1ST CENTRAL guide to buying a used car

Used car number plate

Looking for a new car without the ‘new car’ price tag?

Buying second hand can be an affordable way to get your dream car, but it’s tricky to know just how well a vehicle’s been looked after, or whether there are any hidden problems.

Use our buyers’ checklist to help you feel confident in your purchase.

Used car checklist

Know the basics

First, you’ll want some basic information about the car to help you carry out some simple checks.

Ask the seller for the car’s official:

  • make and model
  • registration number
  • MOT test number
  • mileage

Once you have all this, you can use the DVLA’s free online information checker to make sure the details match official records. If anything looks amiss, ask your seller to explain.

If you’re still not satisfied, the seller withholds information, or something  just seems fishy, it’s probably best to look elsewhere.

Do a background check

It never hurts to know a car’s history. A private history check (or ‘data check’) will give you valuable information about when and how your car has changed hands, along with details of any accidents it’s been in.

A private history check should cost around £20.

Service history

As a second-hand motor, it’s likely your new car will have had a bit of work done. Your seller should be able to provide a full car service history to prove they’ve taken good care of the vehicle, including records for things like replacement tyres.

It’s worth having a good read through this history to spot any reoccurring issues that have taken the car into the garage.

What’s the MOT status?

It’s a legal requirement for all cars to pass regular MOT tests to ensure they’re safe on the road (most cars over 3 years old need one every year).

You can check for gaps in a car’s MOT history using the GOV.UK free online service.

Inspect the car in person

You should never buy a used car without seeing it in person first. Visit the car in daylight to check for any obvious signs of damage.

Here are a few things to look out for:

  • dents or damage to the bodywork
  • damage to the exhaust system
  • worn down wheels or tyres
  • lights and indicators
  • damage to seat belts

Take it for a test ride

Once you’re happy with your visual check, it’s a good idea to take the car out for a test drive – you’ll need to be insured to do this.

While you’re out, check for any warning lights or dodgy electrics, that all gears are working smoothly and that the breaks are responsive.

Know your budget

A car priced too cheaply should sound just as many alarm bells as one that’s overpriced. Remember, if a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Do some research on the make and model you’re wanting to buy, for a good idea of a sensible ballpark figure, and stick to it.

Pay securely

When it comes to choosing between card and cash there are some obvious pros and cons.

Paying by cash could net you a cheaper deal, but if you pay by card you may find your card provider gives you some form of protection on your purchase if something does go wrong. 

Whether you’re paying in cash or by card, be sure to keep some sort of evidence of your purchase.

Is it a family car you’re after? Check out our guide to the top 10 family cars of 2020.

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