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What to look for in used cars by owner

Cheap used cars and trucks for sale by their owners, as opposed to dealers, offer a great deal for the private buyer. What do you need to watch for when considering this type of purchase and where do you start looking for this elusive bargain? We've put a few useful tips to make your search a little easier.

Where to find your cheap car

Finding private used cars for sale is easy but finding bargains takes a bit of thought. Websites like Autotrader and eBay are where everybody begins and, as a result, these cars tend to fetch the best prices. You need to make the most of the opportunities that others miss. Watch for cars being sold in front of people's houses. Check the noticeboards in shops, at work and outside local village halls as these often produce great results. Don't ignore public car auctions either. These can be a fantastic source of private cars but extra care is needed when buying.

Beware of the pitfalls

There are a number of cheap new cars for sale but you will only get the most basic spec for your money. Buying cheap used cars is the wise thing to do. There are several useful checks to ensure you're not being taken in by an unscrupulous seller. First, make sure the seller owns the vehicle. Do not agree to meet the owner anywhere other than their home. Check that the address matches the one on the registration document. If it doesn't, or the document is unavailable, walk away. Next, ensure the information on the Vehicle Identification Plate (colour, chassis number etc) is the same as that on the registration. While you're there, look for signs of tampering around the plate (new rivets, scratches and turned corners). Now move on to the vehicle. Look for uneven panel gaps, rust and mismatched paint colour which are all indicators of possible accident damage. Check the mileage matches the MOT certificate and look at the wear on seats and pedal rubbers to verify this is right. Note that the instrument panel hasn't been removed (damaged screw heads are common signs) as this may point to the odometer having been adjusted. Verify under the bonnet and remove the oil filler cap to check for a white,
mayonnaise-like deposit. This indicates a possible blown head gasket and imminent expense. Listen for unusual noises and look for signs of regular servicing (a new oil filter, fresh oil etc). Finally, test drive the car thoroughly from cold and don't accept excuses for the owner warming it up first. Ask questions and assess the reactions you get to gain a feel for the owner. Honesty shows and this will be your best guide.

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