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Blog / Buying Guides / Car Buyer's Guide - Buying a Used Car

Written by : sshields

Published on:: 11/11/2015

Car Buyer's Guide - Buying a Used Car

Buying a car is the second most expensive thing we do. Especially in this climate car buyers are wanting to make sure they don’t make the mistake of changing for something that either won’t do what they want it for, or worse still costs more to run than their current car.

If you're thinking of buying a used car there are a number of different things you need to consider, and that's even before you start to shop around for your ideal vehicle.

Setting a Budget

Most people start with their budget. That can mean either a lump sum or a monthly payment if you’re looking to buy on finance. Around two-thirds of all car buyers now purchase their car using finance. You may have a current car you want to part exchange or sell. But what’s a fair price for that? Today there are websites where you can sell your car for cash. These sites also help you understand how much value your current car has.


Once you’ve established your budget the next step is often what features does your new car need to have and what facets does it need? Three doors or five? Which body style? Does it fit in the garage or does the pram fit in the boot? Do you need petrol or diesel?

At this point, most people have a shortlist of makes & models that will do the job. Now it’s off to the review sites & blogs to get down to the nitty-gritty! After all, you don’t want to be spending your hard earned cash only to find that it needing filling every time you pop out to the shops.

You need to do as much research as possible about the used cars you're interested in buying.

Pros & Cons

Once you've narrowed down your choices, go a bit further. Try to find out about any common pitfalls that exist with particular models. Equally, find out what car owners believe to be the best qualities of those cars. It could be that they are fuel efficient, or comfortable, or have a range of state-of-the-art safety features.

After all this, you may think that once you have found answers to all those questions and narrowed down your choices that it's all plain sailing from there.

But it's at this point you need to up your game to make sure you get the right car for you at the right price.

Follow our tips for buying a used car and you won't go far wrong...

Choices, choices

Now you have your strict budget & shortlist of cars, you need to find out what’s on the market that suits you. There are several listing sites out there and some of the dealer sites are very good as well. There are hundreds of thousands of used cars for sale every day, so the choice isn’t the issue, but finding the right car at the right price does require an investment in time.

Not every dealer advertises on every site, so if you’re not using a dealer’s website it’s worth trying two or three of the listing sites, to make sure you know everything that’s in the market.
Hopefully, you’ve now got a list of specific cars that fit your requirements, so now it’s time to get into the detail!

Can I trust the dealer?

Now you have your list it’s time to find out if the dealers you’ve chosen will give you the service & support you deserve after trusting them with your money. When people have had a good experience with a dealer, its often like finding a good plumber! They tell their friends. Recommendations from family & friends are always a good place to start. However, that option isn’t always available. So it’s good to have a through look around the dealer’s website, review sites & social media.

Often it’s not the positives you’re looking for but the negatives. Are there a lot of issues out there or how are they handling the ones you find.

All these things help you build a picture as to whether they’re a safe place to spend your money. Once you’ve found the right car at the right place then it’s time to see if it’s the right price.

Is it good value?

The beauty of the internet is that today’s car buyer has access to more information than ever before. Even if you’ve used a dealer website to find your car then it’s always a good idea to go to one of the larger listing sites to make sure it’s priced right. Whilst an ad on your computer screen won’t tell you everything, at least you know if you’re new pride & joy is priced competitively.

However, our subsequent tips are also important in making sure you're paying the right price for your used car.

How do I know it’s good quality?

Often pretty pictures on the web can make any car look great. However used cars can vary in quality. Especially as you’re spending too much money you should always make sure you go and see the car and meet the seller before committing to a purchase.
Here are a number of things to look out for that will tell you if it’s, really, value for money;

The paperwork you should check includes:

  • Service history - Ask to see the car's service history. If there's no history, find out why - it may be suspicious.
  • MOT - Check that there are regular MOT certificates for the vehicle, if it's over three years old, and verify the recorded mileage each time.
  • V5C registration - This document details the registered keepers of the car. If it’s had a lot of owners in a short period try to find out why.

You then need to look at the condition of the car itself. If you don't fancy yourself as a motoring expert, bring someone along who knows their cars and can take a look under the bonnet too. At the very least, check:

  • Mileage -This should be consistent with what was advertised, as well as all documentation.
  • Bodywork - Check the paint is consistent across the whole car. If not, it may indicate previous damage that has been covered by a re-spray. 
  • Tyres - Take a look at the wear of the tyres and make sure it is even across all four. Otherwise, this could point to a suspension problem putting pressure on certain tyres. Also, check the tread is within the legal limit by using a tread gauge.

Take your time & have a good look through the car & ask the dealer what checks they do to ensure that their cars are good quality. Any dealer who is confident in their cars should be able to cover this openly & honestly.

Test drive

Taking the car for a test drive is absolutely essential.  There are a number of things to consider here, so keep an eye on:

  • Handling
  • Acceleration and braking
  • Comfort
  • Safety
  • Security
  • Space
  • Accessories and equipment

Finally it’s down to the figures. Sitting down with your chosen dealer & finalising your deal. You know it’s a good car, it’ll suit your needs, you’ve found a good dealer and the price is right. It’s a long journey but time invested will ensure you do it right.

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