can be assumed. A quick look at the registration certificate, Part II, reveals the number of previous vehicle owners. If the number of holders is unexpectedly large, it may be a Monday model that has made previous owners too difficult. Ultimately, the test report of the last main inspection plays a role. Check whether and when said defects have been remedied.

Important: Compare the information in the vehicle registration document with the chassis number. If the numbers do not match, it could be a stolen vehicle.

Clues during the test drive

If the inspection and control of all the necessary documents went well, the test drive is finally up. Take your time. If you want to test the vehicle extensively, plan at least 60 minutes. So that you can see all facets of the vehicle, not only test the vehicle in city traffic, but also venture on faster sections on the motorway or country roads. Problems with driving behavior often only become noticeable at higher speeds.

Pay attention to unusual noises from the gearbox or engine and check the steering. Cracking noises when fully knocked in, stutters when driving fast or a delayed use of the steering indicate problems. Let go of the steering on a safe and clear road while driving. If the car does not stay on track, there is a defect. Finally, test the brakes, which grip immediately and should not rub.

After the test drive has been completed, check the engine compartment and the underside of the vehicle one last time. Look for leaky lines or other defects.

Tip: A test drive starts with the engine cold. If the seller makes the effort to warm up the engine before the test drive, you can expect problems with starting.