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Buying A Car
First Car Buyers Guide
The purchase of a first car can be quite an experience with the vast amount of choices in the market place today. The wide variety of makes, models, colours, engine capacity, specifications, accessories and more makes the final decision even harder. Where do one start?
It is obvious that safety plays an important role, so does reliability. With fuel costs being a major component in daily running expenses, what engine capacity best suits your needs? One must look at all issues surrounding the usage of the car to narrow down to a few types to suit one’s needs.

General tips
When choosing a first car, do consider the followings:-
  • If the car is parked at residential roads at night, railway car parks during daytime without proper secure car parking, avoid models popular with thieves.
  • Build up a no-claim bonus on a car that is cheap to insure for big savings when it’s time to buy a better car.
  • If you are a parent buying a first car for a young driver, ensure that he or she has some investment in the choice, insurance and running costs so they don't drive it into the ground to prove the parental choice wrong.
  • By moving away from trendy or popular choices, you can often buy a much newer model for less money.
  • Extended driver-training to allow a young driver to pass a manual driver's licence will not only produce a safer, more competent driver. It doubles the choice of used cars then adds a safety margin for driving during overseas trips when automatic vehicles are not always available.
  • The latest extended service intervals are too long for most cars if they are used for short trips and stop-start running, so checking out service records and strange engine noises is more critical than ever. If an engine is so sludged-up that the oil can no longer move around the engine, the entire engine may have to be scrapped.
  • If there is not a suitable car in the household for a learner driver, consider buying a car earlier so that the learner driver can build up the required hours of driving experience. Avoiding the risk of unlicensed, unsupervised driving during this period can be an important component of this strategy.

Demos:- To buy or not to buy
A dealer may produce a demonstrator car in the exact specification at a price you can afford. Should you keep walking or buy?

What is a demonstrator?

As the name suggests, the dealer use a car to demonstrate the very best of what the latest model had to offer. They are looked after like a baby and frequently optioned-up with all the best extras.

In these cases, there has to be a demonstrator as described somewhere but the strategy is to get you as a potential buyer to contact the dealer at which point you might find that you can buy the very same car, brand new, for the same price.

The first step when you go shopping for any demonstrator is to investigate whether you can get the same price, or a better price on a brand-new version of the same car.

If it is not a brand-new car, then you need to treat it just like any other used car. Whether it has 1500 or 8000 km on the odometer, it has been on the road long enough for it to lose its 'newness' despite appearances.

Perhaps it has been damaged during the delivery process. Accidents do occur during shipping and at various points in the delivery process. One of the few options open to a distributor or dealer if the damage is more than superficial, is to register the vehicle as a demonstrator or company car then sell it after it has been on the road when a buyer's new car expectations might not be so high.

As with any vehicle that has been on the road, getting it checked by an independent source could be important for peace of mind.

Dealer Demonstrators
It is now commonplace to offer service customers the use of a loan car. This facility is sometimes used to promote the latest model, thus the loan car is often a brand-new premium model and driven without dealer supervision.

The loan period can extend to several months if a customer car requires a long stay in the service bay, until the service centre can source parts or develop a fix. The discussion forums on certain websites are filled with horror stories describing what some of these cars are put through by drivers who have no financial stake in them.

Often a dealer will source an unusual or special model for members of the family or even themselves. They are rarely driven by customers. Because the boss' car gets special treatment in the service bay and they are usually changed over at very low mileage, these cars can be absolute winners.

Terms like 'MD's own car' or 'MD's wife's car' are commonplace and are worth chasing -- just make sure this is the full story.

It may be rare but it can happen where taking back a new car is often the only way of satisfying an irate customer. In some cases, it may have developed a serious fault or series of faults. In others, the car couldn't do the job it was meant to do or the owner simply hated it. In even rarer cases, the car may have been smashed-up during a service and the owner has refused to take it back.

One option for placing such a car is to feed the car into the demonstrator or loan car fleet. It is fairly easy to identify these cars when they will have been first registered to someone other than the dealer or manufacturer. Checking its registration history is as important as it is for any used car.
In an ideal world, you should be told of its exact history yet by careful omission, you can sometimes be guided into making assumptions that are not correct.

Another source is a cancelled order for an unusual specification or colour that nobody wants. Getting some demonstrator exposure and discounting on it can suddenly make it more appealing.

Company Cars
These are company cars driven by employees as part of their salary package and can be a good source of cheap, low mileage cars when they are often assigned to spouses or other family members who cover very low distances. Some factory retirement packages include the ongoing supply of the latest model.

