How to get the best deal when buying a used car in South Africa

Affordability has continued to drive the shift to the used car market in South Africa. And while the second hand car industry has a poor reputation – it’s mostly undeserved, argues Jeff Osborne, head of Gumtree Automotive.

However, he warns that if you are in the market for a used vehicle, there are simple warning signs that consumers can look out for when purchasing your new-used dream car.

“Dealerships – even ones that deal solely in secondhand cars – are subject to the Consumer Protection Act, which has gone a long way to legitimize and improve the second hand trade.

“The private market is not governed, but consumers are becoming savvier when it comes to buying second hand, supported by tools such as online price checkers and even third party facilitators that can assist with transactions and financing.”

While there are hundreds of thousands of excellent secondhand cars on the market, Osborne cautions that there are simple warning signs that could break a deal before it is made.

Here are things to look out for:


Read: South Africans turn to used cars, and ditch premium models for locally made ones


Sloppy bodywork and patching is a red flag.

It could indicate undeclared accident damage – and even if declared, DIY patchwork tells me that the owner did not attend to the damage properly, Osborne said.

“Rust is less of a concern on much older cars, as long as it doesn’t compromise the structure of the car. It’s worth getting a quote on what it would cost to repair rust damage – because it will spread. Use that a negotiating point when it comes to price.”


If the seller is evasive or maintains strict control of how and when the car is started up, take it as a sign of caution.

“A car should be started up “cold”, in other words, don’t simply let the seller hand the keys of a running car to test. Starting the car will reveal worn components and issues with fuel delivery that a running car simply won’t.”


Modifications can be a plus for some buyers, but unless paperwork can be produced and researched, it’s best to steer clear.

“Modifications void warranties, and if they aren’t professionally done, they can make the car unsafe. Professional improvements done by licensed mechanics on the other hand can improve safety and the driving experience. Solid paperwork and a maintenance history is always a good sign,” said Osborne.


No deal should be made without the correct documentation in place.

“If a seller claims that he bought the vehicle without paperwork to begin with, or lost the paperwork in a fire, or offers a discount in lieu of paperwork, run away – don’t walk.” said Osborne.

“You can easily obtain copies of vehicle registration and ownership from your local traffic department, but the onus is on the seller to provide you with these copies. You should not accept anything less.”


A good seller will have a good advert and demonstrate good maintenance of the vehicle as well as openness and honesty.

“Good sellers tend to take the time to write good adverts with correct information. They also will be happy to point out flaws or parts that need servicing or replacing so that you are fully informed.

“If a car has been cleaned, the tyres not worn too badly and proof of servicing and maintenance presented, chances are the owner has been responsible and taken good care of the car, even if it’s an older model,” said Osborne.


Willingness to allow a buyer to perform necessary professional checks and tests.

“If they refuse to have your mechanic or testing center take a good look at the car, chances are they have something to hide.”


When in doubt, don’t.

“There are hundreds of thousands of excellent used cars for sale, both privately and from dealerships. Never settle for a deal that you aren’t sure about,” said Osborne.


Read: These are the most common problems you are likely to be having with your car

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How to get the best deal when buying a used car in South Africa