Buying a Used Car

Thinking about buying a used car? Read our guide for a few pointers.

Published: 5th June 2020

Buying a used car can save a great deal of money compared to buying new. If you’re buying any car there are a number of things to consider but with a used car you arguably need to be extra cautious.

Firstly, where will you buy the car from – a main dealer or garage, a private seller or an auction? This article will focus on cars bought from garages/dealers but keep an eye out for articles discussing the other options.

Buying a car from a VAT registered garage can give you more protection, especially if you’re not sure what to look for when deciding if a car is worth buying. Anything sold by a garage must adhere to the Consumer rights Act which says that you may be entitled to a repair, replacement or refund if the vehicle is deemed not “fit for purpose” or “of satisfactory quality”. The right to reject a faulty car and get a refund for a faulty car is usually limited to 30 days.

1. Decide how you’ll be using the car and what you need it for

Do you need a family car, something small cheap and cheap-to-run, or are you looking for something a bit sportier?

Will you need to mainly do long journeys or short trips round town? Planning to tow a caravan or trailer? And how economical and/or environmentally friendly does it need to be?

These factors will also help you to decide if petrol, diesel, electric or hybrid is more suitable for you.

2. Look at the whole cost of owning a car

There’s the cost of the car itself – will this be something you pay in full, or will you get dealer finance or a personal loan? If you’re looking at the latter this would need to be factored into your monthly budget.

In addition, you need to cover insurance, road tax, fuel, MOT testing and servicing, and general ongoing maintenance.

3. Check the car itself

You don’t need to be an expert and the garage may put the car through a check with someone like the RAC, but there are a few key things you can check yourself.


Minor damage isn’t anything to worry about but could give you room for negotiation. Large Gaps or colour differences between panels could be more concerning, as this could mean the car hasn’t been adequately repaired after a crash.

Tyre Tread Inspection

Check to ensure there is sufficient tread or you’ll need to factor in the cost of replacing them soon.

Car Electrics

Check everything (windows, mirrors, radio, air con) as if you think it might be easy to repair anything which doesn’t work will give you more opportunity to negotiate.

Car Mileage

Make sure the mileage ties in with the age of the car. Whilst there are some low-mileage older cars around, average annual mileage is usually around 10,000 so if the rest of the car seems extremely worn but the odometer shows very low mileage, this should ring alarm bells. You can also cross reference this with the MOT history of the car to make sure it ties in.

Car Oil Check

Check the dip stick to ensure this is at the correct level. Also use this as a chance to check for any evidence of oil leaks or white sludge-like substance around the cap on the oil tank.

MOT Test
Service and MOT History

Check the MOT history of the car online to ensure it is up to date and any potential advisories on the most recent test. A full-service history is highly desirable as you know the car has been well looked after.

4. Test driving the car

Is the driving position comfortable? This is key if you’ll be spending a lot of time in the car.

Safely do an emergency stop to check the responsiveness of the brakes.

Does the car drive smoothly and without any strange noises?

Any issues with the suspension over bumps?

Does the size of the car suit what you’ll need it for? Factor in children, pets, golf clubs etc as a two-seater sports car is probably no good if you have any or all of these!

5. HPI or car history check

Although it costs around £20.00 (if the garage haven’t already done one) having an HPI check done before you buy a used car is a worthwhile investment, as it will flag up any issues like mileage discrepancies or if it has previously been written off – which would be more costly at a later stage.

Published: 5th June 2020
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