Second-hand cars are cheaper than new ones, but do they offer as much value?
Tried and tested Second-hand cars: The Hyundai Avante 1.6 (above), Nissan Sylphy 1.5 and Volkswagen Golf 1.4. -- ST PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER TAN

Used car sales now outstrip new car sales by three to one, driven largely by a record low supply of COEs and the resultant surge in new car prices.

In the first nine months of the year, 49,779 used cars changed hands, compared with 17,102 new cars registered, according to Land Transport Authority figures.

Which means for every 100 car shoppers, close to 75 chose to go second- hand.

The trend, which started to emerge four years ago, is likely to continue for a couple more years before a foreseeable growth in COE supply swings sales back in favour of new cars.

Which brings us to the first review of used cars Life! has ever embarked on.

Three cars are lined up - a Japanese, a Korean and a German. These makes are currently among the most popular on the market.

All three have clocked about the same kilometres, with a difference no bigger than 14 per cent between the highest and lowest mileages.

The vehicles were picked randomly from two used car dealers at short notice, and were not spruced up for the purpose of this review.

Hence we can probably infer that their condition in relation to one another is what a walk-in customer can expect.

HYUNDAI AVANTE 1.6

For a car coming to five years of age and with 102,000km on the clock, the Avante is in a surprisingly decent shape.

Its modest engine still revs freely and its gearbox shows no sign of slippage.

At any speed, you get responsiveness and relative smoothness.

The suspension is still pliant, and the car goes over humps without bottoming out or squeaking. Brakes work well too.

Road noise begins to intrude from around 80kmh, partly because it wears two different types of tyres (with the front rubbers substantially more worn out than the rear).

Cabin rattle, which is to be expected of a car its age, is minimal.

There are faint scratches on some plastic panels, but that is also to be expected.

The paintwork is not glistening, but neither is it badly faded.

The lamp covers are clear and bright, with no sign of moisture seepage.

Rubber parts are not torn or sticky.

The steering wheel is a little off centre, but the car tracks well - a sign that wheel alignment and suspension components are in relative good order.

On the whole, the car looks and feels newer than its age, except for an overpowering scent of air freshener.

The bits that matter - steering, suspension, engine, transmission and electricals - work fine and betray no sign of serious wear.

The only parts that need immediate changing are the tyres.

NISSAN SYLPHY 1.5

With 89,800km on the clock, the Sylphy should appear newer than the Avante. But it does not.

In fact, from its paintwork to its upholstery to the condition of its floor mats, the Nissan looks worse for wear.

Even its ride is decidedly poorer, with a rear suspension that does not recover from undulations easily.

On fairly flat surfaces, it displays busier suspension movements. This often translates also to higher noise and vibration levels, as well as harshness.

The plus point is that it is shod with uniform tyres and newer rims. The tyres, however, are pretty worn, and will need to be replaced within the next 3,000km or so.

And it does not betray any cabin rattle.

The Sylphy is also better equipped than the Avante all round.

It has keyless access and ignition, foot-operated parking brake and climate control (which is also colder than the Hyundai's air-conditioning).

Like the Avante, it is fundamentally sound, with a steering that is responsive if a little detached.

There are no detectable issues with the engine or brakes, and the car is stable on the straights as it is around bends.

There is something a little odd about its four-speed automatic gearbox, though.

It hardly shifts up, behaving just like a continuously variable transmission.

You will probably need to have this checked.

And you would want to replace the tyres and the shocks soon too.

VOLKSWAGEN GOLF 1.4

Despite having clocked a little over 90,000km, the Golf appears the closest among the three to a showroom condition car.

Minor body dinks and worn gear lever aside, the car is newer than what you would expect.

The only stark indications of its age come from a slightly laggy take-off and louder-than-usual undercarriage noises.

The latter can be partly - but not solely - attributable to its relatively large wheels and low-profile tyres. With 18-inch rims, the Golf has the biggest wheels among the three. Its tyres are also the least worn among the three.

After overcoming inertia, however, the Golf is as energetic as a new model. Its efficiency does not seem to be impaired, averaging 8 litres/100km, which is comparable to what a new car does in Singapore.

There does not seem to be any issue with its DSG transmission either. Early Golfs tend to have minor glitches in their dual-clutch gearboxes, but Volkswagen had addressed these through recalls.

Electricals are fine too.

The Golf is also the best equipped among the three cars here, with features such as cruise control, paddle shifters and dual-zone climate control.

As such, it is also the costliest, with an annual depreciation about 25 per cent higher than the other two cars'. Compared to depreciation of a new seventh-generation Golf, however, it is 11.5 per cent lower.

BACKGROUND STORY

Specs

HYUNDAI AVANTE 1.6
 

Engine capacity: 1,591cc

First registration: December 2008

COE premium: $7,589

Open market value: $10,769

Minimum PARF: $5,923

Selling price: $52,800

Annual depreciation: Approximately $9,100

Dealer: CarTimes Automobile

NISSAN SYLPHY 1.5

Engine capacity: 1,498cc

First registration: January 2008

COE premium: $5,898

Open market value: $16,810

Minimum PARF: $9,246

Selling price: $53,800

Annual depreciation: Approximately $9,200

Dealer: CarTimes Automobile

VOLKSWAGEN GOLF 1.4

Engine capacity: 1,390cc

First registration: August 2009

COE premium: $15,291

Open market value: $21,883

Minimum PARF: $10,941

Selling price: $77,800

Annual depreciation: Approximately $11,400

Dealer: Abwin Pte Ltd