Top 5 tips for buying a used car

Posted on 27th January 2021

The chances are that most drivers, at some point during their driving-lifetime, will buy a used car. According to research by the AA, as many as 74% of people who have recently bought a vehicle opted for a used one. And the percentage for first-time buyers choosing a used car is even higher.

But whilst most of us will inevitably buy a used car at some point, do we really know what we’re looking for when we’re searching in the used car market? For many the answer is likely no. Particularly when taking into account that a large number of used car purchases are amongst younger, and subsequently less experienced, drivers.

Buying a used car needn’t be a risky decision though. Going through a trusted dealership can remove a large element of risk, but whether you’re buying the car through a private seller or not, here are a few key tips that should hold you in good stead next time you’re looking to purchase a used vehicle.

Keep an eye on the market

If you know you’re likely to be buying a car soon, get familiar with the market. Keep checking on various sites to get a feel for what kind of prices you can expect cars to be going for. A good place to start for complete beginners to the used-car world would be by looking at popular models of cars and seeing how much these go for, and how they compare on various reputable, trusted sites.

Knowledge really is power in the used-car market, so particularly if you are going through a private seller the more you know the less likely you are to be ripped off.

Consider the 3-year sweet spot

Many people buying new cars use finance deals which typically run for around 36 months. These cars then often find their way to the used car market and at 3 years old, should, still be performing well and coming in at about half of their full price cost.

Of course many cars can still perform well at much older than this, but if you are opting for a car that’s over around 5 years old then it is worth considering the costs of any potential repairs, or greater running costs incurred than with newer models.

Bring a checklist

Write down a physical checklist of everything to inspect when going to see the car. It can be hard to remember everything in the moment so a physical list always helps. Make sure to include engine checks, bodywork (including the underneath!), tyres and all inside electronics; from windows to aircon. Work through your list slowly and methodically. And don’t forget to ask for the spare keys.

When test driving don’t feel under pressure to make it short. Take as long as you need to thoroughly check everything necessary; including brakes, the clutch and smooth gear changes and steering on various types of roads. And utilise daylight — it’s your friend when looking closely for any bumps and scratches.

Complete background checks

Even if you trust the seller it’s always worth carrying out background checks and a responsible seller won’t hesitate to provide you with the details needed. Start with asking for the MOT test number, the car’s registration number, mileage, make and model. Then check this with the DVLA using their vehicle information checker — it’s a free online resource that’s quick to use so definitely worth doing. If anything remotely raises your suspicions then address it immediately.

Another good tool to use is the free MOT history checker on the government website. If there are any gaps then raise this with the seller. There can be explainable reasons for gaps, but if you don’t feel you receive a solid answer then it might not be wise to continue with the deal.

And if you really want to be thorough, a private history check can be done for around £20. This will let you know if the car is showing the correct mileage, whether any money is owed on the car, as well as any reports of it being stolen or having been in an accident.

Get everything on paper 

Finally, make sure to get everything properly documented. We really do mean everything, including:

  • Terms of sale
  • Full details of both parties
  • Log book (V5C registration certificate)
  • Valid MOT test document
  • Car handbook

Hopefully these tips will bring you a little piece of mind and allow you to simply enjoy the excitement of buying your next car when the time comes. However if you do still have any concerns, always remember that if you find any fault with the vehicle within the first 30 days then the Consumer Rights Act does entitle you to a full refund.

So here’s to happier used-car buying!

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