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Tips for buying a second-hand car

So the last few weeks Pieter and I have been doing a different type of shopping than what StyleDiary is about… car shopping. Now, my husband is VERY much an attention-to-detail guy and it’s no different when it comes to buying a car…especially when it comes to buying a car ๐Ÿ˜‰ It took us quite a while to find the perfect second-hand car and I thought I’d share our process and my top car shopping tips with you.


There are MANY things to consider when buying a second-hand car, but in this post I’m only going to share my tips. It’s also important to note that I know that I will definitely sell the car in 2 years’ time, so this was also included in my considerations. However, this might not be something that will influence your car buying decision.ย Another thing to keep in mind is that I was looking to buy a car privately – in other words not from a BMW dealer or a second-hand car dealer but directly from the owner. You are more likely to find a better deal this way as dealers add quite a high mark-up to the cars that they sell.

If you want to find the perfect car based on your requirements and budget, you need to know right from the start that you need to give the car shopping process time. Finding a great car won’t happen in a week or two, if you want something to happen quick – then your best bet is to make use of a dealer. That being said, you may just strike it lucky and find the perfect car within a couple of weeks. My car shopping process bordered on 2 months and I saw (and test drove) MANY cars. So let’s get started with the process of buying a second-hand car and some of my tips.


I was already paying a monthly installment on a car, so I sort of knew how much more I was willing to pay on a monthly basis. Before I even started the car shopping process, I contacted my insurance provider with generic specs (based on the car I had in mind) to see what type of new monthly insurance payment I could expect. Once I saw a car that I liked (and before I made an offer) I contacted them again to get a more accurate quote. I think this is a good thing to do so that you don’t end up with an additional (unexpected) monthly expense on top of your installment.


In my opinion, deciding on a car brand and model will largely be determined by 1) your budget and 2) only then by your taste. If you’re in a fortunate position, you can decide what brand of car you like and then decide on your budget. When I started looking for a new car there were a few brands that we immediately eliminated because of personal reasons. I won’t name any brand names ๐Ÿ˜‰

I decided to look at BMW’s 1 series and 3 series – but both with very specific criteria. Do your research on the models you are interested in and set the criteria that you’d like in the car, for instance I wanted:

  • A car that is well-cared for, specifically on the inside. It’s easier to fix the exterior than the interior!
  • Parking assistance
  • A multi-functional steering wheel
  • Leather seats
  • Colours: White, silver, gold (I don’t like darker coloured cars)
  • Something with less than 100 000km on the clock
  • A car that is still under motor plan

These are the criteria that I wanted in a car, and a sunroof and bluetooth voice calling would be nice value adds (but not a deal breaker).


It’s with this step where some people may think it’s ‘more admin’ to buy a car privately but the effort is worth it, I promise. I suggest creating an Excel spreadsheet with different sheets for the models you are interested in (so I had two sheets, one for 1 series cars and one for 3 series cars). On each sheet, create your different columns (the ones I included were:ย Model, Transmission,, Multi-functional steering wheel, Sunroof, Colour, Year, Motorplan, Kilometres, Price, Link to the ad). Here is a screenshot of my spreadsheet.

doing research on a second hand car

My Google Docs spreadsheet with all the cars that matched my critera

I also created a third sheet where I detailed the specs for each ‘level’ within different models – i.e. in the 3 series I noted the specs for the 320i, the 325i, the 320d, the 330d, etc. This serves as an easy reference sheet once you start comparing cars of the same model based on kilometres and price.

Once you have your sheet set up, start searching for cars based on your criteria. If there are some things you’re willing to budge on (i.e. the bluetooth voice calling function) make sure that you include cars that don’t have this function and just mark it as a ‘no’ under that specific column. Be sure to separate your spreadsheet by different models (i.e. 320i, 325i, 320d, etc) and under each model separate manual and automatic – this will make it easier to compare cars and spot a bargain once you get to that stage. I recommend the following websites to search for second-hand cars for sale:

  • Gumtree
  • Autoworld
  • OLX
  • Autotrader

Take a few days to build your spreadsheet so that you can start to get an idea of what is a good deal (in terms of year, kilometres on the clock and price) and what is just plain overpriced.


