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Buying a second-hand car. What should I watch out for when buying a used car?

It’s worth taking a very close look at a used car before you buy it. The following tips will help you find hidden vehicle damage, understand who is liable for undisclosed defects and take out the right insurance for your car.

On-site inspection of the used car

There are so many used cars available in the market that it’s worth taking the time to compare prices. Once you’ve found your favourite, you should definitely give it a thorough inspection – where possible in daylight and fine weather. A test drive is also advisable. If you have little or no experience in evaluating vehicles, the following checklist will help you determine what state the used car is in and whether the asking price is fair.

Checklist for buying a car
  • Has all scheduled maintenance – including exhaust emissions tests, etc. – been carried out regularly and does the service manual show the last inspection was no more than 12 months ago?
  • Are there any cracks or scratches in the windscreen, headlights, blinkers or rear lights?
  • Are the shock absorbers in good condition and does the vehicle spring back without a lot of bouncing when you push down on it?
  • Can the boot lid, doors and bonnet be opened, closed and locked without any problems; do they close tightly and are they well maintained?
  • Is the engine free of leaks and does it run without any worrying background noises?
  • Are the battery and the poles clean, and the coolant hoses leak-free?
  • Are the paintwork and any chrome or stainless steel parts rust-free and in good condition?
  • Are all tyres evenly worn and still of sufficient tread (legal minimum: 1.6mm / recommended: min. 4 mm)?
  • Can the seats and backrests be adjusted easily and do all the seatbelts work?
  • Do the dashboard instruments – e.g. fuel gauge, tachometer, speedometer and clock – work properly?
  • Do the lighting system, heating, air conditioning and radio work as expected?
  • Does the engine start easily and can the battery handle several starts in succession?
  • Does the clutch work properly when the car is in motion and can all the gears be engaged?
  • Do the brakes work properly and without squeaking?
  • Does the car accelerate quickly in all gears and are the chassis and steering free of any jolts?
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What if I discover defects in a used car after purchase?

Despite a thorough inspection, it is possible that damage or defects won’t become apparent until after you have purchased the vehicle. To make sure unpleasant surprises don’t spoil your pleasure in your “new” used car, we recommend you get the purchase contract and any additional warranties in writing. Also remember to keep the receipt. The Helvetia services package will also provide you with help should any disputes arise in relation to the purchase.

The right insurance for your second-hand car

Two aspects are important when choosing car insurance: the vehicle you want to insure and the scope of cover you feel you need. For a car that is getting a bit old and is therefore not worth much anymore, our experts generally recommend partially comprehensive cover in addition to compulsory third-party liability insurance.

That way, your car is covered for damage due to natural forces, theft, damage caused by martens and collisions involving wild animals. By contrast, collision damage for which the driver is responsible is not covered. Fully comprehensive insurance is needed for that. Fully comprehensive insurance also makes sense if you can’t get by without your car and have no replacement vehicle available if it is written off in an accident.