8 Steps to Buying a Quality Used Car

Figuring out how to find a used car isn’t difficult. But buying a quality used car that won’t let you down and is worth the time and effort spent finding a car that suits your specific needs is a little trickier than you may think. There are thousands of pre-owned vehicles available to buy in South Africa, but how do you find and then buy that one car that’s perfect for you?

From people advertising their old wheels for sale on social media to independent dealers and large-scale online best pre-owned vehicles platforms offering thousands of options, we’re spoiled for choice. But finding a quality used car can sometimes feel impossible.

We look at what you need to know when buying a quality used car in South Africa. To understand where to look for quality second-hand cars, narrow down your list of potential candidates and what to think about before buying one, this article will get you started.

Buying a used car in South Africa

New cars are everywhere. But they aren’t getting any cheaper. Many of us simply can’t afford to spend money on the latest models, packed with features we don’t need. A car loses as much as 11% of its value the moment it drives off the showroom floor, so even a car with 1,000 km on the clock is classified as ‘pre-owned’ and costs much less than one that’s never been driven.

Why used cars are a better option for many South Africans

Used cars are often the most affordable option for people and, with so many on our roads and plenty of options to choose from, are quickly becoming the most popular choice among South African drivers. People spend hundreds of hours browsing ads, searching through inventories, and talking to sellers, only to find themselves back at square one with no car to enjoy.

Finding the car right for you

Whether you’re looking for a new day-to-day vehicle to commute to and from work, a weekend getaway ride for those trips up the coast or into the bush, or a reliable, spacious SUV to keep your growing family safe, how to find a used car that’s right for you is tougher than it looks.

Steps to buying a quality used car

Buying a quality used car may seem simple enough. But anyone who has actually done it will tell you that getting the most value out of your efforts means following a process that works.

Anyone can get a car for under R50,000, but it’ll soon start giving you big problems that will likely cost more than the car itself. A deal on Facebook or Gumtree may seem too good to be true, but you’ll soon realise that is the case the moment you part with your deposit. Or, you can bite the bullet and spend much more of your hard-earned cash than you’d like to for a brand-new vehicle you likely can't afford anyway.

G etting your hands on one of the many best pre-owned vehicles out there starts long before you even talk to a dealer. We’ve listed some of the essential steps every smart buyer should cover before committing to buying their next used vehicle.

  1. First, review your current car situation

Buying a quality used car starts with taking stock of your current circumstances. This means getting a realistic view of your situation straight off the starting line.

  • What car you currently have, and how much you can get for selling it or trading it in.

If you don’t have a car to sell or large amounts of cash on hand to go towards a deposit, think about what you’ll need to get some money together. Some dealers don’t require a deposit to buy a used car, and there are many financing options you can turn to.

  • Why you need a new car

This means thinking about the reasons for going on the hunt for quality second-hand cars. Whether you require a work vehicle, want something to replace the rust bucket you’re presently driving or simply want to level up your status with a fresh set of wheels, knowing the reasons for getting a new car will help you figure out what you need.

  • How long you plan to have it for

Depending on what you need the car for, you may be considering holding on to it for only a year or two or keeping it in the mix for a decade or more. This information will play a big role in determining the brands, models and types of cars you'll choose from.


  1. Then make lists of what you want vs what you need in a used car

There is a big difference between wanting something and needing it. Needs should always be taken care of before wants or desires. Understanding which comes first matters in how to find a used car that’s right for you.

  • Draw up a pros and cons list for buying a used car

This list should compare the benefits of having a new used car (transport, working, investment) versus the disadvantages or drawbacks of getting one (extra monthly petrol cost, parking, insurance.)

  • List the most important things you require in your car

Then list, from most important to least important, the things your car has to have and the ones it cannot do without. Some people may need a bigger boot over strong performance. Others may require good fuel economy over luxuries and style.

  • Then, shortlist the non-negotiables

Take your pros and cons list as well as your important items ranking and shortlist the absolute essentials that you require in a used car. In other words, make a list of the things that, if a car doesn’t have them, would disqualify it from being considered.


  1. Next, nail down a budget for your used car

Next, you’ll need to know what you can afford towards your used car. There’s more to buying a quality used car than its sales price. The longer-term budget elements are often the most important ones.

  • Financing or cash?

Will you be paying for the car in cash, or will you need to finance it? Different banks and financial institutions will offer different interest rates and conditions, so be careful which ones you choose.

  • Think about long-term costs

From servicing fees to maintenance costs and taking care of insurance, drawing up a schedule of the long-term costs of buying a certain used car will affect which options you choose. These numbers can seem scary, but remember to spread them out over the time you’ll be driving the car.

  • Pick a range, not a number

Once you have a figure for how much you can afford to spend on your quality second-hand car in total, be prepared to allow for some leeway. Rather than limiting your choices to a fixed price, make room for a budget range with a top limit and a lower limit. This will open you up to more options.


