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On the road again - More Economical Motoring

It goes without saying that motoring costs, but all too often we end up paying far more than necessary. At the end of the article, I'll give you a simple weekly routine to follow which will help reduce on-road expenses, but first I'd like to deal with the initial purchase of the vehicle. I'm not going into buying new because it is usually low-risk, at least while the vehicle is under warranty. This article is mainly for those who can't afford the new-car option and have to go with second-hand. Although I will be concentrating on vehicles with petrol engines, many of the tips and checks will still apply, whatever the fuel-type.

Whether purchasing from a dealer or a private source, buyer beware! Nine times out of ten you will be taking over someone else's problems. Your focus should be on discovering those problems and deciding if you are being offered a bargain or a lemon. Make, model and type will vary with the individual and their lifestyle. Also, colour and trimmings probably feature on the wish-to-have list. Whatever your fancy and affordability, buying a vehicle which is in good order and is safe to drive should be the primary concern. Here are a few suggestions to steer you in the right direction and away from making a very expensive mistake at the outset.

An Expert Opinion
The best bet is to have the intended purchase checked out by your motoring organisation or a trustworthy mechanic before any money changes hands. Just bear in mind that even they can't predict all mechanical failures waiting in the wings to hit your pocket, but they should be able to give you a fair idea if you are getting what you are paying for. Initially, though, you will have to pick the best of the bunch yourself, and you don't need to be an expert to spot the ones to reject. If you know absolutely nothing about cars, take someone with you who does. Failing that, have a read through this, then ask your mechanic to familiarise you with anything you are unclear on.

How Does it Look?
Appearance matters, perhaps more than you realise. A vehicle which has been well cared-for on the outside is more likely to have been looked after mechanically and any necessary repairs made sooner rather than later. Careful owners will have their car's history to hand and most will be able to show you the service log book and maybe invoices relating to any repairs and replacements. Even if no paperwork is available, the vehicle can tell some of its own story. Take a good look at the paint, the bodywork in general and the condition of the interior which will often testify to the way the car has been driven and the care it has received. If the seats have covers, lift them up and check out the state of what's beneath. If you do decide to replace the covers at a later date, or fit new ones to hide tatty upholstery, remember that airbags won't work if restricted by material of any kind.

Who's been driving it?
The classic is the little old lady who only ever used it to go to church on Sundays. Her mileage might be exceptionally low, but imagine the wear on an engine which has never reached normal operating temperature during its entire life. You've got to consider these factors. The seller won't always tell you the whole truth, so you have to employ other means to discover it. Even a casual inspection can reveal the kind of driver who has been behind the wheel. Wear on the driver's-side window sill is an indication that it has been used as an arm-rest by a pretty laid-back owner. Cigarette burns around the dash area and on seats and carpets don't speak well either. A well-worn brake pedal rubber - or a brand new one - could mean a speed merchant has been heavy on both accelerator and brakes. Use your imagination and you'll probably find a few more signs that can be attributed to careless driving habits. Does it matter? The only way to find out for sure is to buy it - then you'll know!

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