Used car buying guide

Car buyers guides

What to look out for when buying a used car

While choosing to purchase a used car over a new car can save you a significant amount of money, there are some risks involved. To help you make sure you are purchasing the right vehicle at the best price, use our used car buying guide below.

VW Boro parked in a domestic garage for sale.

Your Purchasing Options

You have three options when it comes to where you make your purchase.

  • A dealer/ driveway trader/ independent garage: Typically, these cars have been thoroughly inspected and may come with a warranty. This may be the costliest option, but also the one that provides the most safety.
  • A private seller: A private seller is selling a vehicle they currently own, as they are almost always ‘sold as seen.’ Once your purchase is finalised, you may have very little legal recourse if something goes wrong.
  • An auction: Auctions can result in a great deal, but there is a lot of potential for something to go wrong. Auctions are most often recommended for experienced dealers.

Once you’ve found a used car that you are interested in, it’s time to take an in-depth look at the vehicle, starting with a document check.

Document Checks

You’ll want to be sure that the car you are considering is safe and not stolen. To do this, you will need its:

  • Make and model
  • Registration number (also referred to as a logbook or V5C)
  • MOT test number
  • VIN (vehicle identification number)

Start by making sure the make and model of the car matches what is on the V5C, the VIN, and the number plate. If you are buying from a private owner, be sure you are negotiating with the registered keeper and the listed address is where you are purchasing the car from. Once this is complete, visit the DVLA website to obtain vehicle information. Here, you will find a variety of information, including:

  • The initial date of registration and the listed owner
  • Last V5C issue date
  • Vehicle tax and when it expires
  • Engine size and fuel type
  • Emissions
  • When its MOT expires
  • SORN (statutory off-road notification) status

Take the time to get an HPI check and salvage history check. This will tell you if the vehicle has been reported stolen, is of interest to the police, or has been previously salvaged.

Finally, check for any recalls related to the vehicle, an accessory, or part.

Taking a Test Drive

A test drive is an important part of the purchase. Things to consider include:

  • Does it start easily?
  • Check the transmission by making sure all gears change smoothly.
  • Check the clutch to check for slipping.
  • Pay attention to the steering, mainly if it is smooth or if there are any strange noises.
  • Check the suspension by listening for clunks when driving over bumps.
  • Test the brakes to be sure it stops cleanly and in a straight line.
  • Watch the temperature gauge to be sure the car doesn’t overheat.
  • Make sure all warning lights operate usually.

Even if the car drives well and you are thrilled with the results, it is a good idea to take it to a mechanic for a full inspection. This will include everything from assessing fluid levels to checking the tread on the tyres and will determine the car’s overall condition.

Deciding on a Price

Always do your research when it comes to price. There are plenty of online tools, such as Auto Trader, that will provide an accurate valuation on the car. Knowing the car’s worth will help prevent you from overpaying. If you are not 100% satisfied with the price, take the time to haggle. You may end up with an even better deal.

Purchasing a used car is not a fast process. You’ll need to do your research to ensure you end up with the best vehicle at the best price.

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