What to look for when buying a used car

Buying a second-hand car need not be a frightening experience. With a bit of foresight and planning, there are great deals to be had when buying pre-owned. Here’s our quick guide on what to consider.

1. Insurance groups

Do your research before looking, as insurance groups can vary dramatically.

If you have in mind the make and model of car you wish to buy, it’s a good idea to get insurance quotes beforehand. You can usually save the quotes to come back to later.

This is often worth doing, especially if the insurer is offering an introductory discount. For more information take a look at our Car Insurance Groups Explained article.

2. When to look

Plan your trip to car dealerships, rainy days make for a bad experience, and poor light will make nicks and scratches difficult to spot.

Bear in mind the time of the month, often dealers will be keen to hit their sales targets by the end of the month so may be more willing to negotiate on price. And if you want the salesperson’s undivided attention, weekdays will be quieter than a busy Saturday afternoon.

3. Car History

It’s often the case, especially when a car has had a few previous owners, that the full-service history won’t be available.

You can pay around £20 for an HPI check, which will determine whether the car has been in any accidents or is registered as stolen.

This is well worth doing for peace of mind, particularly if buying through a private vendor.

4. MOT

Most garages will have given their cars a service and the MOT should be up to date.

Bear in mind that some private sellers will market their car just before the MOT is due, especially if they have concerns on the health of the car.

If you suspect there may be problems with the running of the car ask lots of questions and don’t be afraid of insisting on a test drive.

This is another opportunity where the car’s service history is worth inspecting, you may spot recurring problems.

5. V5 Document

This is the vehicle registration document and will confirm who the rightful owner of the car is.

It will also bear the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) which you can find printed on the bonnet at the base of the windscreen.

You will need to complete a section of this form once the car is purchased, to transfer the ownership.

6. Mileage

No, you can’t run a car backwards to reduce the mileage, but it is possible to tamper with the clock, so if you suspect that the mileage is too good for the age of the car, have a look back through the service history and MOT certificates.

Some cars will have low mileage, but it still pays to be prudent.

7. Tyres

Uneven wear on the tyres can be a sign of wheel misalignment, known as ‘tracking’.

You also need to check the tread, which you can do with a 20p piece. The tread should come to the inside of the border on each side of the coin.

8. Warranty

If a warranty is supplied with the car, be sure to check the limitations. Used car warranties vary, especially with regards to claim cover and limits.

If you have to pay for a warranty, do check the warranty provider is regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and that it offers a 14 day cooling-off period.

9. Price

Don’t be afraid to haggle with the seller, whether private or at a dealership. Have a look at websites such as Parkers to have an idea of price guide comparisons before you shop.

And take advantage of asking for ‘extras’ such as car mats, before you seal the deal.

10. After purchase

Should you have doubts or worries about the car, don’t forget that you can take the car back if you've bought from a trader. Under the Sale of Goods Act 1979 the car should be of a satisfactory quality, fit for its intended purpose and as described, so be aware of your consumer rights.

When buying from a private vendor, it’s a case of ‘buyer beware’, so do exercise caution before you buy.

Originally posted on 08/07/2013.

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