How to buy a used car?

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Steps to buy a used car

It’s a new year and thousands of motorists are now focusing on buying a new car but many more people are buying secondhand cars.

Thousands more are planning to purchase a used import this year too. So far this year 4,000 cars have been registered, almost as many as the whole of January last year. So it seems like we can expect a significant increase in cars sales going forward.

Obviously buying a secondhand in the UK is riskier than purchasing a new car but your risks can be significantly reduced at home or abroad, by sticking to the following guidelines.

Here are some things you can consider when buying a secondhand car:

  • It is so important to run a history check before buying a used car. Get the registration of the vehicle you are looking at so you can use it to run a history check on the vehicle. By running a history check with, you can then bring it with you when you go to see the car. By checking the car's history you can tell if the car was a previous write-off, a car that has been 'clocked' or with finance repayments outstanding.

  • Always buy from a reputable dealer If you buy privately your prospects of recovery is very slim if anything goes wrong.

  • If a car does not have a complete and authentic service history you may want to consider walking away from the deal.

  • Do not be embarrassed about asking lots of questions. If there is hesitation or obfuscation, again walk away.

  • Get your finances in order well in advance of buying a car. Do your research and check for good deals at dealers, credit unions, banks, special offers etc. You may save a considerable amount of money especially now when the market is so intensely competitive.

  • It might be possible to speak with the former owner of the car if they were agreeable so you can ask the garage/dealership/reputable seller if it's possible to put you in touch. Seek some type of a guarantee and a six-month minimum would be a good start.

  • If you are looking to trade-in your old car, it might be better to sell it privately first and then go to a dealership as a cash customer. Find out what price difference the dealer will come up with for a cash deal. You may get less when you sell your car privately but you could still be ahead if you can negotiate a better deal with the dealership by getting a lower 'cash' price for the newer one.

  • If you have any doubts whatsoever, no matter how small, the chances are your instincts are correct and so walk away.

  • Even though there is quite a bit of talk at the moment about used-value imports, why not give your local dealer a chance as there is always a certain security in proximity.

  • Most importantly, don’t let the situation get the better of you. You may be very excited about the prospect of getting that new car, so keep your senses and wits about you and don’t get caught out because you haven’t done your due diligence.

Happy motoring!


Justin Kavanagh
Justin Kavanagh is a recognised leader in automotive intelligence and vehicle data supply to the entire motor industry. He has almost 20 years experience in building systems from the ground up. As the Managing Director of Vehicle Management System, he understands the need and importance of trustworthy and reliable vehicle history and advice to both the trade and the public.
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