Buying a Used Car
What You Need to Know
- As well as being cheaper to buy, used cars also depreciate in value at a slower rate compared to new cars.
- Before buying a used car online, always check online to see what you be expecting to pay.
- It’s a good idea to run a vehicle check on any car your thinking of buying, especially if its from a member of the public.
- When buying from a member of the public insist on coming to see the car at their home. This decreases the chances that you are dealing with a rogue, as they tend to prefer public places that will help them avoid being identified.
- Never test drive a car at night or in the rain as this can cause you to miss defects.
- Always make sure the seller has all the correct documentation (listed in full down the article).
Used cars can offer great value for money, allowing you to replace your old car with a better model without breaking the bank.
What are the advantages?
As well as being cheaper, second hand cars are also less likely to lose value in the same way that a new car will. New cars lose around 40% of their value within the first year, so buy second-hand and the person who bought it new will have already suffered the biggest chunk of its depreciation.
And the disadvantages?
There’s often an element of risk involved when buying a second hand car, and you will have to put in more leg work to make sure that you're not sold a pile of rust under a resprayed hood.
According to HPI, an independent vehicle checking service, some one in three cars have something to hide, with an increasing risk of buying a car that has outstanding finance against it or has been “clocked”, where dealers wipe miles off the car's odometer to increase its value, or “cloned”, where a fake number plate is put on the car.
Even experienced used car dealers can get caught out buying second-hand and end up with a dud, so it makes sense to pay for a professional to check out your potential purchase before you hand over the cash – especially if you're buying from an independent seller or a member of the public.
Getting a good deal on a used car
If you're buying a used car, do your research using websites like Auto Trader and find out how much you should expect to pay for that particular model – but also be wary if the price seems too good to be true.
Give yourself a budget before you set out to find a used car and make sure that you stick to it. Many people go out looking for a family hatchback, get over-excited and return with a two-seater sportscar. Your budget should include insurance, road tax and other running costs so that you don’t end up paying over the odds to keep your car on the road.
Phone the seller
If you're buying a used car from an independent seller, online or from an ad, make sure that you phone them before checking out the car or agreeing a deal. Ask them the following questions:
- How long have they owned the car?
- Has the car had a recent MOT?
- Is it taxed?
- What condition is the car in?
- Why are they selling it?
- Has the car been involved in an accident?
- What features does the car have?
- Is it in full working order?
You should also make sure that you have a landline number for the seller – not just a mobile number.
Run a vehicle check
One of the best bits of research that you can do when considering a used car is to run a vehicle history check with a company like HPI. For around £20 you'll be able to find out if the car has been reported stolen, has outstanding finance on it, which would mean it's technically still the property of the finance house, has been written-off or scrapped and what the full spec of the vehicle should be.
Visit the car
You'll be able to use your vehicle check information as well as your phone conversation when you visit the car. You should also take the original ad with you so that you can compare all the details, you should check the car thoroughly before agreeing a deal as well as taking it for a test drive.
Always go in daylight and try to go in dry weather. Viewing a car at night, in the rain or under artificial light cause you to miss defects. With a private sale, view the car at the owner's home. This increases the chances of dealing with a genuine private vendor and not a rogue trader. Don’t arrange to see a car at a pub, a service station, or other public place. Remember, there is no hurry. Take your time and be ready to visit lots of cars when it suits you - your ideal car is out there somewhere.
Unfortunately, a large number of used cars in the UK have been “clocked”. If the gear lever knob is shiny and the steering wheel worn smooth and polished, the car has done very high mileages – whatever the clock says.
Other signs include sagging seats – especially the driver's seat – bent sun visors and a drooping roof. Worn, smooth pedal rubbers also indicate heavy wear, while three brand new pedal rubbers show that the vendor has just replaced heavily-worn ones.
If you are worried run a check to find out the car's background. It will cost around £20 for a single check or £30 to check three cars.
You should never buy a car without taking it for a test drive first. Turn the steering wheel from one lock to the other before setting off – there should be no screeching, banging, or knocking. Try to drive on as many different surfaces as possible and make sure that you test all of the gears and the handbrake, listening out for any unusual noses from the engine.
If you're not experienced, or don’t feel comfortable checking the engine, tires and under the car, bring a trusted friend or professional with you.
What paperwork should I look at?
Before buying a used car, make sure that you see all of the following documents:
- The logbook (V5C document) - make sure it isn't a stolen V5C certificate
- The car’s service history
- MOT details
- The registration number and vehicle identification number
- A valid tax disc (if the seller said tax is included)
Everything must be present and correct, or you should walk away from the deal – don’t accept any excuses about documents being “lost” or “in the post” – the car could be stolen. Also make sure that all the documents are original – do not accept photocopies.
Finally, check that the seller is the recorded keeper in the V5C. If not, they're not legally entitled to sell you the car.
Striking a bargain
You do not have to be a Kasbah carpet trader to haggle effectively. Do a bit of research and find out how much similar cars are selling for.
Check car magazine prices and take the magazine with you to show the vendor you know what you’re talking about. Hard cash can be your best bargaining tool when buying privately. Few sellers will resist £6,700 in cash for a car they are asking £7,200.
Take a pen and pad and jot down the car's faults – each one is a money-saver. For example, bald tyres will cost at least £330 to replace, which should come off the asking price.
Don't let the dealer know your top limit or you'll find every car you are shown will start at your top price. And do not offer more after being told “I've got two other buyers interested”. If they were that keen the car would be sold. Chatting helps. Finding out that a private vendor has had the car on sale for weeks, or has already bought his new car, is information that could bring the price down. If all else fails just ask: “How low will you go?”
Paying for your car
Make sure you ask for a receipt when making any payment, especially if it’s cash. Get two copies signed – one for you and one for the seller, making sure the seller's address and car details are on both.
If you're looking for finance to pay for your used car, make sure that you shop around and compare the best deals on loans.
- For more advice on the buying process, read our guide to test driving a car.
- If you need to raise finance to purchase a car, you can compare interest rates on our dedicated loans page.
- Keep your new purchase running with our guide to car maintenance.