15 tips for buying a used car to get the best price and car
Buying a used car could save you money and get you the car you’ve always wanted. But buying a pre-owned car can come with risks and cost you in the long run.
Thankfully, there are ways to ensure you drive away with a high-quality used vehicle at a good price.
Read on to find out our essential tips for getting a trouble-free used vehicle that meets your budget and needs.
1. What do you need from your used car?
Before you even start to look for a car, it’s worth taking some time to think about exactly you need and want.
Would a smaller run-a-round suit your needs, or would a seven-seater fit in with your lifestyle better? What about fuel type – petrol or diesel?
Make a list of your priorities of what you need and want from your car, including a rough idea of how much you can and want to pay.
2. Where should you buy your used car?
From dealers and garages to private sellers and auctions, there are several places you can find used cars.
It often depends on how confident you are and ease of purchase as to which you choose, as buying privately usually requires more car knowledge.
The difference between buying your second-hand car from a business such as a dealership is the level of preparation before the sale, support you’ll get throughout the purchase and also after the sale.
Dealers often offer an ‘approved used’ option, through which you know the vehicle has been through checks, faulty parts replaced, and the car made to look and feel like new.
Buying privately could be a cheaper option, as in all likelihood, they won’t have put the car through a rigorous inspection or offer a warranty, as a dealer or garage would. However, this saving could cost you further down the line.
Consider what you’re looking for, how long you need the car, and whether your upfront cost is the biggest factor or if you’d prefer to pay a little more for security and peace of mind.
3. When should you buy your used car?
Other than the obvious answer ‘when you need one’, there are certain times when you could make significant savings when it comes to buying a used car.
Naturally, people will sell cars privately all year round, but December and January are traditionally the quieter months, when you may be more likely to pick up a bargain.
It’s a good idea to keep an eye on the prices a few months before you want to purchase, as if they’re falling, you may want to wait to get the best price.
Type of car
If you’re looking for a convertible, avoid the spring and summer months, as come winter demand and often prices will be much lower.
It’s a similar scenario with four-wheel drives with demand peaking as the weather worsens in late autumn and winter, so summer is a good time to shop around.
Generally, it’s a case of the earlier you get to an auction, the better, as you’ll be able to study the list for vehicles you’re interested in and also check them out for any cosmetic or mechanical issues.
Used car deals:
Generally, you can find deals throughout the year at dealerships, but historically March and September are peak months for the sale of new cars, meaning more used cars to sell and potentially attractive deals.
In readiness for the new models and registration plate change, July and early August is also a good time to browse deals.
4. Older vs newer and how much mileage?
When it comes to buying a used car, you may be asking what’s best – newer with higher mileage or older with lower mileage. Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer.
In theory a car with lower mileage should keep running longer. Also, in theory, a newer car should last longer.
At the end of the day, though, it really comes down to how well the car has been cared for.
If a newer car has been sat around collecting dust rather than miles, it won’t be a better option than an older vehicle that has been driven and maintained regularly.
If it’s in good condition with low mileage then it’s a win-win situation. It’s simply best to check the car’s history first.
5. Check the running costs
It’s not just the cost of the vehicle you need to consider when buying a used car. Do you know how much it will be to run?
This can be a significant factor for fuel economy. The larger the engine, the more fuel needed and the higher the cost.
If you opt for a smaller engine, think about your usage too. When a smaller engine is used at high speeds, it’ll burn more fuel, so it may not be as economical depending on how you’re going to use it.
Petrol models tend to be cheaper to buy than diesel. Although diesel engines are more economical, fuel lasts longer; it’s more expensive to fill up.
Automatic vs manual
You’ll pay more for an automatic car outright, but they hold their value better, so they may be more economical over the long term.
Hybrid and electric
Again, hybrid and electric cars are more expensive to buy but are much cheaper to run. They also have a low tax rate and a strong resale value.
How much you pay for insurance will depend on the type of car you buy and other factors, so it’s worth getting some quotes beforehand.
Car tax is generally related to the emissions rating of a car – those with higher emissions will be hit with a higher tax bill.
6. Viewing a used car – what should you check?
It’s a good idea to take either a physical or mental checklist with you when you go to view your potential purchase. These are the things you need to look for:
Make sure you look at the car in daylight, so you can get thoroughly see its condition.
Have they got the 1.6mm legal tread minimum or will they have to be changed soon?
