I knew buying a car could have many pitfalls. Especially if you’re looking for something cheap, then the chances of buying a useless heap of junk are not so small. Wary of being caught out, but with little technical knowledge, I set out on my quest to find a good deal.
The primary purpose of the car would be to transport our dog, so I didn’t want anything too expensive, something where I’d just take out 3rd party insurance (in case of an accident, for which I am responsible, this pays for damages to other people’s property/car/medical expenses but nothing to myself). I checked out the usual places on the internet for second-hand cars (see list below). Most have good filter functions, so you can refine your search to the most minor details if required. I was looking for something cheap, which obviously brought up everything from the bottom of the barrel, until I added “under 100,000 km” to my filter and selected a few which were at dealerships. The first was a small yellow Opel Corsa. On arrival, I was told it had undefinable motor damage and was waiting for export. Why, I wondered, was it on their website for sale, then? That’s when I realised I’d fallen for trick number one – bait. I’d come to see the cheapest car on the lot and instead was fed a series of more expensive vehicles.
Off to the next dealership on my list, which turned out to be a very grubby corner lot, with a similarly grubby office cabin. I soon found the car I had viewed on the internet, a small Fiat Panda. I asked for the keys and opened her up, but the interior wasn’t even fit for a dog! Off to the next one, this time a little more expensive selection. A VW Golf from 2001 for €2,700, and one previous old lady owner! The dealer (an older gentleman) had all the records from the car’s mechanical history on file in a pull out index. I asked to take it for a test drive for which I needed to provide my driving license, identity card and sign a document saying that in the case of an accident, I would be liable for €1,500 in damages. I took her for a spin; driving was easy, the interior spotlessly clean, it even smelt good. The exterior paintwork had a few scrapes and scratches. I was impressed, except for the thought that this would be classified as an “oldtimer” in a few years, although that could have tax benefits. I tried to bargain with the dealer, but he would only come down by €100. So, on my way I went.
The next car I had selected was a private sale, way out in a village near Neumarkt. A Ford Focus, 15 years old, 89,000 km on the clock for €1,700. The guy said he had bought it for his son in May of that year (it was now November). Now his son had gone off to college where he didn’t need a car. Consequently, the car was now standing around and needed to be sold. I don’t know much about engines, but I took a look under the bonnet anyway, looking for signs of oil leakages. It didn’t seem too bad. Inside, the car was alright, not immaculate; a used FFP2 mask lay in the door pocket.
We went for a drive where he drove as the car was only insured for named drivers. During the drive, we conversed about our kids going to college. I asked where his son was studying, “Ingolstadt” he replied, “he comes home every second week bringing his dirty washing with him.” It seemed a good car for the price. I left saying I’d think it over. That evening I wondered about his son studying in Ingolstadt and returning home every two weeks to get his clothes washed. Wouldn’t a car be ideal for him to travel back and forth? Perhaps I was being paranoid but something didn’t add up. Maybe he had bought the car in May, found it had problems not immediately noticeable and wanted rid of it again?
The next car I had selected was another private sale. Having arrived at the given address, no one there had a car to sell. I phoned the number again and was told he’d be there in a few minutes and I should wait. He arrived with a small Toyota Aygo. The car was bought new by his mother in law in 2007, and his wife had been driving it until recently, but his family was growing, and they now needed a bigger car. Although the car was no longer registered, he had obtained red number plates from a friend at a local garage, so we could take it for a test drive. He told me about the car during the drive and how super-efficient it is with petrol consumption. He also told me he was a Christian forced to flee from Iran, of how gold was more important than even food in his culture, and if he had still been living in Iran and dealing in gold like his uncle, he’d be a millionaire by now! I was impressed by the drive and liked the car – and its fuel efficiency. The price was a little high, but with only one previous owner and two years TÜV (Technical Inspection Agency certificate of roadworthiness), I could probably sell it again later and recoup some of the cost. I decided to think about it overnight. Back home, I became more and more suspicious. Why had he given me that false address? I went online, eventually finding him on Facebook. He was a family man with three or four children. He promoted charities helping people in need back in Iran. He was pictured with his family driving a large Mercedes convertible. And he worked at a car dealership in Nuremberg!
The next day I visited the dealership, viewed him selling cars to people, and saw the Toyota in the parking lot among many other vehicles. It turns out if a dealer sells a car, they are obliged by law to give a one-year warranty in case of defects present at the time of sale. If someone sells a car privately, then the buyer takes the car as seen, and there is no warranty. So I was being sold a car privately – from a dealer… Obviously, he didn’t want to give any warranty on this car. I also began to doubt his mother-in-law was the previous owner.
So on my way, I went to the next garage along the road. In this area of Nuremberg, Leyher Straße and Hofener Straße, there are dealerships one after the other. As I walked down the street, a bright red Chevy Spark caught my eye, immaculate paintwork, and interior like new, so I asked the price; “€2,000,” he said, but he didn’t want me coming back waiving a guarantee, and I’d have to buy it for export! I took it for a test drive which was fine apart from the screeching noise every time I pressed the clutch. On I went.
On the next corner was another dealer in a small office cabin, this time – spotlessly clean. I asked what he wanted for the Peugeot 206 outside – €600. Why so cheap? He said he’d had to take it in some deal he’d done, and there might be motor damage! I appreciated his honesty. Test drive? “No problem”, he said and even suggested a route where I could up the speed a bit. The drive went well, no problem with accelerating, and I hard tested the brakes; the interior was clean. I returned and decided for €500 I couldn’t do much wrong, So I offered him €400 thinking we’d meet in the middle. No, he said – €600. “But it needs two new tyres” I replied and then offered up the €500. Still no – €600 – otherwise, it wasn’t worth selling. In true Brexit handling spirit, I said no deal. He remained silent and gave a friendly smile. So I walked, thinking he’s got to want rid of this old banger. After all, he’s running a car dealership, not a museum. He let me go without even a murmur.
Ten minutes later, I returned and said I’d pay the €600. Contract signed, he said I shouldn’t come back claiming warranty issues, and in any case, the contract says it was sold with motor damage. It was now late in the day and time for him to close up shop. He offered me a lift to the next underground station, which I accepted, and we climbed into his very elegant Mercedes van. For the family, he said, four kids and the wife. I asked where he was from; Iran, he replied. Somehow I really admired him, he’d not accepted my attempts at bargaining but I had a car for €600 and I don’t think either of us knew how long it might still run for.
The next day, having registered the car in my name, I went to pick it up and pay the rest of the money. He told me I could get used tyres from the dealer next door; just ask for Ali. So I drove out of his parking lot and swung into the next one. True to his word, Ali showed me a stack of used tyres with the size I needed and said I could take my pick, €10 each! He couldn’t change them for me but said there was a garage just around the corner. With the tyres in the boot, and another 500 metres, there was the garage forecourt. I asked if they could change the tyres. No, came the reply; he had no time, but maybe his neighbour could and went off to enquire. “Yes, yes”, Mohammed from the adjoining garage could do it. With my previous car I’d been used to having to make appointments far in advance at a garage and then paying expensive fees. Here in this car-dealer-community I had wrapped the whole thing up in a matter of minutes and all for €60.
Since buying the car, I’ve driven about 1,000 km, so far so good. And our dog, who never really liked travelling in cars, didn’t want to get out after our last journey!
Just a note: It’s possible to have a car checked over by a qualified mechanic before buying, either at a TÜV station or through other organisations such as the ADAC (German Automobile Club), who will even send someone out to you if it’s a private sale. They charge a fee, but if you’re spending a few thousand on a car, it could be worth it.