Many South Africans prefer buying a second-hand car, as the cost of a brand new vehicle isn’t always a financially viable option. And, while millions rely on more affordable public transport, some simply cannot go without having a personal vehicle – whether it is for work purposes or family responsibilities.

Other than being the more pocket-friendly option, buying a used vehicle has other advantages as well. For starters, there is a wide variety of previously owned cars on the market, so you can pretty much find any make or model. And then there is the fact that it is better for the environment to go pre-owned as producing and shipping new vehicles is a significant source of CO2 gas.

Of course, as with most things in life, it’s not always just smooth sailing. Buyers also need to be aware of the potential pitfalls of buying a second-hand car. Issues can range from mechanical difficulties and undisclosed damage to expired warranties and trouble finding replacement parts.

Buying a Second-Hand Car: Things to Look Out For

So, it all comes down to doing thorough research and approaching a variety of sellers. To help ensure you don’t rush into any old deal, we’ve compiled a guide, so you know what to look out for when buying a second-hand car, based on a few tips from the Automobile Association. We also look at how the law is on your side if you feel as though you’ve been duped. Here’s what you should keep in mind when buying a used vehicle:

  1. If you can spend a little bit more, it’s best to try and find a low-mileage demo model from a trustworthy dealer. These vehicles are decently priced, basically new and adequately looked after.
  2. A test drive is super important as well. While doing this, be sure to check and get a feel for the brakes and general handling. What’s more, also take note if there is excessive smoke coming from the exhaust as this could indicate engine damage. If you aren’t clued-up on all things car-related, perhaps ask a friend who is in the know to join you.
  3. It’s understandable to want to get the full cruising experience while on a test drive, but don’t turn the radio on. That way, you can listen for any odd sounds or knocking, both of which can indicate that something is faulty.
  4. Once the test drive is done, take a moment to inspect the interior of the car. Take note of any rips or tears on the upholstery and ensure that all the pedals are in line with the age of the vehicle.
  5. Next, have a close look at the exterior of the car; particularly, the body colour and paint job. If there is even a slight change in the shade over a part of the vehicle, it could mean it was involved in an accident and that there was some replacement work done.
  6. You will also want to take note of whether or not the tyres are in good condition. Any wear and tear will, of course, need some attention, but if it is excessive, then it is a safety hazard. Depending on the model and make of the car, replacement tyres could be pricey, so make sure you factor that in so that your budget isn’t stretched.
  7. Be sure to ask for the vehicle’s paperwork and service record. This will give you a good idea of how the car has been taken care of and if there is any consistent issue that might result in your pouring more money into the car than you bargained for.
  8. If you have purchased as a result of direct marketing, you can cancel the deal within five days. If you were not allowed to inspect the vehicle thoroughly before purchase, that period extends to 10 days.
How can the law assist me if I am sold a defective vehicle?

Buying a second-hand car from a dealer means that the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) applies to your transaction and protects your rights. Essentially, the previously owned vehicle falls under what’s defined as “goods” in the CPA. So, you are protected against defects.

The CPA provides that all goods purchased must comply with the following requirements:

  • Safe, good quality, in good working order and free from any defects;
  • Reasonably suitable for the purpose for which the goods are generally intended; and
  • Will be useable and durable for a reasonable period, having regard to the use the goods would usually be put to.

Should the car not meet these requirements, you have the right to return it (within six months after the purchase) and can insist on:

  • Having the car repaired;
  • Having the car replaced; or
  • Obtain a full refund of the purchase price.

Of course, if you were made aware of any defects and still purchased the car, the CPA won’t offer legal protection.

Filing a complaint with the car dealership

According to the Motor Industry Ombudsman of South Africa (MIOSA) – the independent dispute resolution forum for the South African motor industry and its customers, these are the recommended steps:

  1. The first step to take if you have a complaint is to contact your service or selling dealer, find out who the right person is to speak to and make an appointment to discuss the complaint with him or her.
  2. Be prepared. Before lodging a complaint, make sure that you understand all the elements of the original purchase agreement. This will include the sales agreement; warranty document, and service plan if applicable. Make sure that your vehicle’s service record is current and that the service schedule has been stamped by the servicing dealer.
  3. Keep emotions in check. Remember, you are dealing with a person in their professional space. Approach the matter in a cool, calm and civilised way. Keep records of all discussions, intentions and promises.
  4. Be assertive without being rude. If you are not happy with the way the complaint is being dealt with, insist on the service or selling dealer arranging for a manufacturer’s representative to review the complaint.
  5. Make sure you keep a paper trail of your communication with the dealership, just to prove that you have lodged an official complaint and that no action on their part has been taken. This will strengthen your case.
  6. Do not let up. In the unlikely event that you are still not happy with the way your complaint is being dealt with, contact the office of the Motor Industry Ombudsman (or another relevant Ombudsman).

Approaching the Motor Industry Ombudsman of South Africa (MIOSA)

There are many ways to contact MIOSA – you can complete an online form, call them, mail or even fax them.

Once received, your complaint will be forwarded under a covering letter to the dealer/manufacturer in question for their comment. If required, a MIOSA technician will be dispatched to carry out an inspection. (Do note: any inspection will be for the complainant’s account).

Upon receiving all the relevant documentation, the case will be technically and legally assessed and a recommendation forwarded. This means that they will investigate and evaluate complaints arising from the alleged infringements of the law, particularly the CPA, and attempt to facilitate a settlement between the parties and where possible, provide a recommendation with regards to such solution.

The MIOSA will determine a dispute within 30 business days from the date it has received all the necessary documentation/information to enable them to make an informed decision regarding the complaint.

We’ve Got Your Back!

So, remember, buying a second-hand car in South Africa is all about doing thorough research, comparing prices and know what your legal rights are. LAW FOR ALL can help with legal advice and mediate consumer disputes with dealers. If there is no resolution, we can help refer the matter to MIOSA or another Ombudsman. For added legal protection, have a look at LAW FOR ALL’s Free Offer to Purchase a Vehicle Contract