Top Tips for Buying a Reliable Used Car

Posted on 20th Jul 2022 by Liz Jacques Posted in: In The Know

Top Tips for Buying a Reliable Used Car

With the used car market rocketing around the world and the huge increases in costs of living, it’s never been more important for car owners to make the right decisions over their next vehicle purchase.

Obviously in an ideal world you’d be having your old car responsibly recycled with us and selecting a new ‘clean fuel’ vehicle that costs you very little to run. The reality for many people right now is trying to keep their old car running as long as possible and then simply trying to find the best value used car they can.

We’re here to help, whether that’s taking care of your old car when it does finally reach the end of it’s life, getting you a great price if it still has some miles on the clock, or these Top Tips for Buying a Used Car…

Photo of a car dealership with rows of cars

Doing your homework

We know there’s not a vast choice out there at the moment, but with a recent survey by Autovolo reporting that 47% of people regret a car purchase, it’s important to think about what you really need and what you can maintain before you start shopping around.

Apart from key features such as the number of seats and boot space, these days you need to take a good look at what will impact running costs. Fuel consumption will have much more impact on your finances than it used to, there may be clean air zone charges for your commute, as well as tax and insurance costs, which can all be drastically different depending on the vehicle you purchase. Don’t get carried away with a ‘bargain’ without considering these future costs.

Remember modifications to any part of a vehicle can impact insurance costs so it’s worth checking these with your insurer in advance of your purchase.

Photo of a used car dealer forecourt

Identifying red flags

The biggest risk with buying a used car is that it’s been clocked or it’s had major work or been involved in an incident that’s been hidden. The cars most likely to fall into these categories are, ironically, usually reliable makes that last and hide their age well, often ex-company or lease scheme cars.

But not to worry! There are plenty of ways you can verify vehicles and identify dodgy sellers…

  • The DVLA provides a completely free vehicle check on the government website this will tell you when the MOT expires, how much it will cost to tax, the SORN status and various vehicle details including colour, engine size, year of registration and manufacture and CO2 emissions.
  • To be really thorough it’s worth using a car checking service such as the AA or MotorCheck. In exchange for a relatively small fee, they‘ll tell you important information such as whether there is any finance outstanding, whether it has been reported as stolen, and whether the mileage correct.
  • If buying from a dealer, check for a clear disclaimer on the paperwork stating the mileage.
  • Study parts of the car that might show excessive wear, such as an excessively shiny steering wheel, pedal rubbers worn more than you’d expect or a driver’s seat and carpet or mat heavily worn.
  • Genuine odometer digits should be aligned. Misalignment can occur normally, but it’s also a sign of an amateur Clocker, so alongside another red flag it’s worth looking out for.
Man in car being handed car keys

Confirming a trustworthy seller

It’s one of the biggest purchases we make in our lifetime, so don’t be afraid to ask important questions of private sellers or dealers.

  • How long have you had the vehicle?
  • Is there a Vehicle Registration Certificate?
  • Did you purchase the car from the Registered Owner?
  • Are there any previous MOT certificates to substantiate the mileage?
  • Is the mileage correct?
  • Can I have that in writing?
  • Please can you point out any bodywork damage you’re aware of?
  • And of course… What is your very best price?

If you are buying from a dealership, find out whether they offer a warranty. Remind your seller of any damage you’ve identified when negotiating the price.

The RAC has produced a helpful checklist you can use to ensure you ask all the right questions.

Getting the paperwork right

There are some key documents that any reliable used car should have…

The registration certificate (V5C)

Check the details of the car match the V5C. If you are suspicious and you are not dealing with the previous registered owner direct, then you may be able to get their contact details from the registration certificate. Try phoning them and politely ask if they can confirm the mileage of the vehicle when it was in their ownership. You could also take the opportunity to ask if there’s any other key details about the car they may know, such as any major work that’s been carried out on the vehicle, or if it’s been in an accident.

A full MOT History

Cars in the UK require an MOT every year following their first test at 3 year’s old. Check if the car has recently been MOT’d and if the next test due is in line with the vehicle’s original date of registration.

Also check the current MOT certificate’s expiry date. You’ll need a valid MOT in order to tax the car.

A full Service History

A reliable vehicle will have a full service history so check for any gaps. If the service is due shortly and you’re buying from a dealership, it’s worth asking that they carry it out before you purchase. Another thing you may not have considered is whether the book itself is forged! An easy way to check is to note the servicing dealers names and numbers and phone them. Check they exist! They should hold records of the vehicles they’ve serviced too.

You might even be able to identify red flags at a glance – if the handwriting is the same throughout, or if staples holding the pages together have clearly been interfered with?

photo of paperwork and car keys

Trusting your instinct

It’s a simple one, but it’s probably the most important ‘check’ you can make… take the car for a thorough test drive! You should allow at least twenty minutes to ensure you get a proper feel for the car on different roads, performing a range of manoeuvres and at various speeds. Only a test drive will give you an accurate idea of the comfort and condition of the car.

If the car will have another main driver, or you know someone that’s knowledgeable about cars, take them along with you – another set of eyes and ears might pick up on a fault you’ve missed.Person's hand on the steering wheel of a car

If you can’t be bothered!

Of course, if all of this sounds like too much effort and you’ve decided to purchase a car online, there are some great companies out there doing all the hard work for you! We’d recommend by starting with our blog on buying a car online and checking out a full service from somewhere like heycar or Cazoo. The key piece of advice here is to find a company that offers the maximum reassurances so you can make a trusted purchase – background checks, mechanic checks, a warranty, and of course a trial period!

Person having a coffee and browsing cars on a tablet screen

REMEMBER Where you have made any car purchase from a dealer, without seeing the vehicle in person, you have a legal right to cancel the sales agreement within 14 days of delivery of the vehicle.

For step by step information from the government on buying a car, there is some helpful information online.

We hope our tips have helped you to select a reliable used car that suits your needs and your budget. Now, we can definitely help with the old car you’re replacing! We can offer you an instant quote for your scrap or used car, and with current scrap prices tracking high, you may have more for a deposit than you thought!

For more advice on reducing running costs you can read our blog on saving money on your car insurance.

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