You can almost guarantee the lucky bugger(s) who win the lotto this weekend are going to buy a new car or three… If money were no object then most people know exactly what sort of car they would get. But sadly, for the majority of us, money is an object and the type of car we would like to buy is very different from the one we can actually afford to buy. Whether you are buying your first car, are strapped for cash or simply cannot justify the outlay for a new vehicle, here are a few tips to reduce the risk of buying a lemon.

Where to look?

Some auction houses have budget or end of life vehicle auctions which can be a great way to source a pre-loved vehicle that might have been left as a trade-in. One of the disadvantages however, is that you’re most likely going to be talking to a salesman rather than the old owner who knows the vehicle inside out. In general, low cost vehicles tend to be found online across classified listings and auction sites and are now even spreading across social media such as Facebook Marketplace.

What to ask?

For the majority of the time, these vehicles are sold privately rather than professionally. If you want to know the nitty gritty about a vehicle such as economy and horsepower, you’re better off doing your own research ahead of time. Be inquisitive to gather an idea of the vehicle’s performance and ability. Key questions that should be asked are how long they have owned the vehicle, service history, previous mechanical repairs and the like.

Aim for satisfactory

Keep in mind the vehicle isn’t fresh off the boat, so you’re more likely to find high mileage, dents, scratches and some interior stains. It’s important to therefore distinguish between cosmetic damage and more serious issues. Mild bumps and bruises may be acceptable, but more serious issues like rust and structural damage could haunt you on the next WoF.

Mechanically it’s a little more difficult to determine how much life she has left. There are some basic checks you can do to reduce the risk of disappointment such as inspecting when the cambelt was changed, looking over the service history and even old WoF papers, should they be available.

Take the car for a test drive, cut the chit chat and listen for anything out of the ordinary. Do any suspicious lights come on when you turn the ignition switch? Do any dash lights not come on that should? Does the car splutter as you fire up the engine? If you hear knocking, clunking, clanking tapping or squeaking noises as you drive there could be something seriously wrong. Give the car a good run and, again, trust your instinct.

Of course, as always we recommend getting a vehicle inspection by the professionals. We understand you might have limited funds and want to spend all your cash on the car or a few tanks of gas, but forking out for a vehicle inspection can save you thousands in the long run.

In New Zealand we’re blessed with an abundance of vehicles, so even on a tight budget you can be quite selective. You might not get the two door drop top you were wanting, but with a bit of patience and compromise, there are usually some pretty good vehicles out there.

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