Guiding consumers since 2009

Don't get taken for a ride

By Staff Writer

Buying a used car has its advantages. It’s less expensive than buying a new car, they are slower to depreciate and there is greater flexibility in cost and availability. However, purchasing a used vehicle comes with its own set of risks.

You have to trust the seller when they relay the car’s history to you, particularly if there is no service history booklet to accompany their claims. The car may have mechanical or structural problems, replacement parts may be hard to find and there’s every chance that the seller could misrepresent the car’s mileage, condition and any other factors such as the warranty.

Gary Ronald, head of public affairs at the Automobile Association of South Africa (AA) says he gets emails daily from people saying they’ve bought a car which they are not happy with and want to send it back. But this isn’t always possible. “Unfortunately, despite the introduction of the Consumer Protection Act the voetstoets clause still applies when it comes to private sales. However, if you buy from a dealership the CPA applies and they can’t sell you a car voetstoets,” says Ronald.

Try before you buy
To avoid buying a lemon (or defective car) you should ensure that it is mechanically and structurally sound before you buy it. You can do this several ways. You can have your vehicle checked by Dekra, which is the AA’s preferred partner for vehicle roadworthy tests. It does multi-point checks and technical examinations. A technical examination is Dekra’s most comprehensive test. It sets you back just over R1,400 but this could be worth it in the long run, particularly if it finds there are several problems with the car.

Alternatively, take along a panel beater or mechanic that you trust when you are hunting for a car and you could save yourself some money if you can’t afford to take the car to an organisation like Dekra.  You could also find out more about the car’s history from credit bureau Transunion, which offers a Car Value Report service for a once off R10 fee. It will give you the car’s history and will also tell you if you are paying a fair price for your vehicle. You can buy a Car Value Report here or call them on 0861 482 482.

“Find out if the dealer is willing to have the car tested,” says Ronald. “If the answer is ‘no’ then walk away from the deal. There are so many good deals out there you are bound to find the exact same make and model elsewhere. Note that a roadworthy doesn’t mean that the car is reliable, it just means it’s met with the minimum requirements of the Road Traffic Act.”

The affordability test
Before you buy a car (new or used) make sure that you can afford it. “We find a lot of the problems come from when people suffer from what we call ‘buyer’s remorse’. During the holidays thousands of cars were sold in South Africa and a lot of those cars are back with the dealerships when they suddenly realise that they can’t afford the repayments. A vehicle is a very expensive item and you have to plan properly,” says Johan van Vreden, Motor Industry Ombudsman (MIO).

Don’t forget the added expenses such as insurance and fuel. You have the monthly repayments to the bank and also the insurance premiums. Then there are the general costs of running this vehicle. Can you afford the fuel and the maintenance? "It’s these other things that people don’t take into consideration. Are there lots of spare parts readily available and enough distributors around? For some vehicles, it can be difficult to get hold of certain parts. Dealers should be able to tell you about the vehicle and whether spare parts are readily available," points out van Vreden.

The right to complain
If you feel you have been treated unfairly by a dealer or feel they have provided you with poor service it’s important that you try to resolve the issue with the dealer first says the Ombud. “The dealer cannot abdicate his responsibility. They have to look after the customer under the terms and conditions of the warranty. There is a service agreement between you and the dealer. I don’t think consumers understand what their rights are. Too often they don’t read the agreement and just get into the car and go,” says van Vreden. If you can’t resolve the issue with the dealer you can lodge a complaint with the MIO here.

Protect yourself
The AA provided Justmoney with the following tips to follow before you sign on the dotted line to buy your used car:

1.    Always ask to see the car's paperwork and check the service record.

2.    Pay for a mechanical check to be carried out.
3.    Beware of dealers advertising as private sellers.  Check that the address on the registration document is the same as the address where you saw the car.  If you answer a private advert and say that you are ringing about the car and the person says "which car?" you may be talking to a dealer.

4.    Always try to negotiate a lower price.

5.    If you are not feeling totally sure and happy walk away.  There are plenty of second-hand cars around.

6.    Shop around for the best financial deal.

7.    Set up a budget and stick to it.

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