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Used car advice

In this section we'll tell you all you need to know about buying your next used car. Here you'll find advice from how to find the right car right down to negotiating on price and finally doing the deal.

What is a used car?

A used car (also known as a second hand car) is simply a vehicle that is owned or has been previously owned by someone else. That someone else could be in the form of a person or company. Itís a car thatís been registered to someone after it was first manufactured.

The car buying process

There are quite a few steps involved when you buy a used car and the most common order of these steps can be seen below:

1. Identify why you want or need a car
2. Determine what you can afford
3. Identify and research your choices
4. Know the valuation of the car you want
5. Search and identify suitable cars
6. Arrange to view a car
7. Perform a physical check on the car
8. Test drive the car
9. Check the vehicle documentation and history of the car
10. Negotiate a price for the car
11. Buy the car

Deciding on the type of car youíre looking for +

After buying your house, buying a car is probably one of the most expensive single purchases youíre ever going to make. Therefore you need to plan exactly what youíre going to be using the car for. For example, how many passengers you need to carry and where youíre going to drive it. So, thereís no point looking at normal hatchbacks if theyíre not going to be big enough for your family. Once youíve decided on the type of car then you need to narrow your search down to a specific model. There are some great guides on websites such as, and Once youíve done your research then you can find a vast array of used cars on the website. Doing this will give you a good idea of the kind of prices that youíre going to have to pay. Generally car dealers do charge a little bit more than a private seller but you do get some legal protection if things go wrong. However, if you do your background checks correctly then there are some real bargains to be had.
References: How to know what car is right for you | Advice on finding the right car | Car body styles explained

Deciding when and where you should buy a used car +

The time of the year can massively affect the price you pay for a car. Therefore you should keep an eye on the calendar to take advantage of seasonal factors. For example, the cost of a convertible in the middle of winter will be significantly lower than at the start of summer. If you think cleverly about when you make your purchase then you could find yourself with an absolute bargain, so:

  • You should avoid buying convertibles in the spring or summer. Instead, wait until the winter months when the demand for these types of car are much lower.
  • The peak months for car sales in the UK are March and September. Therefore, around this time dealers will have lots of used cars to sell. Surplus stock means that you are a much stronger position when it comes time to negotiate.
  • The slowest months for car sales in the UK are December and January. No oneís really thinking about buying a car just before or just after Christmas so car sellers are keen to make a deal at lower than usual prices.
  • When the summer hits itís the best time to look for 4x4 cars. When the weather turns wintery then demand for these types of cars increase and so does the price.

There are a few different places that you can get your hands on a used car and each one have their own pros and cons.
References: How to choose a good car dealer | Buying from an independent car dealer | Buying a used car from a car supermarket | Knowing your legal rights when buying a cars

How to set your budget +

One of the most common mistakes car buyers make is that they try and buy the most expensive car that they can afford and they do this purely based on the cost of buying the car. However, itís vitally important to factor in costs such as insurance, servicing and fuel costs as these can add up to quite a sum.

Running costs
Once you have decided on the car you want, figuring out exactly how much you can afford might seem a little complicated. Your monthly payments might be affordable but you also have to factor in other costs such as insurance, servicing, TAX and other unpredictable costs such as a replacement water pump. So, before you decide to shop around for a car you might want to take a look at some of these costs so that youíre not taken off guard.
References: Setting your budget | Gap insurance explained

Finding the car that's right for you +

Thereís just no questioning the fact that there are cars out there on the used car market that have proven themselves to be problematic over the years. Itís just not worth taking the risk so you should try and shortlist cars that have only a positive reliability record. There are a plethora of excellent car review websites (eg,, and out there on the web which will allow you to collect loads of information concerning reliability and common issues. Without doing this homework, you will be unprepared when it comes to inspecting a car you really like the look of.

Find out the true value of the car +

Knowing the true value of a car that youíre looking to buy not only really increases the chance of you finding a real bargain but it also reduces the chances of you being ripped off. Our free online car valuation service provides you with all the information and data you need to find the right value for the used car of your choice.
References: How much does mileage affect a carís value

Contacting the seller +

If you think youíve found the car thatís right for you and fits nicely within your budget then you need to contact the seller. You can do this in a variety of different ways with the most common ones being by phone or email. Some dealers even offer a live chat service so you can chat to them online. Whatever way you contact the seller, one of the first things you need to ask is if the car is still for sale and whether you can arrange to come and see it.