Depending on when they are first registered, these cars can come off far earlier than other company cars if they are replaced as soon as a new model arrives. Because they are well-serviced and sorted, they can be great buying especially if its owner used internal clout to get a unique feature or colour combination.

Buyer Beware
  • Most demonstrators are driven hard from day one and increasingly, prospects are encouraged to take one home overnight without supervision. If this matters, determine exactly who drove it first and what sort of usage it had in its first 1500kms. More manufacturers now have strict running-in procedures to ensure that their promotional and demonstration cars deliver the best possible performance and economy before they are assigned to various drivers and usage so these cars can still be good buying.
  • If you can't determine the full picture of what it has done since the demo was first registered, treat it like any other used car and get it tested by someone other than the dealer. Negotiate any catch-up servicing or rectification of premature wear or damage before you sign on the dotted line.
  • Is it a superseded model? Are the price savings being calculated against a higher spec, newer model? Does the price include on-roads? Is it due for a service? Don't forget to add in any other charges as this can take the price above the price of a new one.
  • Check the build date and the compliance plate. Find out who the first registered owner was and when it was first registered. Does it tally with what you are being told?
  • Do you need all the extras on the demo or will the same price buy a cheaper version of the same car brand new?
  • A demo is no longer a new car. It is just as realistic to compare it with used alternatives as a new one. If a demo has covered more than 5000km, check all the used ads for a genuine used car sale of the same model and see how the price compares. The same model with 10,000km on the odometer sold as a used vehicle might save you more.
  • Near-new cars are often being cleared by private buyers who have changed jobs, clearing a deceased estate, returning overseas or fallen on hard times and might be grateful to recover only slightly more than wholesale price. There are also an increasing number of contract purchases where a big construction or project management company buys a fleet of vehicles for a specific project then sells them on the project's completion.
  • Last but not least, do you like the car? Is the colour and option combination right for you? Don't be swayed by all the paint and fabric protection packages if you are the sort of owner who polishes and cleans your car regularly.

At the end of the day, the dealer and manufacturer must clear their near new stock at a big enough saving to tempt you away from a new one.

Buying privately: Questions you should ask
If you're planning on buying a car privately, there's some information you must gather.

Buying privately can be daunting, but as long as you make the right checks, it can also be rewarding. The first stage of the process can be conducted over the phone or by email by asking some simple questions.
  • Ask the owner to confirm the exact details of what they are selling. Does it match up with the advertisement? Does it have the features you require? When was it first registered? When was it first complianced? Sellers are known to bend the truth to get you to call.
  • How long have they owned the car? Do they own the car? Are they authorized to sell it? Be wary of estranged partners selling their ex-partner's car behind their backs.
  • Have they owned it from new? If not, who owned it before? Can they supply any documentation confirming its history?
  • Why are they selling? A used car being sold within months of purchase because a family member didn't like the car is a reason commonly cited by bogus repairers, backyard traders and the like.
  • What is the odometer reading? Are they prepared to guarantee this is correct? Do they have records to back this mileage? Instrument clusters with 70,000km -- 95,000km on the odometer are hot sellers.
  • What features does the car have? How much road tax months remaining does it have?
  • In the seller's opinion what sort of condition is the car in? Has it been in a crash?
  • Is there any outstanding finance?
  • What ownership papers, previous registration certificates, service history and details of major repairs can they produce to verify the car's history?
  • If the car has been involved in a crash, which parts were damaged? Where was it repaired? Are the repairs guaranteed?
  • Have they replaced anything on it recently?
  • Has it been modified in any way?
  • If the price seems too high, are they prepared to negotiate?

Internet advertising: A new ballgame for car buyers
The internet has revolutionised the process of buying a used car. Although the above questions are more important than ever, the photos provided in internet advertisements can support a very different approach to buying or selling a vehicle.

Analysing the photos before you contact a vendor can save valuable time and unnecessary communication. It also allows you to cut to the chase to get the information that really matters. By working through these key points, you can fine-tune your communication with the vendor and save time for both parties.

Look at the advertisement photos carefully. What is not shown might be more important than what is. Are key photos missing? If there are no interior or engine shots, why not? Can the vendor supply extra photos? Does the advertisement include photos of both sides of the vehicle as well as front and rear? Why not?

Get to know what the body and cabin details should be for that vehicle by comparing it with photos of similar models. Do details like wheels, badges and other items match the description of the vehicle? If not, ask the vendor to clarify any deviations.

