How do I assess a car?
There are two ways to buying a cheap used car, the fast and the slow.
You can spend hours examining every aspect if buying from a dealer or privately. Or you can assess one in under two minutes. Sometimes less.
So what do I look for?
My most recent purchase caught my attention with its clearly displayed price and condition.
That depends on the situation, and it far easier when buying either privately or from a dealer. At an auction, things are very different, and even the best-prepared person can get caught out with when something previously dismissed or not even noticed becomes interesting simply because it was so cheap. Yet the basic principle is still the same.
What does our instinct tell us, and at the very worst, how much is the scrap value? Or if you have space, break it for parts for every car is worth far more that way.
What about the Vitara?
Its colour is metallic blue, and all the shades match, the body kit, and bumpers in silver. Both colours are really hard to match so any past damage would show. Apart from a few minor rust patches all was good and original. In fact for a car of its age, remarkably so. A quick look under it confirmed the chassis looked nice and solid along with the floors of the body. The exhaust also seemed to be ok along with the tyres. Of course with a 4×4 all of this is far easier. But any problems must be judged for hassle and time. If I was buying to sell on it would be slightly different. When buying a car for my own use I will put up with far more.
The classic joke is that a lot of mechanics drive scruffy cars that on closer inspection are mechanically sound. I personally like less complex cars, wind up windows are not an issue, no central locking, etc, etc are all good. Electrical connections suffer from age. So many good cars with lots of minor issues that become major hassles when older get scrapped.
The interior reminded me of a Triumph Acclaim I once owned, lots of hard wearing plastic and light blue fabric. Well under the layer of grime and the smell. The last owner was a smoker but thankfully with no dog. This may put off some buyers, but if the price is right… The mileage was just under 90,000 and the condition confirmed that pedal wear, seat bolsters, etc, etc..
The actual time it took me to assess all of that, about 30 secs.
So why so cheap?
The Mot is only 4 months, long enough to test the car, but short enough to perhaps be a problem. Yet the car is worth more than say a cheap hatchback as is it still retains value as a farm runabout or the basis for trials car. I have not mentioned the engine and that when buying privately is the last thing to look at.
The trick is to see how dirty it is under the bonnet. Dirt is good for it means that it has not had any major work done. Of course, it also means that it will need a complete service. The engine was warm, so sadly I could not hear a start from cold, but I could check antifreeze, oil, etc.… The seller had it in part exchange and was completely honest that needed a complete service, but had priced it to reflect this. Parts for service including a cam-belt kit will come to less than £100, sadly the radiator looked like it is on its last legs, so that will have to be budgeted for. But, as it is simple and accessible, a lot of the jobs will be fairly easy, and I have a secret weapon in a good friend who highly rates Vitara’s and has had several, he also happens to have a real passion for all things with wheels and tracks. Combined with his skill level and natural modesty a very useful person to know.
Which means that if I do the work on his driveway, I have access to his level of expertise. So the under bonnet condition did not worry me. Far better for it to need a service than to see the signs of lots of recent work. This all goes into the personal calculation of what a car is worth.
Then the question becomes, is my value close to the sellers.
We have to be fair, and oddly by doing that often a far better deal is possible. In this case, I paid what I expected too, the Vitara was marked up at £395, so the £45 off will cover the basic service excluding the cam-belt.
Is it a classic? I think so. Like the Golf, it falls into the invisible status and that means that they are bargains at the moment.