Top tips for buying a car online

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By ROWAN BENN

The Internet world has changed so much that we really need to think carefully around some issues. Buying anything is so much easier online in the sense that everything is so much more accessible than 10 years ago. But accessibility brings complexity. We are drawn to so much online, but how can we tell whether it is genuine. We have compiled our top tips to help you sidestep the pitfalls and buy your car successfully online.

Selecting a Reputable Dealer:

Beyond talking to friends about who they would recommend, you can use the Internet to help you choose a legitimate professional dealer.

Brokers: Many people buy through brokers. They do the negotiating for you on your preferred car and they will be able to get better discounts for you as they buy such large numbers from the manufacturers.

Dealers: Should be established companies that you can research on independently. If they are advertising their cars online, they should also demonstrate their credibility online. They should be a registered business in their country of origin, have a clear legitimate address and have a quantity of non-purchased testimonials.

Companies House: This is a register of all limited and publicly listed companies in the UK. If you are buying from the UK, always check for potential dealers on Companies House in London before going ahead. If they’re not listed, take your business elsewhere.

Independent reviews: Social media can tell you if they are active and have a good marketing department. For genuine consumer reviews look for their profile on independent review companies such as Trustpilot.  Independent review companies only accept reviews from verified customers; so all reviews are genuine and have not been bought.

Selecting your car:
Follow this list of vital points and you are well on your way to finding a great car. Feel confident your dealer is doing his best for you by checking if he is taking care of all of these areas on your behalf.
Car specifications. You can often buy higher specifications on imported cars so make sure you do your paperwork carefully. This gives you better value from the outset and a better residual price later on if you have taken good care of your car. Similarly, be sure you are not buying a lower spec than is the norm locally as you might be tricked into paying a high spec price for a low spec car. Do your homework and cross check your specification before taking your purchase any further.
V5 Logbook: Every car in the UK has to have a V5 logbook. It confirms who is the registered owner for the vehicle. You should ask to see the photos of the logbook and the service history booklet before you buy as these prove original ownership and care history. The logbook also confirms that the chassis numbers belong to the car you are buying. The closest equivalent if you are buying from Japan is the Export Certificate.
MOT Certification: It is law in the UK that all cars over 3 years old pass an annual MOT check. This certifies them as being roadworthy. To pass the QISJ inspection (pre-export inspection) a UK car must have 3 months remaining on the current MOT certificate.
QISJ Certificate: If you are buying a car that has recently arrived from overseas, be sure to see the valid QISJ certificate. All cars need to provide their valid QISJ certificate on arrival in Mombasa. So whatever their country of origin, the QISJ inspection validates their roadworthiness prior to leaving their port of origin.
Quality Photos: A picture is worth a thousand words. A video is even better. You should make sure you have seen your car from all angles inside out, in a good light, when the car is dry. Do not accept photos of a wet car, poor light and water hide so much.
Rule of thumb for mileage: The average annual mileage in the UK is 12,000 miles. So you can use this as a general gauge for acceptable mileage levels.  Of course there will be fluctuations between cars, but if you find a deal that looks too good to be true, then beware and be sure to run an HPI check.
HPI checks: Mileage is verified via an HPI check. The national mileage register highlights any strange mileage entries to help buyers avoid odometer tampering. HPI also allow you to check the service history of your car to confirm it has been cared for responsibly.
Category C and D: Look carefully for these words in the description of any car you find on the Internet. They mean the car has been damaged by an accident, fire, flood or theft.

Category C (CAT C) or more severe damage than Category D (CAT D). When a vehicle is categorised like this, it means it could have been repaired but the insurer chose not to do so. If the vehicle is repaired properly, it can be owned and driven safely. However, it’s important to check the vehicle’s condition carefully before making an offer. A Cat C or D vehicle is usually worth much less than an identical vehicle that has never been written off.

  • The asking price, and your offer, should reflect this.
    Service History: Service history booklets will give you the reassurance that the car has been responsibly cared for by its previous owners.
  • Chassis Number: You should also ask your broker to confirm that all three chassis numbers match. He will not share the images with you, but he should confirm they are the same. He should also advise you not to buy a car that does not have matching chassis numbers as it is likely not to be safe.
  • Pre-registered cars: A pre-registered car is a car that a dealer has registered in its country of origin before it’s been sold. If you are considering a pre-registered car, note that the manufacturer’s warranty will have started when the car was first registered, so you won’t enjoy the full term.
  • DO a test drive: Even though you can’t necessarily drive the actual car you want to buy, it is very worthwhile finding a local dealer to arrange for a test drive in your area of the same make and model. This will give you a much better understanding of the car’s handling in and out of town, interior features and size. You may also notice different features versus your car so be careful to know what specification you are buying so you can compare with your test drive

Key Points When Agreeing Your Purchase

Take the time to agree the details up front with your vendor and you will reap the rewards later. Importers offer varying service levels, so be clear what is included in your final price to be sure you’re buying the service level you want. By studying the detail now, you will steer clear from surprises later on.

  • What does my car come with? To make sure you have included all your add-ons, ask your dealer about all of the following: How many keys (expect 2), car owner’s manual, a full set of matts, locking wheel nut, spare wheel included, how much tread is there on each tyre (expect a minimum of 2-3mm) including the spare wheel. If you miss these checks out of your final negotiation, you can have some costly surprises when you receive your car.
  • What service level am I paying for? Buying from a dealer who is not a professional importer usually means your quote includes just the purchase price for your car. For CIF (Cost, Insurance and Freight) you need to know your final price has included; collection and delivery to the port, preparation and inspection, shipping and insurance. If you are buying a freight forwarding service be sure to ask about transportation costs to port, shipping, insurance, QISJ inspections and possibly postage of your loose items.
  • Insure your car from door to door. Professional importers will insure your car from the moment they collect it to the moment you receive it at the port. It’s worth checking the level of insurance they are covering your car for. Some dealers only cover you for the weight of the metal, not the full value of your car. This keeps your premiums down but could be a nasty surprise should you need to make a claim. Be sure you have comprehensive insurance for the roads too, you can’t account for other people’s driving and you certainly don’t want to pay for it.
  • Paying for your car. Once you have made your decision, pay your deposit as soon as you can. Cars often move quickly and a particularly good vehicle will be snapped up by a savvy buyer before you can get to the bank. Paying with a credit card often gives you extra protection should anything go wrong. If yours does, you would be smart to pay for part of your purchase with your credit card for nothing more other than the peace of mind should you need help.

Once you have paid for your car

Congratulations! You are now the proud owner of a beautiful car. Just be sure all the paperwork and the gadgets arrive safely separate to your car.

  • Original paperwork: Make sure you receive the original paperwork for your car once it is one the water.  When you have paid the full amount for your car, you are entitled to receive the bill of lading, original V5 log book or export certificate, the original service history, QISJ certificate and the MOT certificates.

Make sure all your loose items will be removed from the car and posted securely to you.
To avoid any losses in transit it is sensible to agree vulnerable items in the car such as headphones, remote controls and paperwork are posted to you via a tracked courier service such as DHL.

Writer is a director at MHH International Ltd

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