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The world of second-hand cars, five things you should know


If you’ve ever been in the market for a new car, you’ll know how many factors need to be taken into consideration before making a decision. The secret to purchasing a good second-hand car lies in preparation and decision-making and not, as most assume, in negotiations.

It’s important factors like finance, warranties and insurance that you need to take into account when assessing the condition of the car and its worth. Selling almost 3000 cars a month both to private customers and car dealerships, We Buy Cars has all the know-how when it comes to buying a car. Here is our list of the top five things you need to consider when making your purchase:

1. Car inspection

Find a prime example of the vehicle you are looking for, and etch that picture in your head as a benchmark of what a clean and well-kept car should look, feel, and smell like. There are many automotive consumer forums on the internet too, so do your homework, read up and ask questions, and research what’s available on websites like

What to look for:

  • There shouldn’t be any clear contrast between the mileage and the appearance of the car. All areas of the car should look equally old. Otherwise, it’s likely there was repair work carried out.
  • Keep in mind there is a difference between an accident and a smash, and evidence of repair-work does not mean the car was in a smash, it may just mean it had a bumper bash. Don’t be shy to ask for photos of the damage and resultant repairs if there were any. If there aren’t photos, then ask them why not, because in this day and age there should be.
  • A car’s grill and mirrors are good indicators of age.
  • The car should sit well on its wheels, and not hanging as if it has a flat tyre. This may indicate a faulty air-suspension.
  • The smell of a car tells a lot more about it than you can imagine. If a car smells like virtually nothing except leather and plastics, then that says something. It says the people who used the car were well-behaved, and the dealership did not have to sort out the smell. If there are no small niggles, everything is where it should be and the car is well-kept, then the engine is probably in that sort of shape as well inside.
  • Open the doors, hood and trunk wide and look at the door-hinges. If it was repaired, there is a good chance you would pick it up in these areas. When you close the driver door with slightly greater force than what is suitable, does it sound like a bait and tackle drawer full of years’ worth of odd ends and pieces? They don’t come like that, and they don’t get that way on their own.
  • Steer clear of a car where there are scratches on the plastic engine covers. Sometimes you will see black greasy finger marks in the engine bay too. Those two things are sure signs of trouble.
  • Inspect the wheel rims. If the lip of the wheel rim is damaged it is an indication that the person who drove the vehicle was not very careful or conscientious. It may well be that the service routine was conducted with equal care. Remember to check the key-lock for the alloys that may have a lock on a nut, or it may have a special key.
  • The state of all the peripherals and accessories like the spare wheel and tools, the service book and spare keys, CDs for GPS and onboard computer and radio code, alarm code, user-manuals etc. is always indicative of whether you had a meticulous previous owner or not.
  • Inspect the texture of the steering wheel, it’s a dead giveaway of a car’s age. Compare the drivers’ seat bolsters on each side to see how much the outside one is worn. Lift the driver’s side carpet to see if there is a hole in the bottom carpet. Sometimes it is simply due to a lady driver’s high heel, but it helps with estimating a vehicle’s age.
  • Operate all the electronic functions, one by one to make sure it all works. some vehicles have an electronic self-diagnostic system onboard, like luxury BMWs – use it. Fill up your tank immediately and check if your fuel gauge is working. It is generally a good idea to get an electronic diagnostic and/or a dyno-test done, such as those offered by AA, to make sure that everything is in good working order.
  • Google the particular car and include in the search something like “common problems” or “why you should not buy a …”, and see what others say are common things to watch out for.

2. The ‘yes factor’

To avoid making a decision based purely on emotion, you need to sufficiently look at and drive various options so that the process will feel more like work. It’s important to buy a vehicle that you know is right, not one that you think is right. Get someone to assist you who knows more than you, and whom you can trust.

Some key factors that WeBuyCars takes into consideration about a car before purchasing it, specifically things that can come back to bite you if you aren’t careful, are:

  • If it is a low mileage vehicle, make sure the service history is intact. Phone the dealership where the vehicle was serviced regularly and confirm the mileage. If there is no service book you will still be able to purchase a warranty, but you should book a service immediately.
  • If there is motor plan or service plan still on the vehicle, make sure the previous owner kept to the terms and conditions of the service agreement.
  • If you detect small cosmetic work done on the vehicle it’s possible that the manufacturer does not know of these repairs. They might pick this up when you service your vehicle and cancel your warranty because this was done without their knowledge.
  • Mechanically any warning lights on the dash is a problem.
  • Do your homework on the specific vehicle that you are interested in. You might be able to afford the instalment but can you afford the maintenance.? Check the forums on the net, you will quickly pick up on the specific issues on the vehicle.
  • Certain brands have horrible resale value. Look at what the vehicle is selling for on certain websites, also look at the availability of these vehicles.

When you get tired of looking at different cars, and there is a car that you feel really speaks to you, that you feel you would be stupid not to take it, then there is a good likelihood that it is the right decision, if you checked it out thoroughly, and it seems original and honest.

3. You pay for what you get

It is worthwhile paying more for a car still under warranty because you are covered for any issues that may arise, as soon as the car does not have a warranty anymore you are responsible for all costs.

One of the greatest dangers in buying a second-hand vehicle is its sophistication. Combine high mileage and sophistication – think six-year-old S500 Merc – this is where you are likely to get burned. You will find that simple vehicles with lower mileage cost the same as the S500. Why? Because of running cost and predictability. It is also wise to monitor any recalls on certain vehicles.