Are there any visible dents, scratches, or rust? Small abrasions can be fixed cheaply enough, so if you’re happy to factor that into your budget, great. Larger signs of wear and tear can be used to help negotiate the price.
Gaps or colour differences
If there are any gaps between the panels or a noticeable colour difference, it could be a sign of repair following an accident. Make sure you check the car’s history.
Look out for any chips that could turn into costly cracks later. Check the lights too for any sign of damage.
Under the bonnet
By checking under the bonnet, you’ll have a better idea of how well the car has been maintained.
- Check the levels of oil, brake and power steering fluid
- Look for any leaks, such as oil or water
It’s not just the outward appearance of the vehicle you need to check. This is a good time to make sure everything works inside too.
- Electrics: Does everything work? Don’t be afraid to try everything from winding down the windows and trying the heating to turning on the radio
- Upholstery: Is it in good condition? Are there any significant tears or stains?
- Mileage: Is it consistent with the figure shown on its last service?
- HPI: An HPI check will tell you if the car’s previously been stolen or written off
- Accessories: Does it have a spare wheel, for instance, and is it in good condition?
If you’re using a dealer, go for one that has a HPI or health check, so you know the car is in top condition.
7. Document checks
VC5 (registration document or log book)
Check that the make, model and number plate of the car matches what’s on the V5.
Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)
Ensure the VIN in the logbook matches the VIN on the vehicle (you can usually find this on the lower part of the windscreen).
Check the registered keeper is the same person you’re buying from, and the registered address is the same if buying privately.
If the log book shows many owners, it could be cause for alarm. Always ask to see what the reason may be.
Is it current? Are there any advisories that you may need to action soon?
Before you go to view your potential new car, do a little research so you know what you’ll be looking at beforehand. It’ll put you in a good position to notice any defects or flaws.
Ask as many questions as you need to, including asking why they’re selling the car. If you don’t feel confident, take someone with you for support. They may notice something you haven’t.
8. Test driving a used car
Test driving the car you’re thinking of buying is a good way to figure out any problems, as well as seeing whether you like driving the car.
Here are some things you need to look out for when test driving a used car:
- Does it start ok, or might it need a new battery or alternator?
- Does the clutch perform well/does it judder?
- Does the temperature gauge give any signs of potential overheating?
- Can you change gears easily?
- Does the steering pull to one side, or does it feel heavy?
- Are there any unusual sounds coming from the engine?
- Do the brakes work properly?
- Does it perform as you need it or expect it to?
Remember, if you’re test-driving a car from a private seller, you’ll need to make sure your insurance covers this. Otherwise, you could ask the seller to take you out themselves in the car.
And if you’re buying the car long-distance, over the internet or phone, make sure it comes with a money-back guarantee if you’re not satisfied.
9. Paying for the car
Once you’re happy with the car you’ve chosen, it’s time to purchase. Before you hand over anything, make sure you’re 100% satisfied with what you’re buying.
If buying from a private seller, ensure you do your research and use a trackable payment method rather than cash.
Ask for a receipt and documentation of any work that you have asked to be taken out before the sale.
Everyone likes some money off, and it’s usually a case of if you don’t ask, you don’t get. With a private seller, it’s a good idea to highlight any issues with the car that might justify them lowering the price.
Always be polite and, if you feel it’s overpriced for the condition it’s in, make an offer. You can always walk away if refused.
With dealerships, there’re often bargains to be had, and as mentioned, it’s worth asking what they can do for you.
11. Car finance
If you’re buying on car finance, make sure you compare the total cost of borrowing (including interest and any charges) over the agreement term.
Read: Car finance explained
12. Car to trade-in?
If you’re planning on selling your current car, it might be a good idea to part-exchange it, dropping the cost of your new car or lowering a deposit if you’re thinking of taking out finance.
13. Other fees?
Double check if there are any additional fees you may need to pay, such as an admin or reservation fee.
14. Added extras
One bonus from buying from a dealership is that you may have some scope to get some added extras thrown in for free.
Whether that’s a tank of fuel or a service, it’s worth asking if there’s something you want.
15. Buyer protections
Buying a used car from a private seller can be riskier and you have fewer rights if something goes wrong.
With that in mind, it’s always a good idea to thoroughly research both the seller and the car.
Buying a used car from a dealer, like Hippo, means you have more legal protection.
All our vehicles are prepared to exacting standards so you can have confidence in your purchase and peace of mind for the future.