What to look out for when buying used cars in Singapore

What to look out for when buying used cars, and how Carousell Inspected can help
Reading Time: 8 minutes

If we could avoid buying a car in Singapore, we would. Parking charges are high all around the city, especially in the Central Business District, and petrol prices have been on an upward trend for the past 25 years. Despite these obvious disadvantages, there are times in life when buying a car is not just a fancy whim, but a real necessity. 

You could be part of a couple expecting children, worrying about the health of both your baby and the mother. Or, you could have sick family members where incidents tend to strike when you least expect it. You could definitely do with less stress that comes with waiting for a taxi that seems to take forever or even waiting for Grab fares to drop before booking one. 

On top of that, having your own car also means that you can make the car ride even more comfortable for your loved ones – you could add cushions, snacks and even store medical supplies for emergency needs!  

A couple in their own car and being able to use it to it's fullest potential - decorating it, adding necessities and more

But we all know that a brand-new car, with its sky-high Certificate of Entitlement (COE), can feel incredibly out of reach. Why not consider a second-hand car? Prices can drop as much as 30% after the first year – that’s sibeh tok gong (superb)!

It’s natural to be scared about buying used cars. We have all heard of horror stories where second-hand car owners make several trips to the car workshop a month, which makes the car not so cheap after all. 

We are sure you know the visual elements to look out for when buying a second-hand car, but here are some lesser-known things you should definitely keep a lookout for!

Tip: If you’re still unsure what car will suit your needs best, take this quiz to have an idea.

What to look out for when buying used cars in Singapore

1. Has the car been modified in any way?

Whether it is the rims that have been ‘pimped’ or the head lamps that are so bling it blinds other motorists, these modifications are not as harmless as they seem. In fact, these car modifications may void the car insurance as they aren’t part of the original design, and can possibly affect your payout should any accidents happen. Touch wood! Of course, if you’d like to modify your car in any way after purchase, you can check out Carousell’s Car Accessories category

2. Has the odometer been tampered with?

Don’t buy a used car that has a tampered odometer. An odometer is an instrument that measures the distance travelled on your car. It can be found on your car’s dashboard, and odometer tampering is actually very common in current pre-owned dealerships. 

Browse through a used car classified ads and phrases like “Low mileage” and “Family’s second car, seldom used” appear once in every four to five car listings. With car prices that high, would someone really buy a brand new car and leave it at home most of the time?

It is also all too common to see a used car that supposedly only has “30,000km” clocked being driven into a workshop for repairs typically required in a high mileage car. 

The best way to make sure you don’t buy a used car that has been tampered with is to request for its full service records. It will not only tell you if the car has been properly maintained but also the true mileage of the car.

If such records are not available, your next best bet would be to “guess-timate” using the age of the car. Taking the average mileage of 20,000km that Singaporeans clock yearly, multiply that by the age of the car to get a rough estimate of what the mileage is. 

True mileage = 20,000 x (Age of car) 

Check the mileage against your inspection of the bodywork and interiors. A worn-out interior points to high usage. If the claimed mileage was said to be “27,000km” for a 3-year-old car but has extremely worn-out interiors, the claim is probably fake. You can consider conducting a pre-purchase inspection using Carousell Inspected to get a full picture. 

3. What’s the history of the car?

As the Chinese saying goes, 知人知面不知心 (knowing a person can be quite easy, but truly understanding a person is difficult). Same goes for used cars! Despite its shiny exterior, you would  want to check if the car has been in any accidents, if it incurred any traffic-related fines in our neighbouring countries, and if this particular model has been part of any safety recalls globally. These can all be done with the authorised dealership or through the owner’s personal servicing records. 

4. How does the car ride sound and feel during a test-drive?

Don’t be paiseh! Ask for the opportunity to test drive the car for at least 20-30 minutes. You want the car engine to be sufficiently warmed up so that you can listen out for any odd noises or vibrations coming from the engine. During the ride, notice how the steering and suspension feel and if the transmission shifts smoothly. Pro-tip: Have the previous car owner leave with his/her car so you can check the floor for oil leakages while he/she drives away! 