Check the photos of the under bonnet area and compare it to similar models. Are key components different? Has the vehicle been modified? Does it match the description?

Check the cabin shots. Are the seats, trim and other interior details correct for the year and model? Again, check against similar models. Is the car clean? Is the condition consistent with other claims being made about the vehicle? If an owner can't be bothered preparing the car for photos, what else are you going to find?

Be aware that photos can make a car look much better than it is. Yet they can still tell you plenty. Expand the photo and take a closer look at the gaps around the doors, boot and bonnet. Are they even? Are there colour differences between panels? Do the doors, bonnet and rear hatch/bootlid sit flush with other panels?

Good internet advertisement allows you to start the pre-purchase inspection before you leave your keyboard. Take advantage of that by checking any details before you inspect the car so you are prepared.

Honest vendors who have a genuine vehicle to sell will usually support you in this process when it saves them and you time.

Buying advise: Time for an inspection

There's more to buying a car than the test drive. A smart buyer checks the whole car closely before even turning the key

When looking to purchase a car, most people rush straight to the test drive, not realising that most mechanical fault can be repaired but if the body, paint or interior needs major work, it’s a whole different story. The lesson here is to check the whole car closely before you turn the key.

Check Compliance Plate
First, and most important, check the compliance plate. Is it missing? If so, why? Do the numbers and dates line up with other identification plates and stampings on the car? Do they line up with what appears in the owner's manual and other documentation? Does it support the vendor's story? Is there a big gap between date of first registration and the compliance date? Has the compliance plate been tampered with? Has the panel that it is attached to been tampered with? Dodgy sellers can cut out the whole panel and weld it back into another car to avoid disturbing the compliance plate.
How to tell if the speedo has been tampered with

Is the mileage genuine? Crooked sellers will wind back the odometer in the instrument panel, or even replace the whole instrument cluster with a lower reading from a wreck, for the simple reason that buyers will pay more for cars with lower mileage.
  • Is the mileage consistent with the vehicle documentation?
  • Are the numbers on the odometer scratched, misaligned, or even painted over?
  • Are there scratches or other indicators around the dash that the instrument panel has been accessed or replaced?
  • Are there signs of excessive wear -- heavily worn interior, pedal rubbers, worn seat belts and buckles, worn armrests and controls, a shiny steering wheel and gear-lever knob? Are these parts too new compared to those around them? Does the driver's door or seat sag?
  • Are there signs of excessive paint chipping around the front of the car and driver's door, scratches under the door handles, even chips that have been touched up? Check the boot and spare wheel as these are often overlooked.
  • Has the suspension sagged?
  • Have there been an excessive number of owners? Check the service books and receipts.

Look for rust, sun damage and bad repairs
Serious rust looks innocuous at first (just little blisters on the paint surface) but it may be in the structure. Such cases get bad quickly and are expensive to fix. Check for water leaks in all sections of the car.

Look for differences in paint finish and colour. Look for poor alignment between panels and styling lines. Check gaps between panels for consistency. Look for spanner marks on panel and door bolts. Repairs using cheap imitation panels that rust and don't have the required strength can ruin a car.

Cheap imitation headlights cut costs but they can be dangerously out of focus or they can leak, fade and cost hundreds of dollars to replace with the genuine items. Some imitation tail lights can fill with water and generate boot leaks and quickly fade when exposed to the sun. Expensive paint, trim and plastic parts exposed to the sun can also be ruined.

Look for oil and fluid leaks
Oil on the road or drive mean leaks, which are usually expensive to fix. The cleanliness of all fluids can tell you how well a car has been maintained. The engine oil might be clean but look inside the oil filler cap -- does the inside of the engine look clean?
Check, Check and Check again...
In addition to the checks you can carry out yourself, if you are serious about purchasing the car consider having an inspection with a trusted local mechanic or specialist service centre. Whoever you choose, make sure their first loyalty is to you, not the vendor, which means you choose the tester and pay for it yourself.

A trusted local mechanic or a specialist service centre that knows exactly what goes wrong with that model and knows how it left the manufacturer can be particularly helpful for an unusual model. Even if a used car comes with a list of faults, it could still be a good buy if an expert can tell you how much it will cost to rectify and the selling price is right. If you are particularly concerned about crash history, a good panel beater should have the equipment to pick the extent of almost any repair.

