Dirt Cheap Second Hand Cars: More Trouble Than They’re Worth?

The used car market is a funny old thing. Here you have what look like perfect respectable vehicles from a decade ago selling for peanuts. You can often pick up a vehicle for less than $1,000 – hardly anything.

But are these “bargains” worth it? Or are their low prices concealing something?


Unsplash – CC0 License

Whenever you explore the second-hand market, you need to bear in mind that the vehicle might be a “write-off.” In other words, the insurance company deems it “beyond economical repair.”

Write-offs can be of great value for money if the damage is superficial. For instance, it isn’t worth replacing a dent in the door on a vehicle worth $500 because it would probably cost $500 to sort the problem out. But write-offs can also hide deeper issues. For instance, the car might have been involved in a crash years ago that destroyed the basic frame. And so anyone driving it could potentially be at high risk if they were to get into another smash.

Engine Trouble

Then there’s the engine. Second-hand cars often look respectable on the outside. But if you could look under the hood and inspect each component, you would see all kinds of damage.

For instance, older cars often require catalytic converter replacement. They also need transmission upgrades and clutch repairs. Some cheaper interventions, like replacing spark plugs and tires are economical. But many are not.


Buyers must also raise their awareness of mileage issues. Some of these ultra-cheap second-hand vehicles often have hundreds of thousands of miles on the clock. Some garages will even attempt to sell vehicles with more than 250,000 miles if they think they can get away with it.

Ideally, you want a car with less than 80,000 miles on the clock. Most vehicles built in the last 15 years are good for 250,000. So if you find yourself a bargain, there is a good chance that it will last for many years to come. Yes – the exterior paintwork might look a little scuffed or rusty. But that’s a cheap fix that takes just a couple of hours.


Unsplash – CC0 License

Unfortunately, while some older cars might seem like a great deal, they often have high emissions and low miles-per-gallon. In the old days, engines just weren’t as efficient as they are now. Plus, older vehicles tend to experience more wear and tear which saps them of their power.

If the emissions on the vehicle are high, you will likely pay more tax. And you’ll find yourself filling up at the gas station far more regularly compared to a modern-day equivalent.

Service History

Lastly, there’s the issue of service history that you will need to consider.

In general, second-hand vehicle buyers prefer cars with as few owners as possible. That’s because more owners usually mean more problems with the service history.

Ideally, you want a full-service history, showing you all the reports and repairs on the car over its life. This way, you can quickly figure out whether you are likely to experience problems in the future.