Driver Knowledge Tests

Second-hand vehicles: How safe are you?

Second-hand cars are often the go-to for learner and newly licensed drivers. However, second-hand vehicles can mean second-hand problems. The condition of pre-owned vehicles can differ from case to case, but there are a few potential issues every driver should be aware of.

Why choose second-hand?

Aside from the price factor, there are other pros to buying second hand Owning a second-hand vehicle makes it more likely that you’ll get cheaper car insurance, especially if the model is a bit older and less expensive. This is also related to the car’s rate of depreciation. A used car won’t depreciate as rapidly or as drastically as a brand new one. When choosing a second-hand vehicle you’ll also have a much wider range of options.

Problem areas when buying second-hand are also mainly related to the age of the vehicle. While an older car might mean cheaper insurance and less depreciation, its age could come with mechanical issues and other pre-existing faults. While it’s compulsory for sellers to disclose issues to dealerships, there are unsurprising instances when this gets overlooked.

Safety concerns

Road accidents are a worry for all drivers. But in the case of pre-owned vehicles, there are a few potential issues that can increase the risk of danger while driving.

  1. Date of manufacture

While older cars are cheaper and cost less in insurance, their age can mean increased dangers on the road. This can stem from a few issues, one of the main ones being the lack of up-to-date safety features such as multiple airbags and technology improving vehicle stability.

Electronic stability control (ESC) can minimise loss of traction and detect steering control issues, reducing the likelihood of fatal crashes by 43%.

  1. Mechanical and engine issues

Most cars develop mechanical problems at some point, but second-hand vehicles are more likely to suffer from these issues. Some of the more common defects are worn tyres, worn/faulty brakes and steering faults.

These can be a contributing factor to accidents, and when they aren’t disclosed by the seller or visible to the eye, the buyer might not be aware of them until disaster strikes.

  1. Vehicle history report

Another part of ensuring your second-hand purchase is safe and fully functional is getting a vehicle history report. This contains all information relevant to the condition of the car in question. It includes information about any accidents, previous problems, and the number of previous owners.

The issue with a vehicle history report is that when buying a used car directly from the seller, the customer is liable for the cost. This can put some people off, but the report raises red flags that might cause risks on the road.

Mechanical faults and accidents

Looking at the leading causes of car accidents, it’s clear that the status of a car as second-hand is not a major factor in most cases. Distracted drivers, drunk drivers, and breaking the speed limit are the main culprits. And, while a second-hand car might not have the extras of the most recent models (like ESC), it is unlikely to play a big part in reducing the risk of accidents caused by human error or negligence.

Two other culprits behind many road accidents are tyre blowouts and flaws in the car itself. In these cases, whether your car is new or pre-owned could mean the difference between being safe or risking a crash.

A couple of the common problem areas are:

  • Tyres: Worn tyres or those that are over- or under-inflated are risky, as a tyre blowout can easily result in loss of control. A pre-owned vehicle can potentially have sub-par tyres; on top of this, an older car without ESC would be more susceptible to skidding should a tyre blow out.
  • Brakes: Faulty brakes can cause rear-end collisions. When brake lines get worn, the brake fluid can leak out, while worn brake pads and discs can make stopping a car more difficult. These are problems to look out for in a second-hand vehicle. A new car will not have worn brake lines, pads or discs.

There are many other potential faults that second-hand vehicles may be prone to, including steering issues, engine-related faults, damaged headlights/taillights and problems with windshield wipers.

So, are second-hand cars dangerous?

The short answer is no.

Second-hand vehicles are not in themselves dangerous or more likely to be involved in an accident. What can be risky is wear and tear that the previous owner has failed to disclose.

Research conducted in 2019 determined that used cars are not inherently less safe than new ones. Out of 389 second-hand vehicles, 69 received a five-star rating for safety (protecting the driver and being less likely to crash). 22 of those 69 were determined to be safer for both driver and other road users, including motorcyclists, cyclists, and pedestrians.

Is there a catch?

The 2019 study showed that all 69 cars awarded five stars were manufactured from 1999 onwards. Older cars, however, manufactured between 1982 and 1998, scored worse than their newer counterparts.

Out of the 389 vehicles assessed, 66 were rated as “very poor”. They found these models to double the likelihood of fatal or near-fatal accidents when compared to the best 69 cars.

Even taking these statistics into account, buying a pre-owned vehicle does not carry any inherent risk.

Taking the right precautions

One mistake buyers often make is that they forego the test drive. Research showed that when purchasing a second-hand car, 16% of drivers chose to pass on the test drive—a simple process that could alert them to many potential problems.

Apart from this, buyers should make sure they are equipped with all the facts about their purchase—a vehicle history report is a must. Thereafter, regular maintenance checks are important, as is having the right insurance for your vehicle.

Driving may come with several potential risks, but having an older or pre-owned car does not mean sacrificing your safety. If you do your homework, you can find a car that’s safe and affordable.  

Darren is an expert on driving and transport, and is a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists

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