Buying a used car? Keep the faith – there are fellow car enthusiasts out there

by James Mills
2 August 2021 4 min read
Buying a used car? Keep the faith – there are fellow car enthusiasts out there
Photo: Sony Pictures

My search for a replacement family bus didn’t get off to a flying start. The first chap I spoke with proudly informed me he’d not added his name to the V5C keeper’s document, because, in his words, “Didn’t want to add to the number of owners, MATE.”

‘What a splendid way,’ I thought, ‘to avoid all those ghastly parking tickets, speeding fines and knocks at the door from the police when the car is reported as being involved in a hit and run.’

It was struck off the list.

Next up came a gentleman who said he’d answer a list of questions I would email him, then, presumably changed his mind after receiving the questions – you know the sort of thing; Is there finance outstanding against it? Has it got a complete service history? Did you steal it from your elderly, infirm grandmother and hope to sell it to fund a drugs habit? – and instead he just sent more pictures, saying simply, “It’s a great runner, MATE.”

It was struck off the list.

Then came someone altogether more promising. And a stroke of bad luck. A doctor in Yorkshire had a nice-sounding example, with lots of history. But it had just popped a fuel injector. If I could wait for that, he’d let me know when it had been repaired.

It was moved down the list.

Then came a car dealer. A professional. Someone who makes their living buying sound cars, selling them at fair prices, delivering good customer service, taking some margin, before going back to square one and repeating all over. We spoke on the phone. “Sure, email your questions, MATE” came the reply. So I did.

‘First to see will buy, MATE’ was his exhaustive written response. Which was strange, as I didn’t remember asking the question, ‘Who will buy this car?’.

It was struck off the list.

Believe it or not, there were more instances like this. How difficult can it be, I wondered, to buy an old Mercedes E-Class estate?

So I changed tack. By which I mean I resigned myself to having to spend more money. Up to this point, I was looking at S212, 2010 to 2013 era cars in the region of £6000 to £7000, punted along by the tough and torquey 350 CDI V6 diesel engine, and on the north side of 100,000 miles. Once upon a time I’d owned a four-year old example, bought on the never-never PCP and it had done us proud. I missed having a car like that in my life and knew an older, high-mileage example would make for a fab, affordable family creche/dog kennel/bike shed/rubbish removal van.

I played around with the budget on Auto Trader. Cars came and went. Then early one Saturday morning one E-Class estate appeared that I’d not spied before.

James Mills buys a Mercedes E350 CDI estate

My heart skipped a beat. The spec suggested someone had impeccable taste. The mileage was less than half that of cars I’d been looking at. And then came the really good bit: I spoke with the seller and he sounded like an actual human being.

It was added to the list.

By nine o’clock the next morning I was shaking hands with a gentleman who we shall call Peter, because that was his name.

Peter, it transpired, was just as exasperated as I was. He’d been frustrated by a never-ending stream of phone calls from traders saying things like, ‘What’s the lowest price you’ll take MATE, if I bring cash?’ and ‘Let me put it in my showroom, MATE, and I could get you £12k for it but it may take a few months MATE.’ This was of no use to Peter, who wasn’t taken with the idea of counting out the best part of £10,000 in cash, checking every single bank note for forgeries, and carrying the whole caboodle to his bank’s local branch – or waiting months on end for a dealer to get nowhere because they keep saying to prospective customers, ‘MATE. First to see will buy MATE’.

Oh, and he wasn’t their mate. I get that. It would bug me too.

He later confided that when he spoke with me, he’d been oh-so-close to withdrawing his advert from Auto Trader. And then, as if by magic, a proper car enthusiast called up – and yes, of course he would be happy to reply to an email with a list of questions.

Sure enough, he did reply to all my questions. And sure enough, after running an HPI check, there we were, the morning after, walking around this vision of Indium Grey beauty (hey, I’m biased). It looked almost too good to be true. Everything worked. We went for a test drive. It was heavenly.

Used car sales demand in UK

Then we went through its history file. All present and correct. The car had wanted for nothing. And Peter was only selling it because he’d bought it from its second owner, a friend of his from the local yacht club who’d bought it from a Porsche dealer to tow a RIB with, only to realise he’d not done his homework and the towing capacity wasn’t sufficient. So he sold it to Peter who knew it was too nice a car to pass up. But he and his wife were covering a mere 30 miles a week in what was their second car and he knew, in his heart of hearts, it needed to go to a new home.

It was now officially the only car on my list.

