A cheap car has always been something that a certain percentage of the population is looking for at any given time. These days, however, the idea of cheap second-hand cars probably has more appeal than it ever has.
That’s for a couple of reasons. The first is that Covid has a lot of us questioning whether we’re ready for public transport again just yet. And the second has to do with the spiralling cost of living and finding ways to reduce that cost. And a cheap car rather than an expensive one is one way to do that.
But knowing how to buy a used car is not necessarily the same as knowing how to buy a cheap car, so here are our tips.
Here’s the reality. Unless you buy the right cheap car, it could end up being more expensive in the long term than a car that cost more to buy in the first place but did not require the repairs and maintenance of an older design that’s showing wear and tear. And buying a really cheap car and driving it into the ground is a great way to ensure that you have no trade-in or trade-up value when the time comes for a newer set of wheels.
But what is a cheap car today anyway? While decent, useable second-hand cars were once available for $1000 or so, that’s rarely the case these days. A car costing $10,000 is considered a cheapie these days and, if you’re really sure of your understanding of cars, you can even aim for something with a $5000 price-tag and take a punt. Below that figure, though, and you’re more likely to be buying a pile of parts rather than an actual car.
And new cars? Well, again, and it’s not that long ago, there was once a time when there was plenty of choice in brand-new small hatchbacks costing less than $20,000. That’s not really the case any more and that figure is now closer to $30K than $20K. A hybrid? Bargain on closer to $40,000 and if you want an electric vehicle, the ones now regarded as cheapies start at nearer to $50,000.
Even a Honda Civic now costs the thick end of $50,000 on the road, and thanks to Honda’s new agency sales model, there’s no haggling at the dealership. You either pay the asking price, or you take the bus home. So it’s fair to say that if you’re a newcomer to buying a car or just coming back after a long break, the current scene might take some getting used to.
Of course, if you’re really concerned about the purchase price of your next car, you shop second-hand. That’s always been the case, but even then, there are tricks of the trade. Similarly, there are no hard and fast rules on where to buy cheap cars (some sellers are honest, some aren’t) but there are trends you should observe.
Buying privately is the first of those places, but you need to know exactly how to buy a secondhand car privately to avoid getting stung. You need to know intimately the make and model you’re buying (or have a friend who does who can accompany you) and you need to be able to haggle like a champion. But get that right, and buying privately is surely where the bargains are, and this is, overall, the best way to buy a cheap car.
But you are the one responsible for the checks and measures. That includes knowing the background of that make and model and what goes wrong with them. You also need to have researched the values of the car and you need to know how many kilometres are too many (and it varies from car to car).
Potentially, the cheapest way to buy a car is at an auction. But now the stakes are really against you as, in many cases, you won’t be able to drive the car or even start the engine before you bid. You also have to factor in buyer’s premium and any associated taxes and fees to know what you’re really paying. Honestly, auctions are best left to the speculators out there or people who work full-time in the trade.
If you’re buying a used car from a licensed dealer, it’s still legitimate to ask how much will a dealership come down on price on a used car. But don’t be surprised if, thanks to the current shortage of used cars, the answer is not much or even nothing. And make sure you’re haggling on the driveaway price, as even once you’ve worked out how to pay the number on the windscreen, there are plenty of other fees to add to the final figure.
Is there a good time of year to buy a cheap car? Well, it kind of depends on the way you’re buying and the type of car. If you’re buying from a car dealer (either new or used) around the end of each calendar month is a good place to shake hands. That’s because sales staff often have monthly targets they need to meet and the end of the month is when the tallying is done. In the case of cars like convertibles, the onset of winter might be the cheapest time to buy a new car since drop-tops are a summertime special.
In terms of cars themselves, a car will often be cheaper to buy if it’s about to need a major service or repairs. But this is your responsibility to work out, as the seller is unlikely to offer up that sort of info. Once you’ve pointed these facts out to them, though, you’re free to use that knowledge to negotiate a better price.
Makes and models with a poor reputation are also ripe for haggling, The real question, though, is why you’d want to take a chance on a car that the trade doesn’t value in reliability or desirability terms. That said, if you’re shopping for transport rather than fashion, then choosing a model that’s unpopular for its looks (as opposed to its reliability) can be a good way to save a few dollars versus a more popular make and model.
If you’re buying from a dealer, then the legalities will largely be taken care of for you. But if you’re buying privately, you need to be on your game as far as doing your homework goes. That involves making sure the person selling the car is the actual owner, that the car has no finance owing on it and that it’s not on a written-off register (and can consequently never be driven on the road again) or even stolen.
By David Morley