Buying a second-hand car

2014-02-02 14:00

A City Press reader recently found himself holding the short end of the ?straw when his car “purchase” turned out to be illegitimate.

When Oupa Magagula saw an advertisement in the newspaper in October 2012 for a 2008 BMW 3 Series sedan, he responded immediately. The seller told him a R40?000 deposit was required. After some negotiation, Magagula agreed to pay a R35?000 deposit and then R4?500 a month directly to the seller. However, the seller requested an immediate payment of R1?500.

A week later, Magagula met the owner in Nelspruit to view the car. He said: “I personally did not have any idea of what to do when buying a car. “When I asked the seller to get a police clearance certificate, he told me he was a former policeman and there would be no problems.”

Magagula then gave the seller R20?000 cash and also transferred R15?000 to the seller’s account, making up the R35?000 deposit. The seller then asked him to transfer the monthly payments via Spar Instant Money and the seller would pay the bank directly.

“On May 29 2013, the seller called me and told me to meet someone who was going to fix the scratches on the car. But when I got there, the guys I was told to meet informed me that they were from WesBank and the car was being repossessed,” said Magagula.

By that time, Magagula had already paid a total of R63?500. The seller then agreed to repay the money, but to date Magagula has received just R500. There are several lessons to be learnt from this sad story.

Buying a second-hand car is a much better option than buying a brand-new one for a number of reasons. It is more affordable, which means you have more buying options and the market value is not going to drop horrendously the minute you start driving the car.

But if you opt to buy a second-hand car privately and not through a dealership, here are a few precautions you should take:

»?Inspect the vehicle prior to purchase;

»?Insist on a police clearance certificate;

»?Approach a bank or a dealership to handle the sale; and

»?Don’t pay any money without proof of ownership and a purchase agreement.

When you buy a car privately, you should ask for a buy-in document, which the seller must sign to acknowledge that the car has been sold to you and that they relinquish all ownership rights.

You also need to be given the car logbook. This is a certificate confirming the person you are buying the car from is the owner of the car.

If you buy a car through a bank, the logbook remains in the possession of the bank until you have paid it off. In Magagula’s case, the owner of the car was not the person he bought it from. The owner was actually WesBank.

If you ask the seller for a roadworthy certificate, be aware that this certificate is not a guarantee the car is problem-free. It simply means the vehicle meets the minimum safety requirements with reference to items such as brakes, suspension and lights.

If you are worried that it might be a stolen car, ask the seller to provide you with the number plate, the chassis number (VIN) and the engine number. You can then check these details at your local police station. According to motoring expert Sagie Moodley, another aspect buyers need to consider is whether or not they are paying a fair price for the vehicle.

The motor industry commonly uses the TransUnion Dealers’ Guide when setting prices for used cars. For example, when you want to trade in your car, you will often hear the dealer mentioning “book value”.

This is a reference to the TransUnion Dealers’ Guide, which used to be known as the Mead & McGrouther Auto Dealer’s Guide, or the “blue book”.

You can buy valuation and verification reports directly from TransUnion at A valuation report takes into account the mileage and condition of the car you want to buy, and will give you the retail and trade value.

A verification report goes into more detail and will also tell you if the car is stolen or on a police search list, details of any financing arrangements, as well as if the car was repaired following an accident.

If Magagula had paid for a verification report before he paid money for the car, he would have found out that it was still being financed by WesBank and that the seller did not have the right to sell the car.

The first valuation report is free and you pay R10 per report thereafter, while a verification report will cost you R150.

Mike von Hone, the chief executive of TransUnion Auto Information Solutions, says considering that a car is more often than not your second most expensive purchase, R150 is money well spent.

While buying privately may seem appealing because you cut out the dealer’s commission, buying from a dealership provides you with recourse under the Consumer Protection Act. Under the act, the dealer has to repair any defects that show up in the car within six months of your purchase.

Buying a second-hand car doesn’t always save you money and can sometimes end up being more trouble than it is worth. The bottom line is that you need to do your homework if you opt to buy a used car privately.


1 Always ask to see the car’s paperwork and double-check the service record.

2 Pay for a mechanical check. The money you spend on this could save you from spending much more in the future on car repairs that you could have avoided.

3 Always try to negotiate a lower price.

4 Set a budget and stick to it.

5 To check if the car has been involved in an accident, look for misaligned or different coloured panels, ripples in the paint and signs of overspraying.

6 Check the engine. If you don’t know what you are looking for, take someone along who does.

7 Test-drive the car for at least 20?minutes, paying attention to brakes and vehicle handling. Drive with the radio off and the windows open so that you are able to identify any strange sounds.

8 Check the previous-owner history and proof of payment to ensure you are not buying a stolen car.

9 Some unscrupulous sellers have been known to tamper with the speedometer, so the car appears to have a lower mileage. Ask the seller for service receipts, bills and service history to verify the mileage.

10 If you find any problems, list them and find out how much it will cost to repair them. You can use this to negotiate a lower price or ask the seller to fix the existing problems before you buy the car.

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