Our lemon-free guide to buying a used car

Time for a new motor? Read our top tips for buying secondhand

For many of us, a car is one of the biggest purchases we’re likely to make in life. With new cars losing approximately 40% of their value the moment you drive them off the forecourt, secondhand vehicles are a much more sensible and affordable option. However, even the secondhand car market in the UK has seen steep price hikes in recent years, with the cost of large family cars increasing more than others.

Buying a secondhand car can be fraught with pitfalls; a car could have been previously damaged, could be stolen or have costly engine issues.

The good news is that with some thorough research, well-informed attention and a bit of time, you can land a reliable vehicle that’s fuel efficient, mechanically sound and ready to transport you on your adventures for years to come.

Here are our top tips for navigating a used car purchase, and financing it efficiently.

Get clear on your needs

Having a crystal clear idea of what you’re looking for can narrow down your search from the word go, and mean you’re less likely to be upsold something bigger, or more expensive, than you need.

Some things to consider…

  • What’s your budget?
  • How much can you afford to spend on insurance per month?
  • How many people will be using the car?
  • Do you need a big boot space or could you buy something smaller and rely on a roofbox for occasional luggage-heavy trips?
  • Will you be using it mostly for short city or town journeys or driving longer distance (which will affect fuel economy)?
  • Are you set on any extras, like built-in sat nav, a lengthy warranty, or more room for a baby seat, booster or folded buggy?

Once you’ve got a list of your must-haves, you’ll be well prepared to start looking.

Where to buy

Private sellers or dealerships – they’re both good options as long as you’re smart about how you buy (we’ll come to that in the next section).

The upside of buying from a used car dealer is that they’ll often do vehicle checks as standard, so you’ll know there are no obvious issues. The price tag may be higher due to a dealership’s larger overheads, but with a warranty offering protection against future issues, it can be worth the additional outlay.

You may also be able to part-exchange your old vehicle with a dealer, bringing the cost down further. Some car dealers are more reputable than others – check out the RAC’s approved dealer network for traders recommended by the experts.

Buying from a private seller is usually the cheaper route, although sometimes people overvalue their cars to start with. You can check the recommended value of any make and model on the Parker’s valuation website to get a good idea of what’s reasonable.

With no legal obligation to provide a vehicle check with a private sale, you’ll need to inspect the car yourself or pay for an independent vehicle health check. The RAC and the AA both offer this service, with different levels of detail costing different prices.

Be thorough, buy smarter

Used cars come with history and in many cases, sellers will have nothing to hide. However, there may be some things on the paperwork and the bodywork that don’t quite add up. Doing your homework means you’ll be less likely to end up with a lemon instead of a peach.

A vehicle history check, called an HPI, is your first stop. A simple online process that costs up to £20, it will tell you if the car has ever been stolen, in a serious accident, what the mileage is, or if it has finance still outstanding on it. You’ll also be able to see if the vehicle has ever been written off.

A service history is helpful, so if your seller has it, have a good look through to find out what been repaired and how the car’s been looked after. Be aware that there may be some things missing though, which is why all the additional checks are important.

As well as an expert inspection, you have every right to poke around and have a good look yourself. It’s best to look at a vehicle in daylight so you can spot anything untoward, and meeting at the seller’s house means you’ll know where they live if anything goes wrong after the buying it.

Try the electrics, check all the panels are sitting flush with each other, look underneath for any signs of leakage onto the floor, look closely for any glass damage, and of course, take it for a test drive. Make sure you’re insured first – your own insurance or your seller’s might cover you.

Financing your car efficiently

Whether you’re buying an older little runaround for a few hundred pounds or investing in a newer model that will set you back thousands, borrowing can spread the cost and make it manageable.

Car dealerships usually have finance options available, but these often come with high interest rates and stiff penalties for missed or late payments. Importantly, the finance company still owns the car until you’ve paid the loan back in full.

Our fair, affordable loans put the money in your hands upfront so you can pay for the vehicle outright, either to a dealer or a private seller. With competitive interest rates and no hidden charges, you won’t be paying over the odds to fund your car. Plus, our flexible terms mean you can pay weekly, fortnightly or monthly, putting you firmly in the driving seat of your finance. Talk to us if you’d like to find out more.

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Posted on
25 April 2022