The used car market in Madeira can shock you at the first glance: high prices for very old cars, skyrocketed prices for “fresh” used ones, lack of proposition, very poor quality of exteriors and interiors, tired engines, and frequent fraud cases. However, to find and buy a decent used car in a not competitive market in Madeira is possible. Let me tell you where to look for a used car in Madeira.
Madeiran used car market is very specific. Territorial remoteness from continental Portugal, difficult driving conditions (mainly because of the mountains) and Portuguese consumer attitude towards cars have shaped the market. First, let me explain what I mean by calling it ‘specific’.
Quality of used cars and terms to describe the so-called quality.
Body and paint
I don’t know how things are in Europe in general, but in Portugal and especially in Madeira, used cars look awful. If you would like to buy a used car in Madeira, this is the reality you’ll face. The paint is bad from aggressive sunlight. Scratches are the norm options due to narrow inclined mountainous roads and the lack of parking places in old parts of Funchal.
It would be better if they did not repaint their scratched cars at all. Paint recovery, re-painting, and bodywork are poorly performed. Artisanal method of painting, lack of preparatory work, lack of primer, not gluing with a masking tape of glasses, and sealing gums – this is what you will notice immediately. However, it seems that the Portuguese do not pay attention to such trifles.
Only if you point the attention to repainted parts, they can say ‘oh yes, it was a small scratch only’. But the reality is usually the opposite. If it were a scratch, they would not bother. My advice – skip all the sellers’ stories starting with “my wife used to learn driving on this car”, “It was like this before me” and similar ones. If the paint is fresh then skip buying this used car. No one will do all the painting works worth 1k euro to make a new owner happier. They just mask serious accidents.
When looking for buying a used car, you will find that diesel cars dominate in Madeira. It is not a secret that diesel is more reliable, economic in daily life, has better-transmitted torque, etc. Also, they are more expensive when they break down, but what kind of seller reminds you about that? Diesel is bought for hard everyday work. So, when you see an old diesel car do not lie to yourself. That car is very tired.
Open the capote and look at the engine and tubes around it. If the engine bay looks freshly washed, skip this diesel car. Old diesel is licking all the time. Gasoline cars need more expensive fuel on daily basis, but the probability of finding a good used car on the market is higher than with diesel one.
That is the saddest part of any used car in Madeira. I really do not get it when they try to sell a car with different colorful marks on seats or with holes in them. The cost of a cleaning service is almost nothing compared with a car cost. Good cleaning service costs about 35-50 euros. When we talk about holes in seats, the repair of the surface is not a big deal also.
It took me a month to find a car with an interior that did not provoke a vomiting reflex.
Now when you know what to deal with, let me introduce you to the terms of the used car condition.
1. Impecável (flawless). When you see in the advertisement “flawless” condition it means at least it starts, it has a few scratches on the body, the interior is still possible to clean;
2. Bom estado geral (good overall status). Can be rubbish or normal working order. It works. The interior is in very bad condition.
3. Precisa de obras (needs some works). I would not consider looking at it and buying it. There are no good parts, or it barely operates, or the owner is mental, blind, and does not see that black smoke from capote when you start driving.
Suppliers on the used car market in Madeira
There are a few opportunities to find a used car in Madeira. Each channel has its own specific.
The biggest source of supply of used cars is Car Stands – places that buy and sell used cars. You can find them on every corner and online. Unfortunately, they are not competitors to each other. When I started looking for a used car in Funchal, I visited some Stands. The price tags for similar cars were the same from one stand to another and none of them wanted to lower the price to sell a car.
To find a great bargain among Stands you’ll have to be lucky. They buy cheap and sell expensive. Prices are 20-30% higher for this particular reason. However, Stands provide a short-term warranty for the cars they sell. Usually, it is a 12 months warranty.
I put them all in one group because there are a lot of Internet advertisements like OLX, cybermadeira, Facebook Marketplace, and others. Here you can deal with Stands, private owners, and “helpers”. When you see pictures of a car taken in a dark garage, or at night or only one photo of a car – you found a private car seller on the Internet. You may find advertisements from Stands here also, but it is easy to recognize them. Stands take a photo of a car they want to sell in front of their logo or trade sign.
I’ll show you some great examples of the used cars market in Madeira and their huge unstoppable will to sell. Some private sellers do not even bother to reveal what car they sell. They take photos in a dark location; do not put a car’s name in the advertisement, no description provided as well. What a surprise for buyers it will be!
However, here in tons of used car listings, you may find what you may buy in Madeira. Moreover, you’ll speak to the car owner personally. You can ask a few questions and easily understand how the car was taken care of, what parts have been already changed, and when. These questions are important. For example, the car you are looking at has 240 k kilometers. If the car owner says that the distribution kit was not changed yet it means you’ll pay from 200 to 500 euros (depending on car type) additionally to change it. So, you may ask for a discount directly.
Usually, car owners keep receipts for all the parts they changed to prove it. For me, small talk with a car owner is better than 100 pro photos of a car.
