Your quick guide to buying a used car

Ten ways to make sure you get the car you want

5 minutes

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Whether you're buying from a dealer or a private seller, make sure you get the car you want at a price that suits. Follow our ten-point guide to buying a used car.

  • Do your research... Is the car you want to buy fit for purpose? What are the pros and cons?
  • Always check the car's service history, and question the seller if there are any gaps
  • Check the car from top to bottom when viewing – it may have a hidden (undesirable) past

Whether you're buying from a dealer or a private seller, make sure you get the car you want at a price that suits

1. Stick to your budget

Try not to get carried away buying a top of the range BMW when what you can afford is a VW Polo.

Go with a clear budget in mind and remember to factor in all costs. You will need car insurance, car tax and, if it's three years or older, to put it through an MOT.

Plus if you're not buying the car with cash, can you afford the loan or finance deal you've been offered?


2. Head not heart

It may be boring, but that convertible mini just isn't going to cut it as a family car. For a start, the double buggy is bigger than the boot.

Make sure the seller answers all your questions - think about what you need the car for.

Start with checking the paperwork and ownership documents and take it from there. Remember, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.


3. Do some background reading

There are plenty of resources online that can tell you how much you should be paying for a car with a similar mileage and service history.

If you know what type of car you want, find out if it has any known defects or problems before you commit to buy.

And if you're not sure exactly what car you're looking for, take a look at the Which? Best Buy Car list for inspiration.


4. Service history

A car with a few miles on the clock will have had some work done on it at some point. Plus, there should be a record of regular servicing and bills for replacement tyres etc.

Most owners tend to keep this type of paperwork as evidence that they have looked after the car.

Read through the paperwork carefully. It might tell you if the car has gone back to the garage for the same fault again and again or if the car has been serviced as often as the handbook recommends.

If the car you're looking at has no service history, try to find out why.


5. What's the MOT status?

Every car needs to get an MOT test by the third anniversary after its registration.Check that the car you're looking at has an MOT if it needs one and find out when it's due again.

This is easy to do online. All you need is the vehicle's make and registration number.


6. Outstanding finance

Ask the seller or dealer if there is any outstanding finance on the car. If the person selling the car hasn't paid off their finance deal before they sell, the finance company could recover the car, even after you have bought it.

Some organisations will run a car data check for you for a fee or you can get useful vehicle information from the DVLA.


7. Choose the right time of year

You may be able to get more of a bargain if you choose the right time of year to buy your used car.

For example, convertibles tend to be cheaper in the winter whilst four-wheel drives are cheaper in the summer.

March and September are peak times for new car sales, so there's generally an influx of used cars at this time as owners part-exchange for a new model. This not only broadens the choice but also puts you in a good negotiating position as dealers try to shift stock.


8. Check it over

It's obvious, but it needs to be said. Take your time looking over the vehicle and ask the owner about anything untoward.

Try to choose a clear, dry day to go viewing. You're more likely to rush if it's raining.

Particularly look out for any traces of a cut and shut paint job. Mismatched panels and paint on glass or handles could be clues to a re-spray.


9. Test drive

It's really important to take the car out for a spin so you can get a feel for it. If you can, take a passenger too. Not only might this be safer for you, but they can give you their feedback.

Check that the car starts easily, the brakes work and there's no strange smells from the exhaust.

Bear in mind what you'll be using the car for. Does it need to have a massive boot for family camping or an economical engine for daily commuting?


10. Insurance

Make sure you're insured on your own insurance or the dealer's insurance when you go out for a test drive.

And if you decide to buy, put your insurance cover in place before you pick up the car. At LV= we can arrange your car insurance over the phone with just a few details.

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