I have what some might describe as “something of a car buying problem.” Me, I like to think of myself as a serial monogamist in the car dating scene. If I could rent a different car every month, I probably would. That’s not to say I don’t love my cars, each and every one. I just haven’t found a depreciating vehicle I want to die with yet.
One owner – a retired vicar who used it to go shopping once a week. Full Service History in Japanese…
Given that I buy a fair few cars, I wanted to write about what I look for when I buy a car when I look online. So that if you wanted to sell a car, you could benefit from car hos like me. I have an engineering background, so people will tell you that I respond well to bullet points and numeric facts, though I find it hard to read over long lists of features that all cars come with. This is what I do look for in an online car ad:
Notice I didn’t say low mileage. The average mileage per year in the UK is anywhere between 10,000 and 15,000 depending on who you believe, but that varies by car. Sports and classic cars which tend not to be driven daily are completely different. If you’re selling a motorway mile muncher, I wouldn’t mind it being higher than average mileage, as long as it’s been serviced appropriately, and is in reasonable shape. And you’re not selling it just shy of a major service. After all, you the seller will have taken the big hit on depreciation if it’s high mileage, and I like being on the shallow part of the depreciation curve, so that when I sell, I’m not getting hung drawn and having my price quartered. Lots of short cold start “kid run” miles are harder on a car than hundreds of steady state highway miles in my book.
Number and Quality of Previous owners
I’m not expecting that any car I buy has one careful lady owner, and it’s hard for me to generalize about the type of people who’ve owned a car. If I meet a seller and they don’t know what type of oil the car uses, and can’t remember the last time the oil was changed, that leads me to think that they don’t care. Not that I only buy cars from piston heads / petrol heads. It seems to me that every time a car changes hands, something else breaks, and the amount of attention lavished on the car diminishes. I expect to find four matching tyres on a two owner car, and four random tyres on a five owner car. And you know what? I like matching tyres. With tread on.
Isn’t it nice to think that the car has been taken to properly trained mechanics for each of its service intervals, and that it’s been owned by someone who appreciates the peace of mind of having a car serviced. If they’ve taken it to a dealer for the service, they’re showing that they’re not cost conscious when it comes to car maintenance. And that makes me feel good buying it.
I love to buy cars from people who have painstakingly kept every receipt for every piece of work done, not only because it evidences that work has been done, but it helps me build up a picture of someone who is cautious and systematic in their approach. If you can include a photo of a sheaf of receipts and even past MOTs, then I know you’ve got something to back up a claim of “full service history”. Oh and I expect 11 or 12 months MOT – just for peace of mind.
Hyperbolic sales fluff
This puts me off no end, and is mostly cut and paste by unimaginative dealers. There are many different opinions on the height of the bar a car must limbo underneath to pass the “rust free” or “immaculate body” criteria, so I tend to just ignore such claims as being so subjective as to be worthless. In fact, if someone will point out a fault in their advertisement, it starts to make me trust them.
Even a dumpster can look good – photo darrenb/flickr
If the car is more than 10 minutes away, I want to see photos. Lots of photos. Covering the main bodywork, the tyre tread, the state of the alloy wheels, the boot, the engine compartment, the interior, the dashboard instruments. I don’t think I’m alone in this regard, and it explains why dealers so painstakingly valet cars before they sell them and take dozens of photos in ideal lighting conditions. It’s to draw me in, and make me want to see more.
On the photos note, I’m also day dreaming when I buy a car, and anything to suggest a lifestyle can really help out here. So don’t show me your BMW loaded with children parked outside a laundrette in Walthamstow on a grey day. If you can take your car out to the countryside or photo it in light of the sunset, please do. If you want some basic photo tips look here for Autotrader’s shot list, or here for more advanced ones and want to fuse exposures (fun but by no means necessary).
Recent owner changes
If the car history shows a recent change in ownership, it starts making me nervous. Even if there’s nothing wrong with the car, the most recent owner might not be aware of all of its kinks. If I’m about to go and see a car, I’m going to do a car check to see how much I can find out from the DVLA before I turn up, so be honest.
Model specific fault disclosure
If you poke around car forums for any length of time, you’ll find out what the common problems are with a car – short nosed crank in a 1990 Mazda MX5, timing chain tensioners in a pre-2002 Jaguar XJR. It’s good to read in the blurb of an advertisement if these are present and have been addressed. And it’s reassuring to read about them even if they haven’t – it shows the seller is aware of them at least and willing to disclose them which helps me to trust them when they say that everything else works. Although I’m still going to test everything for myself, because I don’t really trust anyone.
Spoiler Alert -I prefer factory fitted – photo icathing /flickr
I admit it. I like a jack to plug my MP3 player into, or if I can stream music by Bluetooth to the stereo. Now that I don’t live in Texas, I like leather seats too. I like any upgrade like a reversing cameras. I don’t particularly like factory fitted Sat Navs as they’re instantly out of date, and I’ve never found one that’s as easy to use as my smartphone or my Garmin. That said, if someone has a factory fitted upgrade, I like it. Aftermarket stuff scares me a little.
Ease of Resale
I don’t hang onto cars for too long, so I want to be able to sell whatever I buy to someone else. I have taken two cars to their graves, though I don’t plan on taking any to mine. I’m not some kind of Auto-Pharaoh with room in my tomb for a fleet of rusting jalopies. So I chose cars that have somewhat popular features and colours. Four or five doors over two or three doors in the same model if I can. Although sometimes I’ll just break down and buy a vintage London Taxi, just because.
There are always a variety of different opinions on price, and you can even use some online tools to guesstimate a car value. Most of the UK Car Pricing tools require you to give them some kind of email address, so have a spare spam account to hand so that you can retrieve their valuation and continue to sell your information to the highest bidder for eternity in exchange for the data. Or you can use this used car valuation tool at WiseBuyer which doesn’t require any personal data. It’s worth checking a few to get an average value – Parkers, Glass, WhatCar and the like. Though I don’t necessarily expect to pay the asking price, I do want the car to be priced in the right ball park.
So what does all this add up to? I like narratives, so if you can show me that your car has a story, and you can back up your story with some good facts, some photos and some service history, I might want to believe yours, and you might sell me your car. Of course, if I’m looking for a bargain, all of this changes, but you’re not trying to sell your car cheap are you?