Buying a used car

By Joe Marczynski
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Everything you need to know about buying a secondhand car, including where to look, the best time to buy, how to save...

For many people, a car very quickly becomes a life essential. Whether it’s for the daily commute, the weekly food shop or the monthly visit to your parents, a car can make life easier and travelling more comfortable.

When it comes to buying a car, however, opting for a brand-new model fresh from the showroom makes little sense. Not only do cars depreciate in value at an astounding rate, there is really little need for a new car if you know how to look properly for a used one.

Following our guide on how to buy a used car will point you in the right direction.

Where to look

When it comes to finding a used car, don’t limit yourself to only the place that you live. It could be that the perfect car for you is 30 miles away from your hometown, but you won’t know that unless you have broad search parameters.

Be sensible, of course; if you live in Penzance, setting your heart on a car in Glasgow isn’t the best idea. But do bear in mind that some car garages will move cars between garages, sometimes for a fee and sometimes for a refundable deposit.

Your options are:

Dealers: independent garages and franchises

Every town has at least a handful of car garages, and cities have dozens. With a flagship Ford garage, for example, while it will stock predominantly new Ford cars, you may well find it also stocks used models, and often models from a different manufacturer entirely. This is an example of a franchise dealership. You’ve also got car supermarkets and independent used car dealers to choose from. ?

Private sellers

Not everyone sells on their car with the help of a dealership. Opting to sell privately means cutting out the middle man (or woman), and these savings are then passed on to you, the buyer. However, buying privately comes with some risks, as you will likely not have a warranty or access to a finance plan.

Ensuring the car is safe to drive and the sale is legal is crucial, so you’ll really need to do your research and trust your gut instinct. If something doesn’t feel quite right about a private sale, walk away. There are plenty more cars out there!

Auctions: online and traditional

You can snap up a bargain at a live car auction, as you can with an online auction. However, research is key, because once you commit you can’t back out.

For traditional auctions, British Car Auctions is a good place to start, while eBay Motors is a popular place for online car bidding.

Autotrader is a great place to browse and get an idea of what is out there, but don’t underestimate the value of actually visiting a few garages and seeing the cars in person. Take the car for a test drive too, as the feel of the car is just as important as the look, if not even more so. You can only tell so much from a handful of photos.

When to buy

The best time to buy a second-hand car is pretty similar to the best time to buy a new car.

Whether you’re buying from a dealership, auction or private seller, shopping out of season is wise. Haggling for a convertible on a frosty winter morning is likely to yield better results than a balmy summer’s one. Same goes for four-wheel-drives, whose popularity increases at the weather worsens and the roads become icy.

If you’re buying from a dealership, be aware that both franchises and independent garages have sales targets. This applies to both the dealership as a whole and the salespeople who work there. While this isn’t always the case, usually yearly quarters are when targets have to be hit by. So that’s the end of March, July, September and December. At this time, stock needs to be shifted in order to hit targets and potentially get sales bonuses. You might be in line for a further discount, and even more attractive finance packages or extras.

Do your visits and test drives during the week, if you can. Dealerships are at their busiest at the weekends, which means less attention for you, and likely less room to haggle on price. If you’ve got your eye on a particular brand of car, be aware of any new models being released in the coming months. This could mean the seller is keener to sell than usual, putting you in a stronger position.

If you’re buying privately, most of these rules don’t apply. After all, private sellers don’t have sales targets or bosses breathing down their necks.

However, it is wise to be aware of what the same spec of car has sold for elsewhere recently. This may give you some leverage to bring the seller down if you find they are charging over the odds.

How to save for a car

If you need to save for a car, check out our dedicated guide to doing so here. 

Savings aside, if you already own a vehicle, you may be able to use this against the price of your new one.

Part exchange means that you exchange your car for money off the new one. However, dealers aren’t doing this out of the kindness of their hearts; they will later sell your car again at a marked-up price, so they make a profit. Consider carefully if part exchange is going to get you the best deal. It could be that selling it privately will yield you more money.

Save buying used, not new

There are savings to be made in the thousands by buying used, not new, and that really isn’t an exaggeration.

New cars depreciate in value the second an owner drives away from the dealership, and in just three years the car can have lost nearly 50% of its value.

While this is bad news for new car owners, it can be turned into good news for you. It means that you can buy a used car at a far more affordable rate. If your used car has been well-looked after, it could still come to you looking brand new, both internally and externally. Look out also for low mileage, and while older cars might be cheaper, consider newer models too. While these might be more expensive, they will come with more up-to-date technology. This in turn could mean your car runs smoother or is more fuel efficient, for example. ?

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