New technology components
Vehicle component design has changed dramatically over as new emissions, fuel efficiency, anti-theft and safety requirements have dictated new solutions. In an increasing number of cases this technology is geared to making the new car buyer's term easier and almost maintenance-free but ready to catch up with the next owner. As today's cars get older, they can generate unexpected expense. You may like to inspect into the followings:-
  • Remote Central Locking
    To replace a lost or stolen keypad (or indeed key) can be expensive especially if the vehicle's body computer has to be reprogrammed by the manufacturer to a new key pad.
  • Catalytic Converters
    These are now a routine service item in the vehicle's exhaust system that can run up repair costs depending on the car. Some dodgy sellers are replacing them with empty cannisters or a length of pipe.
  • Electric Power Steering
    In an increasing number of cars, this new technology can generate an engine-out repair to fix a simple steering fault.
  • Ignition Coil Packs/Integrated Ignition
    Intermittent engine faults such as difficult starting, engine miss or rough running can generate a chase-your-tail replacement of expensive coil packs and distributors with integrated ignition modules and other items that can cost thousands until the fault is isolated. On some new cars, if the distributor's oil seal fails, engine oil can drown the electronics inside.
  • Fuel Injectors and sensors
    A combination of poor quality fuel, running on empty and faulty sensors can cause these expensive items to clog and stop injecting fuel altogether or dribble it out when they are supposed to spray. A strong smell of petrol under the bonnet can indicate injector seal failure for similar cost.
  • Four Wheel Alignments
    Today's rear suspensions are often more sophisticated than the front, which means they can be knocked out of alignment just as easily by backing into a kerb or hitting a pothole. Check for uneven tyre wear on all wheels and steering or handling that doesn't feel right.
  • Sealed Suspension Struts and Bushes
    For ease of manufacture, more cars are being fitted with shock absorbers/dampers and bushes built into the suspension components. This means that a once simple shock absorber or bush replacement can cost more for replacement.
  • Hydraulic Engine Mounts
    To dampen engine vibration, more cars feature engine mounts filled with hydraulic fluid which can leak out over time. On today's front-drive models, the extra movement can cause expensive exhaust systems to snap so they are a vital check item.
  • Timing belt/water pump
    Most cheaper cars rely on a toothed rubber belt to drive the camshaft(s) which must be replaced at the set interval (usually 100,000km or less) or you risk big engine damage. It is now more common to use this belt to drive the water pump which requires the same labour to access. Prudent mechanics suggest the replacement of the belt, water pump, belt tensioner and thermostat at the same time.
  • Antilock Brake Computers
    There is no doubt that antilock brakes are a wonderful advance but the ongoing computer failures especially in some European models can generate an expensive repair bill. Check first if there is a local specialist who can repair them. On some repaired wrecks, the antilock badges might be there but the whole system might be missing if the donor repair vehicle was a cheaper model.
  • ECU (Electronic Control Unit)
    This is the computer that controls the engine and sometimes the automatic transmission. On some vehicles, these computers shut down never to work again if removed or tampered with which makes second hand ones useless and can lock owners into brand new replacements and factory re-programming.
  • Plastic Radiators and Thermostat housings
    Modern radiators usually have aluminium cores attached to plastic tanks with rubber seals at each end. As the plastic tanks crack, or the seals fail, they can be repaired at least once but after that the aluminium tags that crimp around each end can break off dictating a brand new radiator at considerable cost. Plastic thermostat housings and the thermostat inside can cause engine failure when they crack or fail so on some cars they have become a critical preventative maintenance item.
  • Air-conditioning electronics
    Once controlled by a simple solenoid, today's air-conditioning systems can trigger a range of functions in the car's computer systems to maintain engine power and cooling as soon as it's switched on. If a vehicle stalls as soon as you switch the air-conditioning on or the cooling fans don't cut in, locating exactly which electronic module or circuit is at fault can be an exhaustive process especially with some of the latest European cars.
  • Air-conditioning cycling
    Like a domestic refrigerator, the air-conditioning compressor should switch itself on and off automatically after you turn it on. This compressor cycling is controlled by a pressure switch. These switches are usually unique to each model and they are getting harder to source for many cars over five years.
  • All-Wheel-Drive Systems
    More soft roaders use clutch packs to transfer drive to the rear wheels when traction is lost. These clutches wear out just like any other clutch with use and can cost big dollars to replace.
  • Airbags
    These have become a theft item and are also often missing in backyard repairs. Check that the warning light still lights-up at start-up, then disappears.