The economic climate we’re living in makes it difficult for most South Africans to afford the instalments on a new car. Added to that is the fact that the value of the vehicle depreciates the moment you drive it off the showroom floor. The ideal solution for most people on a budget is to acquire a second-hand vehicle that is in great condition and has low mileage. However, there are some issues and warning signs you need to look out for when buying a used car, so here’s some handy tips to keep in mind when shopping for your next set of wheels:

Work Out Your Budget

It’s imperative that you establish the amount you’re willing to pay for a car, so evaluate your cash flow and determine if you require finance. If so, set an instalment amount that you’re comfortable with and aim for that when shopping around. You also need to consider the cost of monthly vehicle insurance and maintenance.

Private or Dealership?

There are benefits with both private sellers and dealerships. You can generally get better deals through a private sale, especially if you’re on a strict budget, whereas dealerships provide a little surety that you’re dealing with a registered business and are less likely to be sold a ‘lemon’ as it is commonly known. Dealerships also offer demo models, which sell for a considerable chunk off the regular retail price, so you could score a great deal on a car that’s almost brand new.

Mechanical Tests

Purchasing a second-hand car means you’re taking a gamble on the mechanical history of the car. The best option is to buy a car with a full service history by the manufacturer or reputable third-part repair centre. Since not everyone is clued up about motor vehicles, you require the services of a third-party company or individual to physically inspect the vehicle. Ask the seller for a DEKRA test certificate, which they can attain from any roadworthiness testing centre around the country. Take the car on a test drive and check its handling, braking, and any other signs of mechanical wear. Switch off the radio to listen for any concerning noises.

Inspect the Interior

Conduct a little inspection of the interior and look for ripped material or leather, as well as stains. The wear of the rubber on the pedals, gear knob and steering wheel should be consistent with the age of the car.

Check Out the Exterior

Thoroughly inspect the exterior of the vehicle for signs of rust or accident repair, such as mismatched or faded paint on some panels, uneven spaces between panels, such as the hood and the fender, as well as “rippled” or uneven body panels. All of these could be a sign of major damage to the vehicle in the past.

Stolen or Not?

You don’t want to buy a stolen vehicle or even one that was stolen and recovered in the past. You can easily verify the vehicle by entering its VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) on the eNaTIS website


Inspect the condition of the tyres and determine when you have to replace them. Tyres can be expensive, and you may not have factored in these additional costs upfront. Worn tyres can lead to fines or worse, a terrible accident, so replacing tyres is non-negotiable. Additionally, check to see if the tyres have uneven wear, which could indicate a problem with the vehicle’s alignment or suspension.


This is a good starting point to acquiring a great second-hand car. Remember that, as the buyer, you have the right to walk away from the deal before you’ve signed any documentation. You shouldn’t rush into something that you will regret in the near future, so take your time to negotiate a better deal after you’ve conducted the necessary research about the car in question.