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What You Should Know When Buying a Used Car

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Posted by: EmmaH
Posted on: 28/02/2024

When buying a new car for yourself, it is often better value to opt for a used model. These represent greater choice, and they will suffer the depreciation that a new model inevitably will. However, buying a used car can fill many people with dread, as they have visions of spending their hard-earned money on something that falls to pieces before they have even got it home.

There are many pitfalls when it comes to buying a used car, which is why we have put together our top tips to ensure that you get the keys to your dream car and not a nightmare.

Choose your model

The used car market is massive, which means that the choice can sometimes be overwhelming. It is therefore important to decide what make and model you actually want before you start your search. Think about the kind of journeys you will be undertaking, how many passengers you will regularly be transporting, how much boot space you will need, the appropriate engine size and what kind of fuel efficiency you want.

Once you have taken each factor into account, it is much easier to pinpoint what car you are actually looking for and you can embark on a more targeted search.


One of the biggest areas of concern when buying a used car is the budget. You should decide how much you are willing to spend and then make sure that you stick to it. As long as you are realistic, you should find something that falls into your price range, just remember to take things like insurance, road tax and maintenance into account as well.

Before you try and buy a car, make sure you know how you are going to fund it. If you are buying in cash, then have the money ready as this will put you in a much stronger position when negotiating. If you intend to go down the route of car finance, then you need to know that you have a good credit rating and think about how much you can afford, as there will be a considerable amount of interest built into the cost of the car.

Used car sellers

The three main ways to buy a used car are from a dealer, a private seller or through an online retailer, and each one has its own pros and cons. Buying from a dealer can give you some sort of protection, as they will usually service and repair the car before they sell it, and they can also give you warranty cover for any problems you might encounter. Of course, this all comes at a price, and this means you will probably pay a little bit more for the vehicle.

Private sellers can present a greater risk as you have very little recourse if there is a problem with the car. Most are sold as seen, so you need to make sure you check the car thoroughly before you make any deals. As there are no forecourt overheads or warranties to pay for, a private sale can often be cheaper, which means there are some great deals to be had if you look carefully.

These days, it is now possible to buy your used car online. You can find the one you want and have it delivered to you. As you don’t usually get the opportunity to view or test drive the car before you buy it, there should be plenty of protection in place in case you have any issues once it arrives.

Vehicle checks

When buying a used car, never take the word of any seller without doing your own checks on the vehicle. Before you go to view any car, you can go online to find out whether there is any outstanding HPI on it, whether it has had its plates changed, what its MOT history looks like and whether it has ever been written off.

You should also do some manual checks of the vehicle to see what kind of condition it is in. Look for rust on the wings, sills, below the bumpers, under the wheel arches and behind the bonnet. If it can be seen on the brake pipes, then these will need to be replaced.

Make sure that you check for any signs of damage and try to find out how they occurred, as they could be an indication of further problems or even a car that is unsafe. Keep an eye out for areas that have been repainted, doors or windows that do not shut properly and bodywork that is not fully lined up.

Look out for any leaks, particularly after a test drive, as it will be harder to disguise them at this point. It should go without saying that smoke from the back of the car could indicate a serious problem and loose steering should also be a concern. Lean on the corners of the car to see if it bounces back up as a way of checking the suspension and be on the lookout for non-legal tyres, faulty lights and slack seatbelts as these can all indicate that the car has not been well looked after.

It is important to ask when the cam belt was last changed or when it is due to be changed as these can lead to huge bills if they break.

Extra items

It is always wise to ask what comes with the car, as this might lead to other expenses. If there is no spare key or adaptors for locking wheel nuts, then you will have another cost to factor in, and this should be reflected in how much you pay for the car. It’s also important to ask whether the car will come with car mats, as it is fairly common practice that used cars won’t come with car mats pre-supplied.

You also need to make sure that any car you buy comes with a V5C registration certificate, more commonly known as the logbook, a valid MOT certificate, the service history and the car handbook, as these are also expensive to replace.

Used cars can provide some great options so do your homework and you could be on the road sooner than you think.

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