Major warning signs when shopping for a car deal

If it seems too good to be true, it probably is…

When an attractive car deal catches your eye it can be tempting to overlook important checklist items before signing any papers. But the truth is, if it seems to good to be true, it probably is.

With so many deals out there and so many questions that need answering, doing your homework is especially important if you want to avoid buying a lemon.

Jamie Surkont, director at car retailer getWorth, says there are three major warning signs that you need to take heed of when shopping in the used-car market.

  1. If a deal seems too good to be true, it usually is.
  2. A seller’s reputation – look for an online presence and for any reviews about the seller. This should give you an indication of who you are dealing with.
  3. Any gaps or inconsistencies in the car’s story – look for multiple missed services, wear and tear that doesn’t match the claimed mileage, a seller with no papers for the car, or if a seller doesn’t have the car available for viewing.

Surkont says that one of the most important ways to get the best deal on a car you are after is to do your homework and to research sales prices of similar cars. “Once you know how much you should be paying, you will have a much clearer understanding of all the deals you come across. It will give you confidence and help you to identify when things look suspicious,” he adds.

Surkont cites the graph above as an example. This is a snapshot of actual current market list prices and mileages for a 2016 Hyundai i10 GLS. He points out that i10s don’t normally carry dramatically different specifications, so the examples will be pretty uniform. “The dotted green line represents a typical average price-to-mileage curve – the options under the line are better-than-average value, and those above the line are more expensive,” he explains.

He says that this mix of prices provides an opportunity for a savvy car buyer to seek out decent car deals.

He believes that you don’t need to be a great negotiator; you just need to do your research. “Let’s say you were looking to spend R120,000. At that price, you are spoilt for choice – there are cars in the market with mileages all the way from 14,000km to 51,000km.”

He continues: “Generally, the cars with lower mileage represent better value-for-money. Some at this price might be in colours you don’t like, some might be from sellers you don’t trust, but there are 28 different options – plenty of choice to find one that both meets your requirements and is a decent price.”

By examining the market and comparing options, Surkont says that you can find decent deals  without necessarily having to negotiate but beware, there  may be danger lurking if the price seems too good to be true. He recommends that you buy from a reputable party with appropriate recourse, even if it isn’t the absolute lowest price you can find. 

While it might be appealing to buy a car privately and not through a dealership because of a potentially lower price, Surkont says that you need to understand the differences between buying privately or through a dealer and factor these in to your assessment of prices:

  • Dealer vehicles are typically reconditioned, to varying extents. Premium retailers such as getWorth will spend a lot of money on bringing cars up to a certain standard: spare keys, new tyres, fixing rims, windscreen chips, cosmetic panel and stitching work, etc. The average private seller hasn’t done this, so some of the price difference might be explained by differences in condition between cars.
  • Private sales are normally voetstoots, whereas purchases from a dealer are governed by the Consumer Protection Act and disputes can be referred to the Motor Industry Ombudsman. If something goes wrong, you have much better options, provided you buy from a reputable dealer.
  • Be mindful of security when buying privately – both with your personal security and your payments and how you verify what you are buying. There are a lot of dodgy people out there, and the high value of motor vehicles makes them a hotbed for fraud.
  • A private purchase can get complicated if you yourself need to sell your car when you buy, or need to raise finance. Dealers are better equipped to handle the full transaction.

In conclusion, Surkont says that when it comes to dealing with salespeople, you need to feel comfortable. “We have no patience for high-pressure sales tactics. If the salesperson is putting you under uncomfortable pressure, walk away. You need to be comfortable with the deal you’re getting. If you happen to lose a deal by walking away, there are others in the market.”