I test drove quite a few cars and this helped me make up my mind on what I wanted to buy. The 1 series was a great car for just zipping around, but compared to the 3 series it didn’t have as much space like I would have wanted. After looking at a few 1 series’ and test driving a couple of them (I really liked the 120d) I decided to only look at 3 series. Be logical about your requirements – if you need more space a sedan is definitely a better option than a hatch, even though a sedan is considered a mommy’s car for someone my age ๐Ÿ˜‰ And no, we’re not planning on starting with a family in the near future.

As a potential buyer it’s your right to look at all aspects of the car, and ask ย the seller as many questions as you’d like. Look out for the following things:

  • The condition of the interior of the car. Stains are easier to remove than i.e. replacing leather seats with severe scratches on them.
  • I saw so many cars with chips and scratches on the plastic interior of the car – I can only imagine that this will be expensive to fix and it will also reduce the value of the car if you ever want to resell it. Keep this in mind!
  • The state of the car’s tyres – will it need to be replaced soon? For example, most of the newer BMW’s have run flat tyres and they are bloody expensive to replace. If you need to replace all four tyres in the near future after buying the car, you need to add this cost to the total cost of the car.
  • If the car is still under motor plan, that is great. From my experience with BMW, if the car is still under motorplan then there shouldn’t be too much that you have to worry about mechanically. BMW will cover anything that breaks while the car is under motor plan – we were told that if the car is still under motor plan with BMW you basically only pay for ‘your tyres and your fuel’ – the rest is covered by BMW.
  • Specifically for BMW it is very expensive to extend the motor plan if the car is a bit older / has more kilometres on it. This also needs to be a consideration and you need to do your research and determine if it won’t be more worth your while to buy a slightly more expensive car that still has a fair amount of time / kilometres on its motor plan left.

Here are some questions you can ask the seller:

  • Has the car ever given you any problems? Specifically mechanical problems. You should also ask for the service history of the car.
  • What type of fuel consumption do you get 1) in the city and 2) on the long road?
  • Has the car ever been in an accident?
  • What type of repairs (bodily or mechanical) has been done to the car?
  • Why are you selling the car?
  • Is the car still under motor plan?

There are more questions that you can ask – you will definitely come up with more questions as you do research on the specific brand and model that you’re interested in.


If you’re patient and you update your spreadsheet on a regular basis (I updated my daily) you should be able to easily identify when a car is a good deal. This ‘admin’ will go a long way towards finding the perfect second-hand car – and paying a reasonable price for it. Do not lose courage, based on the specs and criteria that I had, it took weeks to find at least one suitable car. Do not give up! The car that I ended up buying was a 90% definite go just based on what I saw in the ad, and then on the day that we viewed the car we made an offer. The spreadsheet will really help you to identify what is a good deal / worth viewing / taking for a test drive.


Once you find a car that is a good candidate, send your insurance provider the exact details and get an accurate (new) quote from them to see what your monthly insurance payment will be. Also contact the institution that is going to provide you with the finance and send them the vehicle’s details to get an estimate on what your monthly installment will be. Based on this, make your final decision.

tips for buying a second-hand car

My new wheels ๐Ÿ™‚


I strongly advise against trading in your car, dealers normally offer you much less than what you can get if you sell privately. So if you’re up for the ‘admin’ and the wait to find a suitable buyer, sell your car privately. Take it for a nice deep clean valet and take decent pictures – and many. Do your research on market-related prices for the same type of car and post your ad with as much detail as possible. Remember the criteria that you were looking for when you searched for a car? Make sure you include the relevant information so that potential buyers can decide if your car is a good deal for them based on their criteria.

If you are shopping for a second-hand car I hope these tips helped you. If you have any questions or would like to know about the spreadsheet, chat to me in the comments ๐Ÿ™‚

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