Buying a used car: 10 tips to save money and pick the right car

Advice from the experts on the checks to carry out when buying second-hand, from history and accident damage to dealer reputation and warranties

The used car market is experiencing an unprecedented growth at the moment, with demand and price soaring over the last 12 months.

Average second-hand values have experienced five years’ worth of growth in just less than a year, according to Auto Trader, and some nearly new models are selling for more than their brand new equivalent as dealers struggle to secure new stock.

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With demand so high and sellers able to charge more for used cars it’s more important than ever than ever that buyers do their research and take some basic steps to make sure they are getting a good deal.

With that in mind, we spoke to Mike Todd, CEO at Volkswagen Financial Services, for his top tips to make your money go further when buying a second hand car.

Compare sellers

Prices may vary between large franchises, independent retailers and private sellers, so it’s important to also consider the reputation of the seller to determine if they are a reliable party. Always spend time doing your research.

Compare prices and check finance deals

Do your research and think about comparing prices before visiting a retailer or private seller. Current prices can be attained via retailers’ online portals and other websites. Also make use of online finance calculators, and once you know a rough figure, you’ll be in a better place to negotiate a good deal.

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It’s worth researching a dealer’s reputation before deciding whether to buy from themIt’s worth researching a dealer’s reputation before deciding whether to buy from them
It’s worth researching a dealer’s reputation before deciding whether to buy from them | Shutterstock

A picture paints a thousand words

When searching for a vehicle online, the quality of the images, and quantity, can say a lot about the car and seller without seeing it in the flesh. Very few images might suggest the seller is trying to hide something.

History check

Take precautions rather than assume a car is in top condition. Be sure to get a good overall feel for the state of a vehicle by closely examining its history report. Key indicators of a top model are low mileage, a full-service history, a low number of previous owners and having passed all HPI checks. Always find out if the vehicle has been in any past accidents or had any prior modifications in terms of car parts.

Look for wear and damage

Don’t take a seller’s word that the car is undamaged or has never been repaired. Attention to detail is paramount and should be front and centre of the buyer’s mind when checking for hidden signs of repair. Indicators can come in all shapes and sizes, from doors that are difficult to open and close, to imperfections or mismatching paintwork.

Tyre test

Before you even test driving a car, take a close look at its tyres. Disproportionate tyre tread may suggest the tracking isn’t straight and needs correcting. You will also be able to notice this when driving as the car may drift to the left or right. Other signs of neglect or wear and tear may include cracked, bald, or dry rubber on the tyres. Cheap unfamiliar brand tyres might also indicate the previous owner scrimped on other areas of maintenance.

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Uneven tyre wear can be a sign of more serious mechanical problemsUneven tyre wear can be a sign of more serious mechanical problems
Uneven tyre wear can be a sign of more serious mechanical problems | Shutterstock

Get a second opinion

It can never hurt to have a second pair of eyes check over a vehicle before purchasing. If you have a friend or family member that’s a mechanic, perhaps ask their advice or consider getting a professional inspection. It’s always wise to raise the bonnet and have someone take a look, even if you’re unsure what you’re looking at yourself.

Road readiness

How readily available a vehicle is to view or be test driven may also be a reason for further investigation. A car that isn’t almost immediately available to see may raise suspicions if no explanation is given.

Extended warranty

Some used vehicles come with an extended warranty, which can help save on future repairs. If not, it is important to consider whether the extra cost of finding a car with a warranty is worth it should a problem arise.

Check your credit score

Your credit score is an assessment by a particular lender or credit reference company of how good a credit risk you are, based on its own criteria. However, a good score is no guarantee you’ll be able to borrow money, as different lenders have different criteria for choosing customers.

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