How to buy a second-hand car

9 May, 2011

I’ve been trying to buy a second hand car.   This can be a difficult thing to accomplish as a single woman who knows nothing (useful) about cars.  My last car was a silver one and it was very expensive to maintain, as well as being very unreliable, so never get silver.

Another thing I learned last time, was to be very careful about who you buy it from.  Previously I have avoided all the dealers.  Instead, I bought my last car from a retired middle aged couple in leafy North Oxford.  They had a genuine reason for sale and were effusive about the car and sad to be selling it.  Turned out they were a couple of crafty old shysters who swapped my cash for scarp metal in their neighbour’s recycling boxes.

The man I bought my last car from

They’d banged an old tyre on at each corner and called it a “car”.  They assured me the engine was “very quiet” and off I rolled, literally downhill all the way from there.  They hadn’t climbed to the top of the Saga cruise ship without using other people as their stair lift in life, I was to discover.  The “car” had everything replaced by my local garage over the following three years.

This time I decided on a Vauxhall Zafira.  Wtf?  I hear you ask. I’m sure you imagined me in a vintage sports car or saw me as a sophisticated Yummy queuing up in environmentally customized 4×4 outside the school gates?   I hate to disappoint, but there are a few intelligent reasons which led me to choose Vauxhall over Lexus, Range Rover or Maserati – they’re all called price. Chiefly, the price is right because Zafira’s qualify for a government scheme called Motability for the disabled.  It’s really clever, just like the name, a synergistic combination of motor and motility, or motor and ability, (or motab and ility).  Anyway, exactly what the scheme is doing for the disabled?  By signing over the mobility component of the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) each month for three years, anyone in receipt of Higher DLA can lease a brand new car with full servicing, tyres and Road Tax included.  After three years they can chose to upgrade again to a brand new vehicle if required.  This clever scheme has run since the 1970s and has managed to both create a whole consumer base for new cars (people who would never have afforded them and wanted to get out) and simultaneously has managed to boost the flagging motor trade with thousands of sales per annum.  Clever eh?  It was introduced by the Late Lord Goodman (before he died).  Anyway, the upshot for me of all this is that there are tons of second hand Zafira’s around,  they’re low in price,  low in miles and have a full service history.  I was going to have one.  Motability is the biggest supplier of second-hand cars in the motor industry, but you can only get one of their used cars from a motor dealer.

So out on the hunt for a good deal, I first visited the Bellinger Vauxhall dealership in Wantage.  I had two of the “Oh-my- god children” (omgc) with me, which sufficiently deterred any of the salesmen from an approach.  We even ventured into one of their glassy showrooms where I acquired lots of new biros (and the omgc acquired all the complimentary biscuits).  We were just about to leave; feeling very satisfied that Vauxhall had a lot to offer, when a salesman approached.  Five minutes later I found myself huddled over a brochure trying to decide which of the brand new cars I’d be most interested in.  The omgc excelled themselves by playing quietly together near one of the show cars.  Sensing my dilemma (I don’t actually want a new car), my dealer said if I wasn’t fussy on colour, he’d see what he could do.  (Please god, not silver.)   He disappeared for ten minutes and when he came back he generously added £1,000 to the price of each of the cars, saying he’d found the new price list.  Weird.  At this point I wanted a fast exit, so I asked the omgc to stop filling the show car with forecourt gravel and we left.

I needed a car with more space for the kids

Now, I learned an important thing on that outing.  No one takes a woman seriously if she has two dirty young boys in tow.  She’s just not considered mentally competent.  So when I visited Hartwell Vauxhall in Kidlington, I made sure I amassed four dirty young boys and an idea of a competitive price.  The hustle was on.  And then it was off.  Could it have been the sight of my old banger part askew on their lot, or the sound of breaking plastic which arose unidentifiably from the back seats while we did the test drive?  I’m not sure, but I was mighty upset when I saw Sami prize the top off the gumball machine and generously share his stolen hoard.  I rushed over hoping no one else had seen.  Patiently, I explained that they had to pay for the sweets and they were there to help sick children with Leukaemia.  Looking at me with total scorn, omgc #1 said “Eating loads of sweets isn’t going to make them better.”  Another hasty exit, (but I didn’t make the kids empty their pockets of gobstoppers).

Eventually, I found a car.  Well, actually my 85 year old mother found it in her local paper.   She told me to ring the garage in Tewkesbury, and while I was on the phone she interrupted asking;

“Will they take a cheque or do they want cash”

“Would they prefer a Banker’s Draft?”

“Can you pay now by phone, or do they need the card?”

Eventually, I told her that we’d play them hard by going to see the car before buying it. Savvy – that’s me.

Jason Jones Autocare was the final stop on my car buying journey.  He turned out to be brilliantly eccentric, everything I’d ever imagined in a second-hand car dealer.  He was vaguely recognisable from the photo on his website, obviously taken around 1988, when he was svelte and youthful.  He couldn’t find any of the many cars he’d promised me were in stock.  He couldn’t work the basics on his own computer and had to get someone old enough to be his grandfather to tell him where to click (it was that hard).  He also had a great sense of humour (obviously).  However, he managed to get me the car I wanted and to undercut the main Vauxhall dealers by about £1,500.  This was without giving me any special discounts or deals, so what can I do but recommend him?

Oh, and just in case you’re wondering, he knew all about the silver cars and he advised me to go for a blue one.  He said they’re really reliable and never crash.

Me and my new motor

(Should I mention that the kids smashed a window on it before it was a week old?)

Nah,  let’s not spoil it eh?

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