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Buying used: If it seems too good to be true…

6 December 2016

There are good deals, and then there are too-good-to-be-true deals. So if that 15-year-old Defender or Land Cruiser has a mere 50 000km on the clock, something’s probably fishy.

Over the last few years, I’ve noticed a worrying trend in the secondhand car market. People are increasingly fiddling with vehicles’ kilometre read-outs, making it seem as if cars have done significantly fewer kilometres than they actually have. Private sellers especially seem to be doing this. So why is this sort of unethical behaviour on the upswing? Quite simply, because it is easier to do than ever. These days, all you need is a simple little electronic device, which you can obtain over the internet or in some shops.

The going rate is usually between R500 and R1 000, so unprincipled sellers can obviously see a tidy return on investment spend R1 000 and increase the value of a car by R25 000. Mileage has a big impact on a vehicle’s second-hand value. A 2002 Land Cruiser with 50 000km on the clock, for example, will be worth quite a bit more than one that’s done 500 000km, simply because there is an understandable assumption that it’ll have more hassle-free service to offer than one that’s done 10 times the distance.

From the buyer’s perspective, an older model with low mileage is a great deal. Who cares if a car is 10 years old, as long as it hasn’t done hundreds of thousands of hard kilometres? There is a huge temptation to jump at a vehicle with low mileage. But before you do, you need to ask yourself if the deal is too good to be true.  Why isn’t the seller asking more?

So how can you tell if a vehicle really has done what it says on the clock? Well, there are a few things you can look out for. Firstly, check the pedals, driver’s seat and steering wheel for wear. If a vehicle has done only 50 000km, these should still be looking good. If they seem rather worn, something is amiss. More importantly, though, I would recommend purchasing a vehicle from a (very) reputable dealer. A large and established dealer won’t risk its reputation just to con you out of a few thousand rand. The risk simply isn’t worth the reward for a dealer with a good name to protect.

Also and this is especially important when buying a vehicle through private channels purchase a vehicle with a full service history. By checking the service history, you’ll be able to verify the kilometres. If they don’t match up, you know something’s wrong.

By Chris du Plooy