When it comes to selling a used car, one of the most popular boasts a vendor will make is “one owner from new” (or maybe if it’s a dealer selling a trade, something like “one private owner” indicating that the dealer has only taken the vehicle to on-sell).
Prospective buyers are often drawn to one owner cars like moths to a flame, believing that buying a car that this represents the pinnacle of “good history” on a car and that it is a sure fire way to get a better vehicle.
The one owner status can add serious $ to the sale price of a car in some instances.
But is it worth buying a one owner car? Or in chasing this coveted ownership status for your car purchase, are you potentially paying more money than you need to for something that doesn’t actually matter?
In this short article, I’ll explain my position and give some reasoning.
Long story short, a one owner car isn’t necessarily a better buy.
Inherently there is nothing in the ownership history of a car (in terms of number of owners) that actually has a material bearing on whether or not a car is a good, reliable purchase.
What ultimately matters is buying on:
- Condition first
- Service history second
- Mileage third
Anything else is largely irrelevant (provided the car actually fits the bill for you in terms of features, specs, budget etc).
Current condition is obviously the most important consideration, as that is really the measure of the car. It doesn’t matter if the car has low mileage if it is in crap condition, unless you are buying something as a genuine investment to restore and then bank on the added value premium that low mileage brings.
Many car buyers look for a “one owner” vehicle because that has practically become synonymous with a car being better cared-for, and being loved by that owner.
On the other hand, buyers tend to imagine that multi-owner cars have been treated like disposable items, passed from one to the next when the maintenance costs get a bit high or things start to go wrong.
Both of these scenarios can be true, but equally so can the opposite.
For every car that has been lovingly maintained from day one by its single owner, there is a car that a different single owner has tired of after the warranty expires. The servicing becomes less regular (if at all), the paintwork isn’t kept clean any more, and the car is driven into the dirt.
Sometimes the “one” owner is a business, leasing or purchasing a vehicle to extract maximum utility from it and then discarding it after a few years and many thousands of miles of hard work
One of my favourite YouTube car vloggers – Matt from High Peak Autos – has good insight into the myth of the low owner car from a dealer’s perspective. His view, which aligns with mine, is that although some one and low-owner cars are good buying, there are many where the owner has simply given up and “checked out” of ownership some time ago.
You might find a one owner “unicorn” in amazing condition and with a great service history, in which case you should buy it. On the other hand, you might find a car that has had a single owner who quickly lost interest in caring and maintaining for their vehicle (particularly once the warranty period expired) and you are buying whatever life is still clinging on to the chassis.
Once again, that is why you should only buy on:
- Condition of the vehicle
- Service history (where documented service history is available – trusting the word of the seller is never good enough
- Ownership history from the perspective of whether or not the car has been reported stolen, has outstanding finance etc. None of this relates to the number of previous owners.
- Mileage, once other factors have been considered
One other thing to consider is that different types of cars are likely to have different types of typical ownership history.
For example, luxury cars, performance cars and other more “exotic” vehicles will often have more owners than more mundane cars. This is because the first owner will typically be of sufficient wealth to buy and replace on a more regular cycle (I know a business owner who buys a new Range Rover every couple of years. He is fastidious on maintenance of each car, but simply wants to have the latest and greatest every time).
The first owner buys the car, and then trades it in or sells it to buy a newer model some time. The car will typically be some kind of “dream” purchase for the next owner, who might find that the running costs are excessive or the novelty of owning such a vehicle wears off. Car enthusiasts will often cycle through cars – caring for each one during their ownership but not necessarily intending to keep it long-term.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that maintenance is skimped on, but more that the nature of the vehicle means it is more likely to change hands.
On the other hand, everyday commuter cars, family vehicles and the like may be more likely to have a single owner for a long period of time, as the initial buyer has purchased the car not because they necessarily aspired to own it but because it fitted the bill in terms of providing the right type of transport at the right price.
Over time, the fire of automotive maintenance and care burns out, and the vehicle deteriorates in condition until it’s time to be traded in or sold off before something major goes wrong.
Once again, this isn’t always the case. There are everyday cars out there with single owners that have been lovingly cared for from day one. However, the “logic” of how a more mundane car can fall into disrepair under the stewardship of a solitary makes more sense from a certain angle.
Ultimately (and as I’ve tried to stress all the way through this article) what matters is buying on condition!