A TOUGHER economic climate everywhere, including South Africa, has forced many consumers to reconsider their spending patterns.An obvious indicator of this is that new car sales are significantly lower this year compared with the same period last year.According to the Automobile Association (AA), this trend will lead many consumers to consider buying used vehicles. But, the association warned, buyers must be savvy when making these purchases.According to the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of South Africa (Naamsa), industry sales in the first half of 2016 were 10,6% lower as against the same period last year. In June this year, 44 939 new vehicles were sold, 5 300 less than in 2015.In March, Wesbank predicted this decline in sales for the first half of the year. “This sales performance is in line with our forecast for the year, and it’s been informed by a number of macro-economic factors. The rand has struggled, interest rates have been hiked and inflation has taken its toll on household budgets,” said Simphiwe Nghona, CEO of Wesbank Motor Retail.Given this climate, the AA said it predicts a spike in used car sales, with consumers seeking affordable options.“While buying a second-hand vehicle is a good option for many, buyers need to be aware that there are also pitfalls; there may be mechanical problems, body damage, replacement parts may be harder to source and warranty benefits will expire sooner.“It’s important that buyers conduct proper research, compare prices, and not rush into the first good deal they come across,” the AA said.Start with your budget, look at your cash flow and, if you need finance, determine how much you can afford to repay. From there, look at the cost of the car that you can afford and how much debt you are willing to take on and do not deviate.The association warned that a roadworthy certificate (RWC) is not a guarantee that the car is problem free. It is a document that simply states that the vehicle meets the minimum statutory requirements in terms of safety, such as brakes, suspension and lights. A car could have an RWC and still have a mechanical problem.“It’s important that you have a look at the car in daylight, inspect every inch of it, and take it for a test drive. If possible, have someone with mechanical insight take a look at the engine. For even more peace of mind, buyers can take the car to an AA Quality Assured specialist or Dekra centre for a bumper-to-bumper once over before they make their final decision,” the AA said.- Supplied.Other items to check:• deal with a franchised car dealer or an AA Quality Assured car dealer;• if you can stretch your budget, look at a low-mileage demo model from a reputable dealer; these cars are usually well priced, almost new, and have often been well looked after;• when test driving, check handling, brakes, and look for any signs of mechanical problems;• check the interior for any obvious faults such as ripped material. The wear on the rubber of the brake, clutch and accelerator should be consistent with the age of the car;• turn off the radio while you test drive, check that there are no extra-ordinary sounds;• check that the battery terminals are clear of any build-up• check for smoke from the exhaust;• check that the body colour is even throughout the car, a change (even slight) may mean body work has been done, and may indicate the car was involved in a crash; and• check that the tyres are in a good condition, and if not, that replacements are available.“This is not a definitive list but it may be a good starting point. Also always insist on the car’s paperwork and service record,” the AA advised.Finally, remember that a deal that sounds too good to be true, usually is.