Top Tips For Buying A Second-Hand Car

A man driving his second-hand car on the motorway

If you aren’t knowledgeable about cars, buying a second-hand car can be a particularly stressful experience. This handy guide covers all the most important points about purchasing a used vehicle including:

  • Whether to use a dealer or buy privately
  • The best time to purchase a used car
  • Guide-lines to buying a second-hand car
  • Checklist when viewing the vehicle
  • Haggling over the price and avoiding costly add-ons

With a brand-new car costing an average of £28,500, there are many bargains if you decide to buy a used vehicle. However, some people worry about being taken advantage of, especially if they don’t know much about cars.

In this article, we give you some advice about purchasing a second-hand car. We consider where to find one, the best time of the year to pick up a bargain and some things to watch out for.

Finding a used car – Through a dealer or privately?

Despite their bad reputation, used car dealers are one of the most popular ways of buying a second-hand car. Commercial dealers offer you much better protection if you wish to return the vehicle. A cooling-off period of 14-30 days allows you to change your mind, and be entitled to a refund. Another benefit of going to a dealer is that vehicles are given a complete overhaul before being sold. Many will also offer you a warranty for repairs including spare parts.

If you decide to purchase directly from the owner, make sure to carry out a check of the vehicle’s history.

Another way to buy a car is to check the personal ads and to buy privately. This can be much cheaper than going through a dealer. However, you can only return the vehicle if it isn’t ‘fit for purpose’ so it can be a riskier option. If you decide to purchase directly from the owner, make sure you view the car at their own home, and carry out a check of the vehicle’s history. The motoring organisation RAC estimates that 1 in 4 cars have hidden histories. Although a HPI check costs around £20, it will tell you if a car has been stolen, written off or has outstanding finance on it. This can give you greater peace of mind when buying. Alternatively, you could check independently through the DVLA.

When’s the best time to purchase a used car?

The worst time to look around for a used car is at the weekends or in the weeks following payday. Often dealerships are so crowded that you won’t have the salesman’s undivided attention.

A car lot with second-hand cars

The best time is just before and after the new number plates come in around August and February. At this time of the year, dealerships are getting rid of their old stock, and therefore are more willing to barter over the price. Another good time to purchase a car is at the end of each sales quarter. Car salesmen work on commission so they might be willing to drop the price more in order to reach their sales target.

Guide-lines to buying a second-hand car

Now that you have an idea about where and when to buy a used car, let’s take a look at other pit-falls you should be wary of.

Do your research beforehand

Before you even set foot in a used car dealership or check ads, you should have done your research. First of all, you should think about what make and model you’re interested in. This depends on your life-style, and what you want the car for. There are many websites online which can give you guidelines on the average prices for different makes. Note down the maximum you want to pay, and stick to it.

The insurance category of a car determines its long-term cost

Apart from its purchase price, you should also think about the running costs of the car such as its petrol consumption and maintenance. Cars are also put in categories for insurance cover. Knowing what category the make/model is in before buying can reduce your motor insurance by a tidy sum. All of this information is available online.

Check-list when viewing a second-hand vehicle

Motoring organisations also have free checklists for you to consult when you want to buy a used car. These lists cover everything from the condition of the paintwork to the tyres. If you don’t feel confident, ask a mechanically-minded relative or friend to come along with you. Don’t feel pressurised into buying the first vehicle you like the look of. If you have any doubts, then walk away.

Consider ex-fleet vehicles

Although they have a bad reputation, fleet or lease cars are often replaced after a year, and have a very low mileage. By law, dealers now have to notify buyers if the used car was a fleet or lease vehicle. If you’re interested, take particular note of the car’s mileage, condition and service history.

A busy motorway in the UK at rush hour

Taking a test drive

There’s no way of deciding whether a car is the right one for you unless you take it for a test drive. Before doing so, make sure that you’re covered by your motor insurance policy. Ideally, you should drive on different terrains such as in the town or in the open to get an idea of how it handles. This is something only you can judge.

Haggling over the price

There’s nothing wrong about bartering over the price of a second-hand car even though it makes many Britons feel uncomfortable. However, there are two things to remember. If you buy at certain times of the year, vehicles have already been discounted so the price might have already gone as low as it can get. Of course you want to pick up a bargain, but you must be realistic.

The other thing to bear in mind is that bartering doesn’t mean being discourteous and overbearing. A salesman is more likely to offer a little something extra if you’ve built up a rapport, and you know what you’re talking about.

Avoid costly add-ons

Car salesmen also get commission on add-ons like paint protection. Don’t be talked into taking out extras unless you really need them. For example, do you really need GAP insurance for a used car? If you do, it might be significantly cheaper to take out a policy with your own insurer independently.

Conclusions about buying a second-hand car

Knowing the best place and time to buy a second-hand car can help you find a bargain. The key to success is to do your homework beforehand. Not only will this save you money on the car’s purchase price but it’ll save you money on its running costs too and hopefully help you avoid having to take out car finance.