What technical issues cause the most headaches for owners of used cars?[Taavi Ottoson | 31.08]
If a suitable car is not available on the domestic market, many start looking abroad – mostly to Germany, which is where almost half of all imported cars come from. Though the widely held belief that German used cars are of high quality is mostly true, it is important to bear in mind that the condition of the vehicle first and foremost depends on the vehicle itself.
The used car market in Estonia is incredibly dynamic and the number of cars imported from Germany and other places is growing rapidly. Particularly valued are cars that are at least three years old – they have seen the biggest decline in their retail price but are still in perfect condition. "Even though so-called second-cycle cars are a rational choice from the perspective of the price-quality ratio, it’s important to keep in mind that not even a thorough MOT will guarantee hassle-free driving," says Taavi Ottoson, the head of retail for vehicle insurance at Seesam. “Recent insurance statistics show that German brands like Audi, BMW, Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz have been among the leading brands affected by insurance claims related to technical problems. That said, Asian brands like Toyota, Nissan and Honda weren’t unaffected either."
According to Rain Lass, the head of the secondary market at United Motors, practice shows that even a car that is just a few years old can show signs of wear and tear or leave the owner in an unexpected situation. "It differs between models and users, but in general, a car has clocked up 150,000 km or is more than three years old when its first technical problems crop up," he says, adding that cars that are 5-6 years old start experiencing steering and brake system malfunctions. "The most common issues are digital support, AdBlue system malfunctions, oil leaks and, for some models, running gear malfunctions."
This is reflected in Seesam's recent insurance statistics, which statesshow that the most widespread insurance claims that related to technical malfunctions are caused by engine problems.
If the malfunctions are severe enough that an entire part needs to be replaced, such as the engine or the transmission, the cost can be quite high. According to Ottoson, the biggest insurance claim Seesam has received in the last few years was for around €14,000 when an Audi Q7 engine unexpectedly malfunctioned. "It started with an oil pump failure but ended up being so bad that the engine just couldn’t be repaired and had to be replaced," he explains. "That was one of the most extreme cases, but it’s important to bear in mind that if your engine breaks down, the final bill for repairs could run into the thousands of euros."
Lass says this is mostly due to the fact that the maintenance and repair of modern vehicles requires expensive equipment and highly technical skills. "Cars don’t contain just mechanical parts anymore, but computers and highly sophisticated software as well," he says. "To keep the whole thing working, you need educated staff with up-to-date skills and experience, plus people who are willing and able to constantly learn and hone their technical skills. First-rate diagnostics specialists and innovative equipment don’t come cheap.”
The smart choice is to take out insurance that covers technical malfunctions in addition to compulsory vehicle insurance so as to protect yourself from hidden malfunctions in used cars and subsequent high repair bills. This is especially true of cars with an expired warranty. Another piece of advice when buying a used car is to do so via a trustworthy company that offers a six-month warranty. “But the majority of used cars are still being bought from previous users, in which case the key to finding a good car is proper research prior to buying it and taking out insurance that covers unexpected circumstances," says Ottoson. “When signing an insurance contract you should always check the terms and conditions, because not all technical problem are covered."