Q: Hi Mr Mechanic,
I am thinking about getting a brand new car or one newer than my 18-year-old one. My budget is about RM30,000. For new cars, my choices are limited to the Proton Saga or Perodua Viva, but for used cars, my choices increase, with some even possibly better than the Saga or Viva. I have also been checking out cars like the Nissan Latio, which fits my budget. Which way should I go? Would getting an older car be easy to maintain and spare parts easier to find? Or is it better to buy a new car?
Lina

A: Hi Lina,
This is an interesting question because so many of us have gone through this, too. Most of us start off with a used car and, more often than not, end up with a bad one. You know, the one that breaks down all the time and needs constant attention. Still, looking back, we look at our old “jandas” with affection or even start looking for another.

When it comes to the question of old vs new, it is always better to buy new, if you can afford it. New cars are factory fresh, come with warranties and are usually trouble-free for at least five years. However, used cars offer the buyer a more premium ride and can sometimes be a better choice, especially if you take cars seriously. There is nothing like having the car of your dreams in your garage, even if it is five years old. And that is exactly where you start. For, if you were to buy on affordability alone, you will never be able to forgive the car its faults. But you can always forgive an Alfa GT Junior any darn thing it does, because it is such a darling.

But I digress. Let’s look at what to look at when buying second hand.

WHAT CAN YOU AFFORD?

If you’re taking out a loan to pay for your car, your monthly payment shouldn’t be more than 20 per cent of your take-home pay. If you are on a tight budget, you may want to spend even less. Used cars will need extra attention from time to time: new tyres, maintenance and the like. Don’t forget to budget for fuel, road tax and insurance as well.

If the car you’re planning to buy is no longer under warranty, it might be a good idea to set aside a “just-in-case” fund to cover any unexpected repairs. Also, set aside about RM1,000 to freshen up the car before you use it; for suspension work, tyres and a thorough cleaning.

So, your budget of RM30,000 just got a bit dented there. But don’t worry, there are some gems out there for RM25,000.

WHICH USED CARS?

Hondas and Toyotas make for good used cars. But they might cost a few thousand more than a comparable Ford or Proton, even though these are also good cars. Actually, the best used cars come from the authorised dealers for the particular marque, so if you’re looking for a good Toyota, try an authorised Toyota dealer or franchise. They usually prep their used cars better than the used car lot. Sometimes, their used cars come with a warranty, too.

Make a list of cars you like, maybe three or four cars, then fire up Google and start calling around. You will get a good idea of what the value of the cars are. Compare the prices with authorised dealers.

Have you noticed that prices are different in Kuala Lumpur and Teluk Intan? Prices are driven in part by where you’re shopping. Outstation dealers and used car lots are cheaper. Used car lots and websites where private sellers list their cars are cheaper, too. Of them all, private cars will usually have the lowest selling price.

CONTACT THE SELLER/S

Once you have narrowed down your list, call the seller/s to establish a relationship with them and verify information about the car. You can ask private sellers why they’re selling the car and whether it has any mechanical problems. Dealerships and used car lots will have a number to call, too.

Make a list of questions about things you are concerned about, be it the paintwork, tyres or whether it comes with those teddy-bear sports rims. Sometimes, the seller will mention something that wasn’t in the ad that might change or confirm your decision to buy the car. In any case, do not negotiate the price over the phone. Ask to see the car first. Once you see the car, you can tie your offer to its condition.

If the car interests you, set up an appointment to test drive the car. Only test drive a car during the daytime. That makes it easier to see the car’s condition. Many a lemon have been sold at night. Just as in a club, everything looks better in dim light.

The test drive

Test-driving a used car is the best way to find out if it’s good. It also allows you to assess a particular car’s condition. Things to check:

* Check the exterior first. Walk around the car with a magnet (not applicable to a Lotus) and look for any suspicious areas for excessively thick bondo repairs.

* Pop the bonnet and boot and check underneath any carpets/covers for previous accident damage. Having looked at a few of the same models will put you in a better position to assess a particular car.

* If possible, start the engine in the cold. Many cars shake and rattle when cold and these symptoms are not apparent when warm. Check the engine bay for any discolouration which may indicate coolant or engine oil leaks.

* Does the check engine light switch off almost immediately? Walk away if it doesn’t.

* Once warm, does the engine smell of burning oil or other fluids? This is not a good sign. Walk away.

* Check the mileage. A 30,000km car will not have worn pedal rubbers or a dried, flaky interior.

* Check out the tyres. Will they need replacing? Adjust your offer accordingly.

* Go for a drive. Does the gearbox hang up (for an automatic) or does the clutch engage smoothly? If the clutch engages at the end of its travel, the clutch may need attention soon.

* Do the brakes do their job of stopping the car? Do they squeak? Pull left or right? It could be suspension problems.

* Does the air conditioning blow cold? Do headlights, brake lights and turn indicators work? Test them to be sure.

After the test drive, ask the owner or dealer if you can see the car’s service records. These will show you if the car has had the scheduled maintenance performed on time. Be wary if no service records are available. There are more cars out there.

HAVE THE CAR INSPECTED

If you like the car, consider having it inspected by a mechanic before you buy it. A private seller will probably allow you to do this without much resistance. Some dealerships may allow you to take the car to be inspected by an outside mechanic. An authorised dealership’s car will already have been inspected and since a warranty is in place, there is little reason to take it to a mechanic.

NEGOTIATE

You will have spent a bit of time inspecting and driving the car. Decide ahead of time how much you’re willing to spend while doing so. Make an opening offer that is lower than your maximum price, but in the ballpark based on your average price you researched earlier. Explain that you’ve done your homework so you have facts to support your offer.

If you and the seller arrive at a price that sounds good to you and is near the average price paid, you’re probably in good shape.

GET THE PAPERWORK DONE

To close the deal correctly, arrange to have the car inspected by Puspakom. The cost is usually borne by the seller. Once this is done, the next step is to get the insurance done and the car registered in your name. A used car dealer or authorised dealer will do it all for you. The name change and insurance is usually at your cost. If you are buying from a private seller, money will change hands after the name change procedure.

Some people want the peace of mind that comes with extended warranties, so this is something you might want to consider (unless the car is still under the manufacturer’s warranty or is an authorised dealers’ vehicle). I hope you factored this into your earlier calculations.

Time to drive now. Enjoy your new (old) car!

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