​Used Car Buying Guide

This used car buying guide will serve as a tool to help you make the best decisions when buying your next used car.

Used Car Buying Guide

This used car buying guide will explain the best process to follow when purchasing a used or second hand car. The used car buying guide is split as follows:

  1. Why buy a used car?
  2. Advantages of a used car
  3. Disadvantages of a used car
  4. When to buy a used car
  5. What to check for before buying a used car
    1. Document Checks
    2. Mileage
    3. Accident Damage
    4. Test Drive
  6. Cost and budgeting for a used car

1. Why buy a used car?

For the first-time buyer, there are several reasons to choose to buy a used car. Used cars are always cheaper than their new counterparts. After the first year, most new cars lose up to 30% of their value. Luxury brands are the exception, but often these are bought as new.

2. Advantages of a used car

There are plenty advantages of buying a used car over new, here are a few examples:

  • Depreciation is not as big a factor and the car does not lose much value in the first year
  • Much wider selection of vehicles from various years e.g. 2010 or 2015, you can take your pick of the model
  • Used cars tend to be in better condition than in the past so you don’t have to compromise on reliability issues as long as the necessary checks are done
  • There are plenty of bargains to be had, especially with dealerships where they must meet quarterly targets.
  • Whether through a dealership or private seller, you can have added purchase protection under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 by using a credit card towards your purchase. Ideally, the safest solution is to pay the deposit by credit card if the amount is between £100 and £30,000. However, this does not cover Hire Purchase agreements.

3. Disadvantages of a used car

  • Auctions have the most risk. Avoid buying a used car from sites such as eBay where their purchase protection does not cover cars.
  • More liability is placed on the buyer to perform necessary checks. However, you can limit your risk using an established trader or one that uses an independent engineer.

4. When to buy a used car

The best times to buy a used car from a dealership would be early March, June, September or December to take advantage of quarterly deals.

5. What to check for before buying a used car

Follow these guidelines to ensure you make all the necessary checks prior to purchasing the used car of your choice.

a. Document Checks


Document checks to ensure no car cloning i.e. when a criminal steals the identity of another car. These would include checking for the following:

  • Logbook (V5C registration document) for road tax, to check if registered keeper, VIN (vehicle identification number), engine number, colour and any spelling mistakes
  • You can check if details match using the DVLA https://www.gov.uk/get-vehicle-information-from-dvla
  • Manufacturer handbook must also be available as these can be difficult to replace.

b. Mileage


It is important to check if the mileage and appearance of the car matches. Clocking is an illegal practice of altering the mileage to make a used car more valuable.

c. Accident Damage

Car dent

Checking if the car has been in any car accidents is important to ensure there are no complications in the future. This is also useful in negotiating the sale price. “Cut and Shut” is a practice where two previously damaged cars can be joined together for repairs.

  • Signs of this would include:
  • Panels or mismatched colours
  • Traces of paint sprays
  • Unusual wielding under the bonnet or boot

d. Test Drive

During a test drive, a few checks can be done to ensure the car has not been neglected by the owner. This is important to ensure you can keep maintenance costs to a minimum.

Test drive

You can also perform other various checks when viewing the car. Always perform these necessary checks in good conditions where there is no rain, poor light or at night.

You can check the following:

  • Warning lights
  • Brakes
  • Unusual noises
  • Steering
  • ABS warning light turns off (if fitted)

You can also conduct performance checks such as unusual noises during a cold start i.e. starting the engine when cold.

These other checks should also be completed:

  • Oil warning light is off and the oil level is correct
  • Exhaust emissions are not excessive
  • Clutch has a reasonable biting point with no noises
  • Catalytic converter is in good condition as per recent MOT/emissions test
  • Cam belt has been replaced if the car has done over 40,000 miles
  • Locks, windows and other minor controls are operating well
  • Seats and carpets have no stains especially any internal fabric

6. Cost and budgeting for a used car

Now you have performed all the various checks, it all comes down to the final considerations of costs, agreeing terms and ensuring there are no unexpected future expenses.

Money car keys

You need to have considered the following prior to exchanging your hard-earned money:

  • Agree the terms of the sale including delivery or collection
  • Confirm the entire price and what is included within the purchase
  • Confirm any further work necessary
  • Ensure you collect a receipt that includes the terms of sale, price as well as both the seller and vehicle details
  • All keys are handed over including the spare and master key if replacements are required in the future

This guide should help you make good decisions when purchasing your next used car. You can browse various cars available from a range of sellers using Carsnip’s Clever Car Search.

Get the latest updates

Keep up to date with the latest motoring news from Carsnip