The Best Way To Buy a Used Car

The Best Way To Buy a Used Car

Buying a used car is a great way to save money. Do your homework, and you might just trade up to one that would have been financially out of reach if new. Best of all, in most cases, you’ll be behind the wheel as soon as the deal is done.   

But there are also risks to manage. Not every seller is 100% honest, and others might not know a car’s entire history. You don’t want to be stuck with something that will need expensive repairs. 

In this blog post, we’ll show what to watch out for and the questions you must ask when considering a used car purchase. Keep reading to know what to do when buying a used car and to find an expert-approved used car checklist. 

Buying from a user car dealer 

If you're buying from a used car dealer, it's crucial to find out if the company is well-established and has a good reputation locally. As well as the actual car you're interested in, is it a car known for its reliability? 

If you're on the lot, look for a sign indicating the dealer is part of a trade association like the Retail Motor Industry Federation (RMIF) or Scottish Motor Trade Association (SMTA).

You might also look for a framed certificate or signage committing to the Motor Ombudsman's code of practice. In both cases, you can make a complaint through the trade association if you're not happy with the purchase. 

Buying from an auction 

Because they move around, auctions can be the least safe way to buy a used car.  

While most auctioneers are squeaky clean, if you decide to cancel the sale, seek a refund, or return the vehicle, you probably won't have the legal protections a dealer could provide or the option to seek redress through an industry body's complaints procedure. 

At a minimum, read the small print. Consider the auction house's terms and conditions carefully before bidding. 

Related Reading: Check out our list of top cars in 2023

What to do when buying a used car 

We’re here to help if you’re curious about what to check when buying a used car from a private seller. Follow these three steps when looking to buy a used car to ensure you get the best deal and a safe vehicle.  

1. Research the car’s history 

Going through a few simple checks will minimise the chances of buying a car that’s undergone major repairs or is being sold illegally. You should also find out if the current owner has an outstanding lien or still owes money on the car. 

Here’s how you do it:  

Check the car’s history with the DVLA 

Use the DVLA’s free online vehicle information search to check that what the seller has told you matches the DVLA’s records. Ask for the car’s registration number, MOT test number,  mileage, and confirm the make and model.  

If minor details don’t match up, ask the seller for clarification, as it may be an error. But if you discover something that makes you suspicious of the whole transaction, trust your instincts and walk away from the deal.  

Check the car’s MOT and inspection history 

Every car has to undergo a regular MOT test to ensure it's road-safe. So, check the MOT history of a car on GOV.UK 

When looking at a used car, check that MOT inspections have regularly occurred throughout the car's lifespan. For example, an MOT test must be conducted every year if a vehicle is over three years old. 

If there are any gaps, ask the seller what happened. If you aren't happy with the answer, walk away from the deal. 

Invest in a private history check 

As a final step, it's worth paying the £20 fee for a private history check or data check on the car. This can uncover valuable information about any serious problems the car might have.  

For example, you'll find out if the seller still owes money on the car, if it has been reported stolen, if it's been written off and repaired, and if the mileage reading on the odometer is correct. 

Car history checks are available online with a quick Google search. 

2. Take a test drive and do an inspection 

Always schedule your first viewing so you can see the car in daylight and not after a rainstorm. It's harder to see any scratches or other damage to a car's exterior if wet.  

If buying from a private seller, try to meet at the seller's house so you have an accurate record of their address. 

When that is done, always take a used car for a test drive before buying. Listen for rattles and squeaks, and be aware of any steering resistance. Let the car 'glide' occasionally to see if it veers to the left or right. 

To do a test drive, you must be sure you have the correct insurance cover. Check with your insurance provider if your policy covers you before getting in the driver’s seat. 

3. Still not sure? Get an independent report 

If, after all that, you're still not convinced, the best thing to do is probably walk away and look elsewhere. 

However, if the car feels like it might be the one, you can wipe away your lingering doubts by having an independent report on the vehicle. For between £100 and £200, you'll gain an even more detailed look at the car's history and condition. 

To find a company that does independent reports, contact the UK's Motor Ombudsman for the nearest provider in your area. 

Complete buying a used car checklist 

A checklist always makes life easier, especially when buying a used car. Save time and stress trying to remember things off the top of your head.  

Bookmark this page and the buying a used car checklist now! 

Checklist for buying a used car 

  • Engine — Look for oil levels, leaks, exhaust smoke, and head gasket condition. 
  • Bodywork — Check the outside and underneath.  
  • Interior — Check the boot, electronics, and dash (for warning lights and mileage). 
  • Gearbox and clutch — Test the clutch biting point and feel for the smoothness of gear changes. 
  • Wheels and tyres — Inspect the rubber condition, tread depth, and tyre marks. 
  • Safety features — Does the car come with working seatbelts? Are the airbags fitted? Do the lights and windscreen wipers work? Is there a spare tyre? 
  • Brakes — Check whether braking is even or requires much effort to stop. Also, check the handbrake.  
  • General controls — Inspect whether the locks, windows, and minor controls (e.g., heating/air con) work. You should also ensure you have all copies of the keys via the handbook. 
  • Documents — Ensure you see the MoT, service history, and V5c. 

Other things to consider when buying a used car 

Want to ensure you make the best decision? Here are some additional things to consider before buying a used car: 

  • Common MOT failures of the make and model you’re buying 
  • Mileage discrepancies 
  • How long you want the car to last (i.e., for 10 years, a new car might be better) 
  • Whether the wear and tear is about right for the age of the car 
  • What payment methods the seller accepts 

Buying a used car - Final thoughts 

Knowing what to do when buying a used car can be overwhelming. Hopefully, our guide has helped you make sense of the process. Remember to be thorough and question everything — the more knowledge you have, the better! 

Jump to the Bumper blog to learn more. 

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