Recent research by the Competition and Consumer Protection Commision (CCPC) found that of consumers who bought a used car in the last five years, less than half (45%) checked to find out if the vehicle had been damaged before they purchased it, with 20% admitting that they did not carry out any checks at all. Bear in mind that second-hand vehicles may have been clocked or crashed, or have outstanding finance arrangements on them, so it pays to do a little research before you buy.

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One way to get peace of mind is to use one of the online checking services, which trawl online databases to find out information about the vehicle. These will flag if a car has been crashed – some can legally be returned to the road, but must be repaired properly and signed off after meeting regulation levels. A good history check will also highlight if there is any outstanding finance on the vehicle – saving you purchasing the car in good faith, only to have it seized subsequently. These websites charge upwards of €10 for the service – depending on how thorough a check you would like – but spending that now might save you from making an expensive mistake in the future.

Who you buy the car from will also affect your legal position if it has a hidden history. If you purchase from a dealer, the usual consumer protections apply, but this is not the case if you buy from a private seller. It’s also worth noting that insurance policies may be invalid if there are undisclosed issues against the car (such as previous damage), leaving purchasers in a difficult position through no fault of their own.

Checklist when buying a second-hand car

There are good bargains to be found in the used car market, if you follow a few simple steps.

✅ If you are buying from a private seller, look for red flags by searching online for details about any previous sales they may have made. Beware – some traders illegally disguise themselves as private sellers.

✅ Make sure the odometer reading matches the paperwork with the car – the NCT paperwork will list this. Lower mileage increases the price of a vehicle, so checking this out will save you paying over the odds. It’s also worth noting the safety element – higher mileage means more wear-and-tear (for example on the brakes) that you won’t be anticipating.

✅ Get an expert opinion and don’t be swayed by the lowest price. Take a mechanic or someone who knows about buying second-hand cars with you if you find a vehicle you are tempted to buy. They will be able to spot the difference between good value, and a car that has issues that might cost you more in the long run.

✅ Do your research. Check car sales websites and magazines to find out the average price of the car you want, factoring mileage, specification and age.

✅ Find out as much information from the seller as you can. Has the car ever been crashed? Have there been bodywork modifications? Any major mechanical work? Is there outstanding finance on the vehicle or unpaid import duties? How many previous owners? Do they have recent service and NCT details?

✅ If you can, pay by debit or credit card so that the transaction is traceable.

Checking the background of a car is not only important for your financial security, it’s also a matter of safety. Unknowingly buying a car that has hidden flaws, such as being written off, could have tragic consequences in the event of an accident. And remember, once you are in possession of your new vehicle, get in touch with Britton Insurance to secure the best deal on your car insurance