Buying a used car can save lots of cash for you and your family compared to a brand new vehicle, but navigating the world of the used car salesroom can sometimes be a little bit intimidating. Car dealers are, for the most part, reputable outfits that aren’t there to rip you off, but second hand car salesmen have got a reputation for being ‘predatory’ or ‘shark toothed’ and the whole process can be a bit [read: a lot] anxiety-inducing. Especially if you’re not actually all that sure what you’re doing or looking for.

What you need is some advice from the inside and – wouldn’t you know it? – we've done the hard work for you and anonymously spoken to used car salesmen and asked them to share some of the more unscrupulous tricks of the trade so you can be fully clued up before you set foot on the forecourt (and avoid any surprises whilst you’re negotiating prices).

Not only that, we’ve also given you a check list of common problems to look out for when you’re buying a second hand car, so you should be completely covered. You can thank us later.

Hook, line and sinker

“Every second hand car salesman I know has used this trick at one point in their career, almost without exception,” explains 27 year-old Ben**, who has been selling used cars in Surrey for 5 years. “It involves using an expensive car at a bargain-bucket price as ‘bait’ or a ‘hook’ to draw in customers.

“Dealers will advertise a particular car on their websites for hundreds under the market price, but when customers come in to buy it’s miraculously no longer available, already sold or have something major wrong with it. We’ll then show the customer the same model which is only ‘marginally’ more expensive [read: the actual market price or just above]. You’ll be surprised how many people will go with it because they just want to get in and out as fast as they can.

Advice: “The best way to avoid getting pulled in to this kind of a scam? Make sure you go with a clear idea of what you want and a limit of what you're actually happy to spend or can afford. And stick to it.”

Good cop, bad cop

“This move is risky, but has always had a really high success rate for me,” explains Martin, 37, who manages a second hand car dealership in Nottingham. “One of my colleagues will play the ‘bad cop’ and promise the buyer a deal that either isn't available, or is totally unrealistic and way too cheap. When it comes to make the sale, I, or another senior manager, will step in and berate my colleague loudly and aggressively for promising the unscrupulous deal in front of the customer. The buyers then trust that I have their best interest at heart and are much more likely to go with what I am offering them over and above my younger colleague’s ‘mistake’. Yes, it may mean that the buyers don't come back to our dealership again, but it’s an effective way of pushing a sale if someone is on the fence or hasn’t responded well to the negotiations of one of my subordinates.

Advice: “If you suspect this is happening to you – or if you feel like anyone in the dealership is trying to pull something – my advice would be to step out for a few minutes to get a breather. Not only will it give you a chance to collect yourself, it'll also interrupt their ‘flow’.”

Don’t fear the FOMO

“If I was buying a used car myself, I’d be hesitant to go for a deal which was only available for a limited time” explains 52 year old Mark**, who has his own car dealership in South London. “If we offer you 0% finance ‘that ends tomorrow’, a discounted model that ‘won’t stick around’ or extra free equipment for a ‘limited time’ then, chances are, I’m just trying to push a sale.

“The same thing applies when someone says there’s another customer vying for your vehicle – chances are they don’t exist or aren’t as serious as I’m making out, so make sure you play hardball. In my dealership we call this a ‘Dutch Oven’.”

Advice: “If you’ve got niggling doubts about buying a car and you’re only convinced because of FOMO (fear of missing out), it’s sensible to take some time out and really think about whether the car is right for you, or not. Special deals or prices happen all the time in the car dealership world, so chances are you’ll have another chance to jump on a deal before you know it.”

Don’t be fooled by the test drive

“Ever noticed that car dealerships are a bit far off the beaten track? This is often to do with the price of renting the lot, but a happy side effect is that they’re often surrounded by absolutely mind-blowing drives,” explains George**, 34, who works in a used car salesroom just outside of Brighton.

“When you’re selling a car, you’re really selling a lifestyle, so if you’re able to show someone what their life could be like with this new car – just them and this stunning open road – you’d be surprised what a difference it makes. Our sales almost double on sunny days and it’s in part to do with that test drive looking at its best.

Advice: “Go in with the knowledge that this is a trick often adopted and concentrate on the car, rather than your surroundings. If you can, encourage the dealer to take you for a test drive around your area so you can get a real sense of how the car will fit into your day-to-day life.”

Cash is no longer king

“You’d be forgiven for believing that having enough funds to buy your car outright would put you in a strong negotiating position, but actually the opposite could be the case,” explains Ben**. “We’re often incentivised to sell cars on finance, so we could push for a sale to someone wanting a finance deal over and above your cash purchase.

Advice: “Keep your cards close to your chest as much as possible whatever your payment method so you don’t get pushed to one side to make room for someone who will make up my quota of finance purchasers.”

Don’t get taken for a ride: your used car buyer’s check list

Now you know what to look out for in the negotiation process, work through this checklist to make sure you’ve left no stone unturned before parting with your hard-earned cash:

  • Make sure you check the bodywork in good light – you’ll be surprised how much you can miss in low-lit showrooms.
  • Always check the car’s service history before purchasing. Look out for information on when the car was last serviced, check if it was a major or minor and look out for information on who serviced the car.
  • Make sure all the documentation is in order. You’ll need to check there is a V5C registration document and a current MOT.
  • Check for any signs of tampering – are there any sign of scratches on glass to remove etched-in marks?
  • Does the fuel filler look as if it has been forced or replaced? Does the mileage, age and appearance of the car all match up?
  • Are the tyres in good condition? Tyres with less than 4mm of tread will need to be replaced soon.
  • During the test drive, were the brakes effective? Were there any odd noises throughout your drive?
  • Were the locks, windows and car controls (including the heating and radio) all working correctly?
  • Does the clutch operate properly and is the oil meter working correctly?

So now you're fully equipped with everything you need to know about buying a used car, you might want to explore the insurance options on the new motor you’ve been eyeing up. And where better to find the right car insurance deal for you than right here

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