How to Buy a Used Car the Right Way

Lesson Type
Last updated: 11 Nov 2019

Whether you need to buy a car to learn to drive in or you’re looking to buy one for after you pass your driving test, you’re probably thinking about buying a used car. Buying your first car is an exciting but expensive time, so, for many learners, second-hand vehicles are the only option.

Why buy a used car?

It’s a great idea to buy a used car if you want to save cash and keep insurance costs down, but there are a few things you need to look out for. Our ‘how to buy a used car’ guide is designed to give you straight forward advice on setting your budget, knowing what pitfalls to avoid, and what your rights are when it comes to buying a second-hand car.

What’s your budget?

Before you can even think about buying car, you need to know how much money you have to spend. It’s not just the price of the car you’ll have to think about, but also the cost of your insurance and how economical the car will be to run. And if you don't yet have your full licence, you might have to factor in the cost of lessons too.

Deciding on your budget before you start shopping around is crucial. Once you know what kind of car you’re after and how much you have to spend, you’ll be able to narrow your search down.

Finding a car

Many people start their search for a used car online. Whether it’s through a website like Autotrader, eBay, or by a search of local dealers, you’ll need to make sure you’re able to arrange to take a look at the car before you agree to buy anything.

If you are thinking about buying a car from eBay, check out our guide to buying a car on eBay first to make sure you keep your cash safe.

Arrange a visit

You should arrange to visit or meet the seller in daylight, somewhere you can get a good look at the car. Take a look at the condition of the vehicle, inside, outside and under the bonnet. Now’s the time to identify any issues with the vehicle, so, if you don’t know what to look for, take someone who knows their way around under a bonnet with you.

Ask as many questions as you want. You could potentially be handing a lot of money over to this seller, so if they seem reluctant to answer anything, it should raise a red flag. If you're not sure what kind of questions you should be asking, have a look at our top 7 questions to ask when buying a used car.

Check the car’s history and documents

Even if the advert says the car is HPI clear and the seller tells you it’s never been involved in a collision, it’s worth checking this yourself for peace of mind. You can do a HPI check online for a small fee, where you’ll be able to find out if the vehicle has ever been involved in an accident or has any outstanding finance on it.

Once you’ve received a clear HPI check, the next step will be to check that all the documents are in order. You will need to ask the seller if you can take a look at the logbook (V5C registration document), service history and previous MOT certificates.

Ensure the mileage recorded on previous MOT certificates matches up with the mileage on the car’s clock. If they don’t tally up, the car has been clocked and you should walk away from the sale.

You should also check that the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) in the logbook matches up with the VIN displayed on the vehicle.

Don’t be afraid to haggle

Once you’ve inspected the vehicle, don’t be afraid to make an offer below the seller’s asking price. It’s perfectly OK to haggle when buying a used car, so don’t feel pressured into paying their asking price straight away.

Buying a used car: Your rights

A used car will, of course, have some wear and tear, but it should match the description a seller has given you. Your rights when buying a used car depend upon who you buy it from.

When you buy a used car from a dealer

Any car you buy from a dealer, under the Sale of Goods Act, must:

  • be of satisfactory quality (taking its age and mileage into account)
  • meet the seller’s description
  • be fit for purpose (e.g. it must be able to get you from A to B safely)

If the used car does not meet these requirements, you have a right to claim against the dealer. Likewise, if the car is not as described or is misrepresented, you have the right to return the car for a refund or to ask for compensation to cover the costs of necessary repairs.

If, however, the car breaks down soon after purchase and it was not described as in good working order, you will not have any right to reject it or to claim compensation.

When you buy a used car from a private seller:

Your rights are limited when you buy a used car from a private seller. For example, there is no legal requirement for a car to be fit for purpose or to be of satisfactory quality. It must, however:

  • be accurately described
  • not misrepresent the car (e.g. they must tell you the truth if you ask if it’s ever been in an accident and it has).