7 tips on buying a used car

What to look out for when buying a used car

Buying a used car isn’t always a straightforward process, especially if you’re unsure of what you want. There are many things to consider from reliability to fuel economy and, whether you like to admit it or not, style. If that wasn’t enough, you also have to think about the vehicle’s history and how to finance the purchase.

To make your decision a little easier, we’ve put together some tips on what to consider and what to check when buying a used car.

1 - Think about what you need

Before you get carried away dreaming of a 3.0 litre convertible or a 4x4, think about what it is you need from your car. If you’re looking to start a family, an MX-5 may not be the most sensible option, so ask yourself a few questions. Our second hand car checklist is as follows:

Practical requirements – Whether it’s lower running costs or space for the family and a couple of bikes, think about what it is you need from a practical perspective.

Driving requirements – Are you going to be doing most of your driving around town or on motorways? The engine size and fuel type you choose needs to reflect where you’ll be doing most of your travelling.

Environmental considerations – Cars that are more eco-friendly often have lower running costs. Do you want to do your bit for the environment with an electric vehicle or a fuel car that has low emissions?

Reliability – Some cars are great to look at but don’t have the best reputation for reliability. Others that are simply older may be cheaper upfront but cost more in repairs in the long term. Take a look at reviews before you buy to see what other drivers say about the vehicles you have in mind.

2 - Add up all costs

Budgeting for a car shouldn’t only be about the cost of the purchase. One of our best tips on buying a used car is to add up all the running costs as well as the upfront ones. Factor in the initial deposit, with or without a part exchange, as well as what you can afford monthly. In addition, you’ll need to work out the cost of:

Fuel– You can compare manufacturer listed MPG figures with those that current drivers are reporting to give you an accurate gauge of what fuel costs will be. Bear in mind that if you’re choosing a diesel car the cost of filling up will typically be higher than if you go for petrol.

Tax – Tax for used cars is based on their CO2 emissions. It can range from £0 per year to over £1,000 per year. Remember that the way cars are taxed changed for models registered from April 2017, so ensure you pick the correct scale on which to measure your costs.

Maintenance – If the used car you want is over three years old it will need to have an MOT every year. It will also need an annual service to keep the manufacturer’s warranty valid.

Insurance– Insurance is one of the most expensive costs associated with owning a car. Take a look at which insurance group your shortlisted cars fall into in order to budget accurately.

3 - Find a reputable dealer

Buying a used car from a dealer may not be the cheapest way to purchase, but it has lots of advantages. A reputable dealer can take you through the available paperwork to verify that the car has been looked after. Many good dealers also offer certified pre-owned cars, which have undergone an inspection and HPI check to verify that they are fully roadworthy and any potential issues have been rectified.

Purchasing from a dealer also means that it’s possible to finance your vehicle in an affordable way. While buying privately may mean taking out a loan, dealers offer options to enable drivers to choose the size of their deposit, part exchange their current vehicle or build in maintenance costs to their finance plan.

4 - Interior and exterior checks

You’ve narrowed down the list of used vehicles you want to look at. Now there’s some car comparison work to do. When you go to the dealer, it’s important to check the model over to ensure there’s nothing that sends up a red flag. Here’s what we recommend you check:

Mileage – Most cars will cover 10,000-12,000 miles a year, so check the odometer to see if it tallies with the age of the car. If it’s much higher, ask to see the last service record or ask why it’s higher than expected. If you’re buying from a dealer, you can often see the mileage of a used car on the listing, so double check it matches what the listing says.

Bodywork – Check the car’s bodywork to ensure there are no scratches or dents on it. There should not be any rust around the wheel arches either.

Interior – Likewise, the car’s interior should be free from stains, rips or scuffs. Take a look at the front and back seats as well as the boot to ensure the price of the car reflects its condition.

Electrics – Test the headlights, brake and indicator lights and the radio to ensure all are working as expected. It’s worth checking the windows too if they are electrically operated.

5 - Go for a test drive

There’s a good reason why most dealers and advisory services recommend you test drive a vehicle. Test driving not only helps you to decide whether you enjoy driving a car, it also enables you to spot any potential issues.

Try to get out onto a variety of roads – often a dealership employee will know the area and can take you on a route that covers different speeds. This will give you a good idea of the car’s capabilities in terms of acceleration, braking and manoeuvring.

Be aware of the brake and clutch functions, and any lightness in the steering. The brake pedal should not vibrate and there should be no squealing sounds or swerving motion when you brake. Similarly, there should be no grinding or squeaking from the clutch or gearbox, and no burning smell.

Signs that steering problems may be afoot include wandering, vibrations through the steering wheel and fluid leaks.

6 - Paperwork and spares

Before you sign on the dotted line, check you have the right documents that relate to the car. As we’ve mentioned, a dealer will be able to take you through the V5C logbook and service booklet or records. You’ll be able to see if the car has encountered any issues before and check when the next service and MOT are due.

It’s important that the sales contracted is dated and has the correct price that you are paying on it plus any deposit or part exchange value marked as paid. You’ll also want to ensure that you understand the financial agreement and look over the fine print before you sign.

Lastly, ensure the manual is in the glovebox, the spare tyre (if you are expecting one) is where it should be and you collect a spare set of keys.

7 - Insurance and tax

Often you won’t simply hand over a payment and drive the car off the straight forecourt – the dealer will hang onto it for a few days to check everything is in order and, if necessary, valet the car.

This time gives you the chance to insure the vehicle, which you will need to do before you pick it up. As soon as you become the legal owner, you are responsible for what happens to your car. That means that if you have an accident on the way home from the dealership and you’re not insured, you’ll face the consequences.

Previously, tax was transferable between owners but this is no longer the case. As with insurance, you will need to tax the car once you’ve bought it. Check how much you’ll need to pay at gov.uk, and bear in mind that used car registered before 2017 have lower tax rates than those registered in 2017 or later.

Quality used cars for sale

Carwise Group has a wide range of quality used and certified pre-owned vehicles for sale. Our dealerships in Maidstone, Dunstable and Harlow offer an array of brands and models to suit varying needs, so whether you are looking for a practical family MPV or a nippy hatchback for urban living, you’re sure to find the ideal car.

Contact us today to arrange a test drive or for further details on the vehicles we have in stock.