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7 tips for buying a used car

Unless you’re someone like Simon Cowell – who has a car collection so large he must be purchasing them on a weekly basis – buying a car is a momentous occasion. It’s important you make the right choice before committing so we’ve put together a fool proof checklist of what to do (and not to do) to ensure you don’t get stung in the long (or, indeed, short) run.

1 – One-Year-Olds are usually the best deal

Did you know that new cars decrease in value by 27% by the time of their first birthday? If you find someone letting go of a one-year-old car, you will usually only be paying three quarters of the price and the car is likely to have less wear and tear and travelled far fewer miles.

(This won’t hold true for luxury brands though – we wouldn’t recommend holding your breath for a sweet deal on a one-year-old sports car!)

2 – Consider other running costs when working out your budget

Think about the features that can save money on your motor in the long run. Smaller engines are more fuel-efficient. Automatics too are more fuel-efficient than manuals but tend to be more expensive to buy.

You want to look out for the mpg – that’s Miles Per Gallon – which tells you how far the petrol will take you.The Peugeot 208 for instance offers 94.2mpg with the 1.6 BlueHDi 75 model which is good value for money.

With new road tax regulations, you might want to check the CO2 emissions of your desired drive. Higher pollution might mean paying more road tax. Another green option is Hybrid vehicles – they cost more upfront but less to maintain. To find out how much you might have to pay a year in tax clickhere.

3 – Know what you’re looking for

When buying a used car, you should requestan HPI check.This is a service by an independent company that will give you the vehicle history including information from the police and DVLA that your dealer may not know (or may be trying to hide). In one survey, Experian found that 88% of vehicles on salehad a hidden history that significantly impacted their value – so we strongly recommend seeking an HPI check.

There are a few essential things to check against your price-expectations. If they don’t match up, ask your dealer why not? They should be able to explain, but if their explanation doesn’t satisfy you, ask for a second opinion. These include:

● Mileage

Watch out for ‘clocking’: this is when people wind back the odometer on a car to increase its value, and it is illegal. If you’re suspicious, remember: a car’s average mileage is about 10,000 miles per year, and you can check the service history for the last recorded mileage.

● Condition

Check for scratches and damage as well as for signs of repairs. You can double check the car’s service history for repairs, but if you see signs of a shoddy repair job confront your dealer.

One way to spot damage to the front of the car is to turn on the headlights and see if the beams align, if they don’t this might be a sign that the frame has been bent and not straightened properly. Another tell-tale is the distance between tyre and fender: if it’s off centre, something hasn’t gone right.

You can also check that all the panels of the car perfectly align. If not, this is a dead giveaway that the car has been in an accident.

● Check the oil, engine, radio, lights and other gadgets

Lift out the dipstick to check the oil level, look at the engine for signs of oil or water leaks as well as under the car. Check that the lights, radio, electric windows and other gadgets all work.

● Kick the tyres

Check the tyres for tread and inflation. The car manual should tell you what the ideal tyre pressure should be, and you can use a gauge to check. A simple way to check tread is to insert a 20p coin into one of the tyre’s grooves. The bottom of the coin should nest comfortably in the grooves.

4 – Test drive, test drive, test drive!

You never reallyknow a car until you get behind the wheel and take it for a spin. Check that the driving position is comfortable and that you can operate all the controls easily. This is the only way to get a really good feel for the car and the way it drives.

It’s also important to test the brakes. If it feels spongy, or you hear rubbing noises or feel vibrations or notice the car doesn’t brake in a straight line then there is cause for concern. It’s also important to check the suspension by feeling if the car absorbs bumps in the roads comfortably.

Remember to test drive with your ears as well… Listen out for any unusual noises: squeals or judders when turning the steering wheel, or any rubbing noises while braking. Try all the gears and listen out for any crunching.

Just make sure that you’re insured before doing a test drive.

5 – Be cautious when buying online

If you are buying online as opposed to a dealer then check if the company offers Vehicle Purchase Protection (VPP). Without VPP you could find yourself on your own if anything goes wrong.

6 – You need insurance before you can drive home

Sort out car insurance ahead of picking up the car. You need to have insurance the second you become the legal owner, otherwise you can’t get your new wheels home (it’s illegal to drive on public roads uninsured).

Some dealers offer a week’s insurance while you finalise yours, so make sure you check in advance.

You can use price comparison websites to shop around for the best policies: some insurers will even offer to cover you for just an hour! Others will last up to a month, so that you have time to seek out the best annual policy for you. Services like Temp Cover specialise in short term and drive away insurance. (a small upfront fee is payable).

7 – Make sure you have all the correct paperwork and spare bits and pieces.

Make sure all the papers are in order and that you know what’s what and why you need them:


*The information contained above is for general information purposes only and these are our suggestions. You should always ensure you have carried out your own checks and are comfortable with the vehicle that you are purchasing.