How to choose the right used car


Buying a used car can save you a packet compared to splashing out on a new one.  But there are many factors to consider and weigh up before making your purchase.  We've compiled a buyers guide which gives an overview of the main points to assess before committing to a purchase.  Take a moment to read through them and be sure to choose the right car for you.

Our Guide Covers the Following Areas:



[1] Engine Size - It’s not all about horsepower.  Yes, a larger engine will be more powerful but it will also usually burn more fuel.  A smaller engine size can be more economical in terms of running costs.  So fuel economy should be a factor in your decision. 
For more information on fuel consumption by vehicle type you can take a look at some data made available by the UK Gov website – Click Here

[2] Manual vs. Automatic – Automatics generally come with a higher price tag.  Although you should also consider the fact that automatics are more fuel efficient because they ‘know’ what gear to be in and eliminate driver error in this area.  They could recoup their additional cost over time in terms of fuel economy.

[3] Petrol vs. Diesel – In general, petrol cars are cheaper than their diesel counterparts.  But on the other hand a diesel engine is more economical than a petrol one. 

[4] Hybrid Cars – Hybrid cars have lower running costs but come with a more expensive price tag.  Models like the Toyota Prius are appealing because they have cheap or sometimes zero tax rates and low fuel costs.  They hold their value well for resale.

[5] CO2 Emissions – Cars that have high emissions figures come with the highest road tax.  Check the vehicles emissions data when evaluating a vehicle.  For more info on UK vehicle tax rates – Click Here 

[6] Insurance Costs – Check insurance costs before committing to a car.  In general smaller cars draw lower insurance premiums than larger more powerful models.

[7] Tax – Check how much the road tax is going to set you back annually.  You can do this on the website.

[8] MOT - Once the car's three years old, you’ll have to pay for an MOT every year, which costs £54.85 (for the test).

[9] Servicing - You'll need to get your car serviced regularly, usually once a year.
Servicing ensures it’s safe to drive and keeps the manufacturer’s warranty valid. Service costs vary by car type and work required but a routine service typically starts around £120.


Choosing the right time to buy a car can be a wise tactical move.  When buying from a car dealer timing can make all the difference. 
Many car salesmen have sales targets to meet.  And these are often set at quarterly time points.  Salesmen will be more eager to shift vehicles as they approach these deadlines to try and reach their target.  This means that you could be able to strike a better deal at the end of March, June, September and December. 
On the other hand be aware that if they have already reached their target they will be in no mood to strike a deal so leave it until towards the end of the next quarter.
Also, try to avoid dealerships at weekends or at the start of the month shortly after pay day.  You’re not going to be able to strike a bargain when there is a line of potential customers jostling behind you.

Buying a car from a dealer may cost a little more but gives legal protection under the Sale of Goods Act. This means the car must match the description given by the seller, that it should also be of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and roadworthy. On the other hand, if you choose to buy privately, you'll probably get a cheaper price but you won't be protected by the Sale of Goods Act.
However the car still has to be "as described" so ask plenty of questions about its condition and get the answers in writing because if the car turns out to have a fault, you'll need to be able to challenge the seller's description to get your money back.

Contact ALL Local Dealers - Contact all the dealers in your area and ask them for the best price on the car of your choice.  Then make a note of the best price, and call the others back and ask them to beat it.
Always haggle!  It is part of the territory with car dealers and it is expected of you too.  If you can’t do it, bring a friend with you who will. Derek Trotter will do nicely.
Something for Free  - Ask them to throw something in for free.  Maybe some new seat covers, a Sat-Nav or whatever they have to offer.
Don't fill the silence!  Revel in it.  A classic sales technique is staying silent after the pitch is made. They want you to accept the price just to fill the awkward silence. Don’t.  Embrace it and allow them fill it with a cheaper offer. 
Walk away – If the sale is not going how you would have liked then walk away and allow them to call you back. Don’t forget to leave your phone number.  If they have to chase you it’s is more likely to be a better deal.
Flaws mean Discounts - Look for the tiniest of dents or scratches. Scuffs in the paint job.  Anything.  Any little defect can be used as a bargaining chip. 
Friendly but Steadfast – The salesman is more likely to work with you if they like you.  This is an important factor.  Try to bring them along with you by being friendly, but at the same time, don’t give an inch.