4. Figure out what you want in your used car

Once you’ve narrowed down the details about your existing situation, your future car’s ‘essentials’ and a budget, you can start looking around. But first, you’ll want to identify the type of car you’re looking for.

  • Pick a style and type

There are countless different models out there. Are you looking for a bakkie or a hatch? An automatic or a manual transmission? Do you prefer diesel or petrol? Rather than picking a specific combination, keep your options open by selecting more than one car style and type.

  • Iron out the details

Used vehicles have their own stories and service histories, which can severely affect your options when buying a quality used car. Consider what level of mileage you’d be comfortable with, how old the car can be, what its interior condition is, or how many features it does or doesn’t come with.

  • Don’t forget about the colour

OK, not only the colour but the other, less critical things, like additional modifications, if it has electric windows, where the car is from and whether there are security features already included. This will help you pick between options that are very similar.


  1. Decide where you’re going to shop

This is where the fun starts. Consider your options for who you’ll be buying a new used car from. While buying directly from a private seller does come with its risks, opting to shop with a reputable dealer or online means knowing who to go to.

  • Consider the dealer or seller’s reputation

This is an important factor that can make or break the success of buying a quality used car. Look at the reviews that a dealer has online, check if they’ve ever been investigated for anything illegal and establish if they’re a legitimate business or not.

  • Look at the inventory

Some dealers have fewer than a dozen cars available, while others boast inventories with hundreds or even thousands of vehicles. As a general rule, the more varied and diverse a used car dealer’s inventory, the more likely you are to succeed in working out how to find a used car that suits your needs.

  • Watch out for suspicious pricing

Some dealers and sellers add large markups onto their used cars, claiming it’s for quality when they are, in fact, boosting their profit margins. Watch out for any dealers charging significantly more than the general market values for their used cars. When in doubt about price, always ask.


  1. Do your homework

As you get closer to finding your perfect quality second-hand cars and you’re homing in on the best pre-owned vehicles for you, it’s time to get down to business. At this point, you’ve got your top candidates shortlisted, and you should be ready to meet your new used car.

  • Try to inspect the car or ask for proof of quality

It’s never advisable to buy something without the chance to see the goods first. While inspecting a car before buying it may be difficult or even impossible, being able to do so will help you decide whether it’s the right car for you or not. Some dealers can provide a full report or certificates, guaranteeing the car is as they say it is.

  • Know what to look for and what to ask about

Rust, previous accident damage, modifications, previous owners. All these things matter when buying a used car, so don’t be afraid to ask about them. While private sellers can get away with being dishonest, dealers are required by law to provide you with all relevant information.

  • Ask for a full service history

If the dealer can provide a full, up-to-date, comprehensive vehicle service history for the used car, you’re in business. Evidence of a car being serviced regularly by a quality vehicle service provider or service centre means the car has been looked after and is in good shape.

  1. T ake a test drive

Test-driving a pre-owned vehicle will tell you a lot about the car itself when figuring how to find a used car. Two used cars with the same mileage and in the same condition can feel completely different behind the wheel. Taking your top candidates for a spin isn’t always possible, but if you can, it’s a great way to see if you’re a good fit for each other.


  • Things to watch out for on a test drive

Aside from the vehicle’s power, general feel and handling, there are some other quality or condition-related elements to consider when test-driving the car. Listen out for any suspicious sounds the car may be making. Put the vehicle through its paces by accelerating, braking and turning (safely) and checking how it handles. Ask about any concerns you have.

  • Don’t forget to ‘experience’ the car

There’s more to the test drive than the car’s performance. Look around the interior. Feel the seats, the steering wheel and the dash. Get a sense of the space in the car and if you can see yourself enjoying actually being in it.

  • Always be careful

Don’t drop your guard when taking a car for a test spin. You’re in a car you’ve never driven before, so watch out for any quirks you’re not yet used to. If test-driving with a private seller, be aware of your surroundings. Check with your insurance before hopping into one of those quality second-hand cars you don’t own yet, too.


  1. And Buy!

Once you’ve found the best pre-owned vehicle for you, commit to buying it by making sure you’ve got what you need to do so. Put down the deposit so nobody else snaps it up, negotiate for a better deal if possible and don’t compromise on your budget limit.

Remember to enjoy the experience too. It’s not every day you get to feel the rush of buying a quality used car and taking ownership of it.


Conclusion - Where to find and buy quality used cars in SA

With so many different used car options to choose from, it’s easy to get lost finding and then buying the quality used car for you. Trying to balance price with your needs, convenience and shopping at the right places can seem overwhelming, but if you pick right, it’s easier than you think.

Options like Auto Pedigree are one of the top players in the used car game. We boast an extensive selection of the best pre-owned vehicles that are easy to sort through, cover almost every category of car out there, and are fully checked, verified and have all their necessary documentation. How to find a used car that checks all the boxes has never been easier.

Feel free to browse our inventory of nearly 3,000 vehicles or reach out directly and chat with us about buying a quality used vehicle that’s right for you.