When you are about to sign a contract, be sure to ask for a copy of all the paperwork first, read it at home, and make sure you understand what you are signing and agreeing to.

4. Vehicle finance and extended cover

One of the biggest hidden costs is the interest rate. A great way to bring down the amount of interest you pay is to put down a deposit. The bigger deposit you put down, the better.

There are some worthwhile plans available to cover your vehicle finance options:

  • The Instalment Protection PlanIf you should lose your job, this plan can cover your car instalment for up to nine months, ensuring you don’t lose your car as well during such a stressful time.  The cost for an Instalment Protection Plan will depend solely on the outstanding principal debt.
  • Return to InvoiceReturn to Invoice does not take depreciation into account, and will ensure that you get back exactly what you paid for on the original. When buying a vehicle under retail value, Return to Invoice will ensure that if you put down a deposit on a vehicle, you will get the deposit back as well.
  • The Credit ShortfallThe Credit shortfall is there purely to protect you. Say for example that you bought a vehicle and insured it for full retail, R100,000, and your vehicle gets stolen and now you owe the bank the exact value of what you paid, plus interest, plus the products that you bought in the purchase as well. You might end up with a shortfall, which will need to be paid by you. The Credit Shortfall will protect you from paying it out of your pocket.  This is not something that is usually covered by car insurance, unless you have a Top Up Credit Shortfall Cover, either with the bank or insurance – it’s an extra cover you need to purchase.

    At WeSellCars, we recommend the Credit Shortfall to clients who buy vehicles for retail or above retail value. When we sell the vehicle for retail, the vehicle will probably have low kilometres, and there will be some risk involved. As we sell most of our cars well below retail, our clients don’t really need to take the Credit Shortfall, as they will have minimal risk, which is a great advantage when buying from us.

  • Credit ProtectionCredit Protection is your life cover! In the unfortunate event of your death, Credit Protection is key. If you don’t take a Credit Protection Plan for your vehicle and there is no-one to pay your monthly instalments in the event of your death or disability, the bank will repossess your vehicle, in order to provide the outstanding balance. Some people will not be interested in Credit Protection, as they already have some sort of life cover. There is, however, a possibility that your life cover does not pay out immediately, in which case you still have the risk of your car being repossessed up until the time when your estate has been sorted.


5.Warrantees and plans

When purchasing a second-hand car, it is beneficial to purchase a warranty plan that suits your needs and covers the cost for most issues that could potentially arise. Your options, all available when purchasing a car from WeSellCars, include:

  • The Mechanical WarrantyA Mechanical Breakdown Warranty covers you for any mechanical breakdown and electrical issues you might face. If you are interested in the Mechanical Warranty, you have a variety of options:

    – A Limited/Pre-Owned Warranty applies when the vehicle is not under factory warranty anymore. For example, let’s say your engine breaks. The Limited Warranty will provide you with limited cover, only providing you with a certain amount to fix your engine. Important to note is that your mileage and year model will determine what type of warranty you will be offered. A younger vehicle will qualify for a higher cover per component since the risk is lower for the warranty company.

    – An Extended Warranty applies when your car is still under factory warranty, and gives you unlimited cover on all major mechanical issues. If your car is still under factory warranty, this is the warranty you want to take!

You can also get certain benefits on your warranties, depending on the warranty you decide to purchase. At We Sell Cars we have one-year and two-year warranties. The average price you can expect for a one-year warranty is anything from R5000 and for a two-year warranty you can expect just under R9000. This can also be topped up for additional cover with a Power-Up Warranty.

The waiting period before your first claim can be made is 21 days.

  • The Power-Up WarrantyThe Power-Up Warranty only applies if you have already purchased the Mechanical Warranty. If you purchase a more expensive vehicle, whose parts may be more expensive than normal, then you can add a power-up to your Mechanical Warranty. This will provide you with additional benefits and cover. The costs associated with a Power-Up Warranty is approximately R5000. It can possibly provide you with at least another R25,000 – R30,000 on your engine, and another R20,000 on your gearbox or any other mechanical parts.
  • The Tyre & Rim WarrantyShould your tyre tear or your rims bend or buckle, the Tyre & Rim Warranty will cover you with a certain amount to have this fixed. Unfortunately, a little wear and tear on your tyres will not be taken into account when you purchase this warranty. The average cost for this type of warranty can be between R3500 and R5000, depending on the type of tyres on your vehicle, for example Run Flat tyres.
  • The Power-Up Service PlanThe Power-Up Service plan is only valid for vehicles under a service plan. When you purchase a service plan, you don’t have to personally pay for your vehicle to get its service. When you power-up, you are provided with even more cover. You should definitely consider the power-up service plan when you drive a more expensive vehicle, and find yourself on the road a lot.
  • The Maintenance PlanA Maintenance plan covers you to maintain your vehicle. This will cover any wear and tear to your vehicle, resembling a motor plan you might get from the manufacturer.  The cost of this plan will depend on the vehicle’s current condition, km’s and expected km’s.
  • The Dent & Scratch WarrantyThe Dent & Scratch Warranty covers you for any small dents and scratches. The one we sell at WeSellCars, will even cover you for existing dents and scratches and allow some tar removal! For 24 months, this warranty will cost approximately R3500.

If you found this article useful, please feel free to share it with friends and like/follow the WeBuyCars Facebook page, or visit our blog to see more news from us.

At WeSellCars we believe in the customer journey and experience, and will always be happy and ready to assist with any of your finance needs! Get in touch for more information through our website: OR you can contact our contact centre on 087 230 0444.

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