Ireland’s Guide To Money And Living

New year, new wheels

Second hand car, Vehicle

If you’re sick of your old vehicle and fancy a change, perhaps it’s time to hop on DoneDeal and search for a new set of wheels. You have to be careful, however – there are plenty of great second hand cars and genuine sellers out there, but all it takes is one dodgy owner and you could lose a lot of money on a lemon. We’ve got a few tips for prospective buyers.

If you’re purchasing a car via private sale, you should be aware that you don’t have the same consumer rights as when buying from a dealer – private sellers aren’t acting as a business. You really need to make sure you aren’t buying a banger – if you don’t know much about motors then make sure you bring along someone who does, or pay a trusted mechanic to take a look under the hood – if the seller has nothing to hide, then they shouldn’t object. At the very least you should consider purchasing a vehicle check (which generally start from €10) from the likes of or, which could help you avoid write-offs, or vehicles that are still under finance.

Always meet a private seller at their home so you can verify their address against the car’s documentation (and ask for a utility bill as proof, for peace of mind) and guard against purchasing a stolen vehicle. You should also ask for proof of ID – a driver’s licence or passport – to ensure they are who they say they are.

If you’re inspecting a car yourself, do so during the day if you can. If you can’t avoid an evening or night viewing, at least bring a strong light with you. Always take the time for a first look around the entire car, making sure nothing looks out of place. Look for any signs of respraying – colours may be slightly different on adjoining areas, or there may be paint in place where there shouldn’t be (like the glass, or rubber areas), which could mean the car was crashed and resprayed.

Check for uneven wear around the steering wheel, seats, gear knob and the pedals. If a car has low mileage but significant wear in some or all areas this could be a sign of clocking, where the mileage figure has been changed.

If you can, get underneath and check around the exhaust system, and look for rust on the underbody. Under the bonnet, one of the biggest items to look out for is the timing belt, which can be expensive to replace – there should be a figure (generally written in Tipp-Ex) indicating when it has been changed. Bring some tissue and dip the engine for oil – too much or too little could mean a car that hasn’t been very well looked after and if there’s none at all, this isn’t the car for you. Lighter, coffee-coloured oil could indicate the head gasket is going or gone, which means that you should be too.

Inside, check that all keys, lights, electrical functions, sensors, radio/CD player etc are all working. The simplest way to do this is to push all of the buttons and switches – take your time! Open the boot and look for signs of water or water damage, and make sure there’s a spare wheel and the tools to change it. Again, if you’re not confident about checking the car out yourself, bring a trusted friend or pay a mechanic to carry out an inspection – it might cost you now but it could save you more in future.

Next up is the test drive. Before you start, place your hand on the engine. If it’s still warm, wait cool down and start it from cold. Turn off the radio, and listen for any rattles, vibrations or other noises. When you’re out on the road, try and test it on as many surfaces as possible. Check the brakes, acceleration, handling, and keep an eye out in the mirror for any smoke coming from the exhaust.

Above all, and as with anything, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is! Do your homework beforehand, carry out thorough inspections and you might just find the cream of the used car crop, and don’t be afraid to walk away if it’s not up to scratch. If you’re still stuck, The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission has a handy checklist to follow when buying privately.

When not writing about all things personal finance, You & Your Money's editor Conor Forrest enjoys reading, football and getting lost in an ocean of Wikipedia articles.