All these can be quite overwhelming, especially if this is your very first used car purchase. You should consider getting a pre-purchase inspection such as Carousell Inspected done so you understand the conditions of the car you’re buying. The inspection will cover commonly overlooked areas of the car, including the undercarriage, engine area and cabin, all carried out by certified technicians. In fact, if the car inspection uncovers any issues, you could use the results from the inspection report to negotiate the selling price! Steady lah. 

Lastly, do consider buying an extended warranty from the official car dealer and understand the limitations. If any issues crop up while you’re sending your family members to and fro locations, you know that it will be covered. Read more on warranties here.

4. Is the car you want suddenly “out of stock”?

Do not be forced into buying a vehicle that you do not feel comfortable with. Only proceed ahead with the deal when you are 100% satisfied with the price, condition of the car, and any after-sales support promised to you. Certain dealers, desperate to move their stock, may resort to aggressive sales tactics to persuade potential customers into paying more for the used car. 

A very common tactic includes advertising a car – perhaps the popular Mitsubishi Attrage –  at a super low price, only to claim that the advertisement is outdated or the car is out-of-stock once a potential customer asks about it. The car dealer will then encourage the customer to buy another similar car, but this time, it’s priced higher than what was advertised. Do the smart thing and walk away. You’re the customer and you have every right to say no to such misleading advertisements. 

You can always browse for similar cars on Carousell Autos instead of standing there at the dealership listening to this dealer’s sales pitch. Even better, read this guide to buying used cars in Singapore before you even step into a dealership. 

5. Are you pressured to sign a blank hire purchase form?

Never sign any blank forms. While it’s positioned as “less trouble for you,” it is akin to signing a blank cheque. 

Paperwork is troublesome for everyone – especially when you need to make multiple trips to sign different papers when it comes to buying a used car in Singapore. In order to make the process smoother, dealers might request that you sign on a blank portion of the hire purchase form.  Leaving your signature on a blank piece of paper leaves the dealer to fill in whatever he wants. You might return to the dealer on a separate trip to find that the loan amount that you had agreed with the dealer has increased due to some random “administrative fees”. Siao liao. 

So the point is this: Never sign any blank forms. If it means that you have to make that extra trip or two, do it. It is better to know exactly what you are signing than to regret when the bill comes.

6. What are ALL the charges that you have to pay?

It is vital that all charges are agreed upon between you and the dealer. Have the dealer list down all the costs you need to pay when buying a used car and go through each line item to make sure you know what you are paying for. Always read through the fine print carefully and point out any clause you are not sure about to the sales executive. You do not want to end up paying more for unnecessary charges! 

A tip if you want to save some money: More often than not, there’s an “Administration Fee” amounting to a few hundred dollars on your bill that can be waived if you ask nicely. This fee is the charge for handling the paperwork that is required to buy a secondhand car in Singapore (such as loan application, insurance application, etc). 

Although it is standard practice amongst dealers, it is a cost that you can negotiate to reduce or remove. The dealership would have already earned from the markup price of the car, the commission from bank loans and the commission on the insurance that you sign with them.

However, if you deem that the sales executive and the dealership as a whole had done a good job in helping you through the process, you can pay that few hundred dollars as a sign of good-will.

The 4 things you need to look out for when buying used cars - Carousell

While a used car will not be as expensive as a brand new one, it still costs quite a bit. Don’t be afraid to ask when you are not clear. If you feel like you need extra help to guide you through the complicated process of buying a used car in Singapore, reach out to the kind team at SwiftQuote who can help you in a jiffy.

Buying a used car doesn’t have to be a worrisome one. As long as you have the necessary checks done, a used car can go a long way. We hope that we’ve managed to shed light on the ways you can make your second-hand car purchase a safer and happier one. Check out the wide selection of used and new cars on Carousell today. 

Happy driving!

Find used cars for sale on Carousell


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