What to look for +

When you see the car youíll obviously want to make sure itís the very same car that was being advertised. Have a good look around the car and look out for any dents or scratches on the bodywork. You need to check that the carís condition matches how it was described in the advert. For example, make sure that the tyres have got plenty of tread left on them. Itís also worth checking under the sills for any signs of rust or a hasty or botched repair job. Itís also a good idea to check the fluid levels. If theyíre not topped up correctly then itís another sign that the car has been mistreated. You should also check the carís mileage. A good way of doing this is to take a look at the carís latest MOT certificate. This will show you the mileage that was recorded on the carís last MOT test and you can vouch this back to what it currently says on the odometer to make sure it all adds up. Itís worth checking if the car has been properly maintained and you can do this by checking the carís service history. Just because it says full service history (FSH) on the advert doesnít mean itís necessarily true. Itís worth finding out when the next service is due and what it involves. If itís a major service such as a cambelt change then you could be facing a large bill soon.
References: What to check | Inspecting a used car | Inspecting the interior of a car

Taking the car out for a test drive +

The last thing you want to do is drive a car without any adequate insurance so you need to make sure youíre insured to test drive the car youíre interested in. Once youíre in the car familiarise yourself with it and then test it out fully. This means pressing all of the various buttons and making sure everything works as it should. When youíre driving the car watch out for slipping clutches, a rough sounding gearbox and any knocking or clunking sound from the suspension. Also, check that the car doesnít pull to one side on a straight piece of road. Everything should feel right.
References: How to test drive your next car

Checking the documentation +

Once youíve found a car you like then you need to check the documents. The most important one is the registration certificate which is also known as the V5C or log book. This document is not proof of ownership but instead shows who is responsible for registering and taxing the vehicle. Therefore, you really donít want to buy a car without this document at hand. Thereís a couple of things you need to check in this document. The first is that the chassis number shown in the document matches up to the one on the car. You also want to check that other specification listed, such as the colour and engine size, also match up with the car being sold. What you should also do is check that the address listed in the V5C is the same address where you are viewing the car being sold. You should also take a look at the MOT certificate and see whether there are any advisory items on it as these will cause the car to fail next time. You could then use this to negotiate on the price.

Check the history
Thereís no way you would buy your next house without having it surveyed even if you trusted the seller implicitly. Therefore, thereís no reason why you shouldnít exercise the same caution when looking to buy a used car. If youíre buying from a dealership then thereís a good chance that they have carried out a history check on the car already for their own peace of mind. Itís important to know that the car is not; recorded as stolen, an insurance write off or has outstanding finance. So, if there is no history report present the you should get a check done.
References: Car history check

Negotiating on price +

Once youíve taken a good look at the car both inside and out and youíre satisfied with how it drives then itís time to start negotiating on the price. The majority of sellers are happy to negotiate on price but others, most notably car supermarkets, are less inclined to do so. You must be firm but fair when it comes to haggling and always have your budget in mind. If the deal doesnít work for you then be strong enough to walk away. Once you agree on a price then make sure you get a signed and dated receipt.
References: Negotiating with a dealer | Top 10 questions to ask a car dealer | Tricks of the trade

How to pay +

You might quite like the idea of a nice new car sitting on your driveway but coming up with the necessary cash can be a problem Ė or maybe not? This is because there are several way that you can pay for your next car and each one is designed specifically for private car buyers.
References The best way to buy a new car

Parting with your old car

A big part of buying your next car is selling the one you have. Typically, the easiest option is trading your old car in at a dealership. However, you may get thousands of pounds more for your car if you sell it privately. This is because the dealership needs to make money from your car and will therefore not offer you what itís really worth. What this means it that you may lose out on a lot of extra cash. Cash that can be used to help pay for your next car.
References Top 10 tips when selling your old car

Latest used car reviews

Owner's reviews are a fantastic first-hand source of info for used car buyers. They help to provide a great deal of owner knowledge of just how a car performs on a day to day basis. Here's the latest used car reviews.......

2011 BMW 3 Series - BMW 320d efficient dynamics model

Lovely car to drive, great for cruising up and down the motorway, very fuel-efficient, reliability has been pretty good, plenty of space and a nice size boot, servicing costs are pretty reasonable to, The colour black seems to suit BMW3 series models really well, The parking distance system is really helpful when trying to park in tight spaces - 5 out of 5

Reviewed by: Mick on 20/09/2021