Very common situation when you come to check the car and see not the owner, but someone who claims he helps his relative/friend/mother, etc to sell it. It is not his business, but a pure desire to help. That is not true in most cases. Those “helpers” do not know anything about the car they sell (like most of the intermediaries). They do not know the service history of the car -usually, they explain it like “car was serviced in a private garage”. “Helpers” do not know what parts were changed and when etc. These guys do not pay taxes, like Stands for example. However, they want to sell cars without any responsibility/warranty.
My opinion is simple: when you recognize a “helper” don’t waste your time. How to recognize a “helper” easily? You may ask to speak to the owner to clarify some details if he does not know them. Ask questions about the car, when was the last time oil & filters were changed, where the service took place, etc. I bet you will hear something like “I was asked to help my …”, “recently”, “in private garage” That is the sign.
The first used car that I bought in Madeira taught me a lot. I did all the mistakes I could when buying it. I dealt with a “helper”, the engine of a car died soon (not sure the “helper” knew about it or not). However, I gained priceless experience in buying a used car in Madeira. I am sure some information from this post can help you as well.
Feel free to ask questions about how to buy a used car in Madeira in the comments below or via e-mail.
Excellent warning article which does not exaggerate… I am on my 6th car in 10 years with the first two catching fire in separate incidents as I drove them. This was me trying to pay reasonable prices for older cars that I would ever have owned back in the UK. However, I bought THIS week a previously owned prestige badge car from a prominent professional stand in Funchal, after weeks of research, avoiding private owners who lie extensively, with a fresh year warranty and a one day-old new annual MOT test (annual roadworthy test) . The price of the car would have bought 3 such models back in the UK, but this time I just had to face the ridiculous prices to acquire a high standard prestige car. I collected the car from the dealer at his requested time of 4.45pm after having paid for it a week earlier. (I had taken it out for a short road test and all had seemed ok from what I could notice under the constant chatter from the salesperson.) The delay in collecting the car was said to have been caused by the necessity to replace a very small part that had shown failure during the warranty testing, but I was assured that the repair had been made. They had insisted I pay for the car by transfer the day of my road test after saying I could collect the car the very next day, then rang to say the following morning that it needed the repair and would take another week. When I did collect the car, I drove it only 10 kms from the stand when I heard the engine utter strange sounds. Too late to instantly return, covid 5pm closure, I carefully drove it home, parked it and the next day carefully drove it slowly a further 2 kms to my local friendly mechanic known to me over several years and from whom I had bought modest vehicles in the past. He told me to switch the engine off, and immediately return it to the seller´s stand as the engine was ” not fit for purpose” and needed repairs to make it road worthy. I rang the stand immediately to be met with almost unconcern and a feeble offer to ring me back with a date and time booked in with a mechanic through the warranty scheme. No ring back. No one answers their phone now when I ring… I await to see how this will play out. If I do not get a satisfactory result I will publish all the details of the car and stand and personnel involved, across the island internet. But will probably have to repair the car at my own cost. It may well be yet another expensive lesson – yet again !!! Or I may have had the fortune to find one of the very few honest dealerships, too busy to answer the phone with a scaled down covid staff, who will honor the deal and sort out a badly timed problem which only coincidentally occurred 10 kms into new ownership… hoy hum !
It is a sad story John. Why did not you invited friendly mechanic for the testdrive? I wish you a lot of patience to deal with ‘very busy sales persons’. I hope your one year warranty covers repair of your purchased car. Please, keep me updated with your case.
John, you wrote that you had 1 year guarantee, why didn’t you claim your guarantee ?
Sounds scary. I mean the comment above. But overall info is useful. Thanks a lot for sharing your experience! Question: is it possible to bring your own car to Madeira that I purchased in EU country? Wouldn’t it be worth and more reliable since so many unknowns are around in the island?
It is possible, but not worth it. You will pay import tax and + VAT (after all). The price will be not comparable even with the local overpriced market. There is online calculator that can give you estimate cost of your purchase (taxes and registration fees). Here it is: https://www.autoimport.eu/car_tax_calculator.php?language=pe
How about bringing a car from Portugal mainland?
That’s good option for sure!
Hello Andriy, nice photos, nice blog !
Could you please write an article about how to get along on the island by public transport (i.e. by bus ?). I know that almost no tourist uses the bus, some complain it is to complicated to understand the schedule of the different bus companies. Madeira suffers from too many cars and too many roads. The via rapida has destroyed much of the esthetics of the landscape. The only way we can stop this is by using public transport.
Getting around by public transport is not very convenient in Madeira. Not every direction is covered by public transport. Nothing more to say about it. For exaple, to go to Porto Moniz from Funchal you will spend 4,5 hours in a bus travelling there, and 4,5 hours getting back. Not for a 1-day trip, right? Only east side is good and accessible – Sao Lourenso, Machico etc. West and North are not.
Excellent article. Isn’t it easier to import from the mainland?
Thank you! At some point – it is easier to import from the mainland (cheaper cars, bigger choices), but there are some disadvantages like huge mileage, costs of shipment, and difficulties with your personal presence there. If I consider buying a car, I would definitely go to the mainland. I have friends in Lisbon that run a used car business and I can rely on their opinion.