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Top tips for buying a used car

Top tips for buying a used carToday we look at the used car market, often the cheapest and quickest way to get your hands on the car that really fits your needs. The following tips detail the things to look out for and how to make sure you get the most for your money with the least hassle.


As well as choosing a car that fulfils all of your requirements, it’s important that it doesn’t leave you short of money too to cover on-going costs. The easiest way to calculate true costs are to calculate them on a month-by month basis and should be calculated to include the following:

  • Car loan repayment costs
  • Fuel prices – especially for larger engine vehicles
  • Insurance costs
  • Road tax (divided into monthly payments)
  • Servicing and maintenance costs

At each step, make sure to save where you can by negotiating for a better price on the purchase and shopping around for cheaper car insurance quotes. The value of your current car can also have a big effect on your budget, depending on whether there’s the option to trade it in or sell it on privately so take this into account if you can.

If the total of the above list is more than you can comfortably afford, it can often be beneficial to search for the same model with a lower specification or smaller capacity engine. The engine size often has a direct impact on road tax, fuel economy and insurance.

Choosing a used car

Picking the right car for you can be a tricky process because of the huge choice available and the variety of ways of finding them, including local car listings, online and direct from dealers. Before choosing, it’s important to consider the following:

  • What will be the primary use of the car? E.g. commuting, the school run, weekend only use.
  • How many passengers will use it transport regularly? Four doors may be preferable to two for larger numbers.
  • Will a larger boot capacity will be required for transporting belongings, bikes, or sporting equipment?
  • What are the costs for petrol, tax, insurance and servicing relative to its intended use?

Online is often the fastest and easiest way to browse used cars of all makes and models, making it very quick to buy a used Vauxhall, for example.

Inspecting a used carInspecting a used car

Unless you happen to have a mechanic friend, it can be expensive to pay for inspections when looking for a new car however it’s not always essential and there are a few key things to look for:

  • Get an HPI check to find out about the vehicles history, any outstanding finance or whether the car has ever been written off or stolen.
  • Closely examine the V5C document (logbook), MOT certificates (current and old) and service history checking for regular servicing or potential mileage clocking.
  • Check the VIN number (Vehicle Identification Number) under the bonnet on a plate, stamped into the chassis under the carpet by the driver side seat and also at the base of the windscreen to make sure these numbers match each other and the logbook.
  • Look over the body over for obvious sides of damage or corrosion e.g. rust around the edges of panels and under wheel arches, uneven gaps between panels and mismatched paint or overspray from damage repair.
  • Make sure all of the advertised features work e.g. power steering, air conditioning, electric windows and none make knocking or grinding noises when in use.

You’ll be able to quickly verify if the car is as described in its advert by reading the key documents including the logbook, service history and MOT certificates then checking key points around the car.

Test driving a car

The test drive gives you a chance to check every aspect of the car and its performance, from how it handles on the road to making sure that all its features works correctly. Here are some key tips for making the most of a test drive:

Organise relevant insurance to cover test drives, or ensure that the car dealer has this in place.
Make sure to drive for at least twenty minutes on different road surfaces and types and at different speeds
Start the car from cold and listen for unusual noises including knocking or grinding from the engine, gearbox, wheels or breaking system.
Check for excessive smoke or noise coming from the exhaust by walking around the car while it’s running.
During the drive, make sure that the gears, brakes, steering and suspension work as they should, without any unexpected noises or vibration.


A vehicles’ documentation is vital for verifying the ownership, history and road worthiness of the car and should be reviewed carefully before parting with any money. The following points are key when reviewing documents:

  • Check that the VIN number recorded in the logbook matches the ones displayed in the car, and the address and recorded keeper’s information tallies with the person selling the car
  • Review the service history to check for regular servicing, yearly MOTs and that the mileage recorded increases steadily over the years.
  • Check all the paperwork to make sure it looks and feels genuine, avoiding photocopies and print outs which could be fake

Once you’re happy with all of the information you have, the test drive and are comfortable with the seller then make sure that you get a receipt for the car and that you complete the new keeper parts from the logbook, and that this is sent to the DVLA as soon as possible.

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One Response to “Top tips for buying a used car”

  1. Great tips! I think it’s always a good idea to make use of online car history checkers.. they’re so handy!

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