I felt guilt knocking a few hundred pounds from the price, but did and we shook hands. I left a deposit and returned a few days later to collect the car and settle the balance. The funds were transferred by banking app in seconds, we exchanged a seller-buyer contract, completed the V5C paperwork and chatted about Mercedes cars we’d owned through the years.

Then it was my car.

So there you have it. Buying a used car can be an exercise in patience. But good cars and fellow enthusiasts are out there.

You just have to keep the faith. And keep working your way through that list. MATE.

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  • Brian Bremer says:

    Good morning Team.
    I read with interest the article about buying a used car. Last year during the first Covid episode, I decided that there was an opportunity to bag a bargain.
    Until two years ago I had been driving a succession of Mazda MX5s. But owing to health issues the low access meant that I had to cease driving them.
    After a couple of years looking at various options on convertible cars I settled on the Mini Cooper.
    Several Dealers, although having clearly closed up, left Email contacts or the “phone me to discuss your requirements”!
    Non did, or when asked about history etc, became very cagey. Until I spotted a Mini for sale at a Dealers in Wednesbury. Bingo, he phoned me directly, was open and honest about the images posed on EBay, he also filled in other mechanical details and any issues.
    After negotiating a reasonable discount for a cash sale, he agreed to also include delivery. Deposit paid, the car arrived two days later as agreed, a walk round and test drive assured me the choice was okay. So the balance paid.
    I have had 4500 miles of mostly trouble free driving hood down, only a faulty EGR valve and a new battery, has been the only cost.
    So having achieved purchasing one replacement vehicle, I decided this summer to take the plunge again by now requiring a decent 4×4. Back to EBay, after researching several different makes and asking Dealers all the usual relevant questions I found several were not entirely honest about condition, accident status or lack of history, luckily, a Dealer in Utoxeter had just taken in a Mercedes ML270 Diesel. After asking about the history, I was given a brief list of areas which needed addressing. The usual Mercedes Tin Worm and a few scuffs on the corners of each bumper, we agreed on a price which included delivery two days hence.
    So two days later, and a transfer of money the Mercedes became mine, there being no other areas to be concerned about. I have only had this vehicle for three weeks and so far I have not had any fears.
    Ultimately, it’s a case of do your your research, expect to come across Dealers and most likely private sales where not always is everything as expected.
    Buying used is not risk free, it never was.
    But, as I have found to my satisfaction, there are good Traders out there prepared to be upfront.

    • James Mills says:

      Brian, that’s good to hear. I’m glad you persevered and know the pitfalls of buying a used car. As you and I have both found, a mix of homework, asking the right questions and a little sixth sense can go a long way to ensuring you end up with the right car for your needs. Shame the MX-5 had to go but the Mini Coopers are great fun in their own way. Enjoy!

  • Reginald Molehusband says:

    A couple of years back i decided I needed a 4×4 in my life, so looked around and settled on a Jeep Commander with a 3.0 Mercedes engine, spent a while looking at various examples and spotted one about 40 miles away in a used car dealers, what would previously have been called ‘a bomb site’ (obviously not literally) so had all my antennae twitching. Having asked the obvious questions over the phone, does it run, is it MOTd etc we went for a look.

    First problem was a call from the dealer saying someone else was interested and was making a 300 mile (each way) trip to view the car, my response was ”so what? if they buy it its my loss” got to the dealer and…. it wouldnt start – so they jump started it after finding out where the bonnet catch was! Satnav screen didnt work, aircon didnt work. other than the battery being flat though, for the age of it, and the body, underside and engine looked ok, we started the haggle dance. He put a new battery on but wouldnt fix the satnav screen (cant blame him in realty, its a £400+ unit) and Motd it.

    On collection the following weekend there was a little more haggle dance around paying by card – he wanted cash – my response was, so keep the car then, ring your customer in Cornwall – at which point he decided he did accept cards.

    During the first week of my ownership a few more minor jeep type issues cropped up, head restraints that didnt ‘pop back up’ after the rear seats had been lowered etc, minor stuff, but an oil seal on a rear hub started to leak a bit. Cue a tad more haggling, jobs got done, he refunded some money back to my card account (I have to admit i didnt really expect that too really happen) and he made me promise never to buy another car from him.

    i still have the jeep, have had good, responsible fun with it in the snow, floods, mud etc plus a load of extended family days out bordering on camping trips to various beaches.

    I suppose that its a matter of going with your senses, but knowing what back ups you have and keeping some kind of perspective on what your doing and why youre doing it.

    I might have a look to see if that guys still in business….

  • ConcordAutoProtect says:

    great post

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