The first step in choosing the right car for you, is to sit down and assess your requirements.  What exactly do you need from a car?  Here is a checklist with some points to consider:
Essential Requirements – Do I need a car for family or something smaller?  What will be more important – Running Costs, or Comfort?   Do I just need a small car for running about town?  Do I want to look like James Bond in a Sports Car?  Weigh up your requirements and what’s right for you.
Special Requirements -  Is the vehicle needed for work?  Will you need to tow a trailer?  Does it need to fit into a small space in a garage?
Short Drives/ Long Journeys? Does it need to be able to cruise at motorway speeds without straining?  Do you need some comfort and a larger engine size for long motorway journeys?
Petrol or Diesel - The fuel you want to use can make a big difference in the model you might choose.  Consider the advantages and disadvantages of the fuel type mentioned above.
Boot Size – What boot size do you need?  Will you need to pack sports equipment or a child’s pushchair?  Consider hatchback models vs. saloon.
What about the Environment – Should I be doing my bit to save mother earth?  Do I want to consider an eco-friendly car?
For an excellent tool at comparing car models, take a look at Parkers online - Comparison Guide


When buying a used car, it really is worth taking the time to carefully examine the vehicle before making a purchase as you can save yourself a lot of pain and hassle further down the line.

[1] Bodywork:
First up, take a good look at the bodywork.  You want to check the car for scratches and dents.  Also, keep an eye out for gaps between panels as this can be an indicator of a poor repair job underneath.  Pay close attention to the paint work.  It should be a smooth finish across the entire car, and if it is not, it can be sign of an accident, or at the very least a bad paint job.  Look for signs of bubbling paint.  This is of real concern as it can be a sign of rust.

[2] Lights/ Indicators:
Check the lights and indicators.  Check that all bulbs are working and that indicators operate correctly.  Look for damage to lenses and light fittings. 

[3] Tyres:
Check the threads.  You can do this by inserting a 20p coin into the grooves.  If the outer band is covered then they should be good.  Look at the wear of the tyre.  Is the tyre wearing evenly across the surface of the tyre?  If it’s not then there could be a problem with the car suspension.
For more information on Typre and Wheel Safety – Click Here

[4] Suspension:
For a basic test of the suspension, try pushing down on all four corners of the car.  If the suspension is working correctly, the car should bounce back up smoothly and into position.
Remember, it’s a used car.  You can expect some damage.  If the damage is minor, there’s no need to walk away from the deal.  You can ask the seller to get it fixed, or knock a few pound off of the asking price.

[5] Mileage:
Take a look inside and check the odometer.  The average mileage covered is around 10,000 miles a year, so if the odometer’s figure appears wildly out for its age, ask why.
Also, does the mileage on the meter match that on the paperwork?  If not, something fishy is going on.  Also, if the mileage is low on the meter but the seat covers and plastic fittings look well worn then you know something is not quite right.  Pay particular attention to the gear lever, hand brake button and rubber pedal rubbers here.

[6] Check the Engine/ Oil: 
Look at the engine and surrounding areas for signs of oil or water leaks and check under the car for any signs of leaks too.  Check the oil using the dipstick and see if the level's correct.  A low oil level may indicate a leak.

[7] Test Drive: 
Ask for a test drive, (assuming you are insured to do so), and see how it feels and sounds on the open road and consider the following:

  • Is your driving position at the wheel comfortable?
  • Execute an emergency stop on an empty road to double check the brakes
  • Check that the brakes and clutch function smoothly and effectively
  • Does it veer?
  • Bonnet, doors and boot – are they easy to open and close?
  • Does it drive smoothly?
  • Passenger seat space – is it sufficient?
  • Engine noise - are there any noticeable rattles?

[8] Driver Controls
Sit into the driver seat and start testing the controls.  Check EVERYTHING.    
Do all the following components work correctly:

  • Seatbelts pull-out and retract (Front and Back)
  • Seat Adjustments
  • Central Locking
  • Car Radio/ Stereo
  • Interior Lights On/Off
  • Electric Windows/ Mirrors
  • Sat-Nav if fitted
  • Steering Controls
  • Ventilation Hot and Cold
  • Spare Wheel



When you are satisfied that you have found the right car for you and have agreed on a price – use your credit card.  Pay something toward the car on a credit card as it will give you added protection.
Even if you pay  just a penny toward your car on a credit card you will get powerful extra protection if something goes wrong further down the line. This is because you will then be covered by Section 75. 
Provided that the total cost of the car you're buying is between £100 and £30,000, paying anything towards it by credit card means the card company is equally liable along with the dealer if things go wrong. 
For more information on section 75 - Click Here
And finally,


When you buy a used car you’ll be given a handful of documents.  Take a moment to check you’ve got the right ones before paying up.

  • Logbook/ V5C - This is issued by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) and is your proof that you own the vehicle.   It should list you as the registered keeper.
  • Servicing book – Records the service history of the vehicle.
  • Manuals - As cars get more and more technical you’ll be needing this.
  • Sales Contract - Make sure you get a dated and signed sales contract showing that you've completed the deal and paid the right money. Check your name and address, plus the full details of the vehicle, price, and any payments already made.
  • Spares - If you were expecting a spare wheel, check it’s there along with the tools needed to change it.  And make sure you're given at least one spare key, as replacements are expensive.


Car buyers guideCarsRoad safety

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published