Used Car Buying Advice


When buying any vehicle you must first assess your needs. It is imperative that you ensure the vehicle will be suitable for your lifestyle. This may involve you having to prioritise what you really want out of a car. For example, if you do a lot of mileage, you won't want a petrol guzzling 5.0, or if you want to carry more than one person at a time, a sporty roadster will not be for you.

To help you through the minefield of buying a car we have compiled the following guide for you to use for free.


When buying a car your first contact with the seller whether they are a private individual or a dealer, will more than likely be over the phone. There are some questions you should ask that could save both you and the seller a lot of time. This will help you judge whether the vehicle is really for you.

  • How long have they owned the vehicle?
  • How many previous owners has the vehicle had
  • What is the current mileage of the vehicle
  • In their opinion what is the general overall condition of the vehicle
  • Is there any finance outstanding
  • Has the vehicle been in any accidents
  • Is the price negotiable-It should be*
  • When can you come and test drive the vehicle**

*When entering any negotiation it is best to have an idea of what you are willing to pay for the car before you start.

**If you are buying from a private individual it is highly recommended that you do not meet them in a public place. Meet them at their home; you then know where to go if the vehicle is not "As described".

It is also recommended that you try and get a landline telephone number. Mobile phones are more than popular nowadays however that landline will give you a bit more assurance the seller is genuine.

Buying Privately

It is a fact: Buying a car privately is cheaper than buying from a dealer. Why? Well the average Joe has not got the obligations to prepare a vehicle to the standards required and expected from a dealer. He also does not have to pay for showroom over heads each month.

However as long as you remain sensible, buying a car privately can have you on the road for a substantial saving. But be aware.

  • Your legal comeback is minimal. As long as the vehicle is "As described" the seller's obligation ends.
  • You may decide that an AA, or RAC inspection is required to put your mind at ease. These are recommended, but not cheap. (However bear in mind you maybe able to use the results to negotiate on the price, which could more than cover the initial outlay)
  • The only warranty you will receive will be the remainder of any manufacturer warranty from new, or extended warranty that was purchased. Make sure it has been serviced in accordance with the dealer service plan. Ask to see the service history and invoices if available. If in doubt contact the local main franchised dealer and confirm the warranty is still valid. Also check any modifications have not voided the warranty.
  • If you have a car to sell it is unlikely that you will be able to part exchange. If you can, be wary that they may be a dealer posing as a private seller. Advertise you vehicle on and we will send you potential buyers local to you.

Overall if you are willing to put in some time and extra effort private sales can be a benefit, especially financially, so don't rule them out.

Buying From A Dealer

Years ago used car dealers had a bad reputation, and many deserved such. Today, thankfully the Arthur Daley's of the world are all but extinct and most dealer are reputable. Dealers are now thankfully bound by several laws and regulations to ensure the vehicles they sell are up to standard.

Buying from dealers now protects the consumer under the Sale Of Goods Act. This means the vehicle has to be of a good standard. This means that the best cars and warranties are to be found at the franchised dealers, however in general all dealers provide an easier buying process: Providing part exchange, insurance, finance, and servicing all in one local place.It is also worth considering manufacturer's approved programs. These programs can add even more value to the deal with free breakdown cover and extended warranty etc.

*A reputable dealer will be a member of a trade association. In the UK look out for Retail Motor Industry Federation Signs in the showrooms. WARNING: Unscrupulous dealers pretending to be private sellers rid themselves of poor, sub standard cars and avoid their legal obligations. If you come across one of these on Inform us and we will take the appropriate action.

Test Drives

A test drive in a used car really needs to be more than just driving it as fast as you can and hoping for the best. To get an idea of what you should really be doing read our informative guide below.

Prior to the inspection

  • Are you insured for the vehicle? Either yours or the sellers.
  • Define what you want from the vehicle and stick to it.
  • You dictate the agenda. Don't be led by the seller.

Initial Impressions

  • Is the vehicle straight? Check the door, boot and bonnet gaps are the same on both sides of the car.
  • Is the bodywork sound? If the vehicle is steel any filler can be found with a magnet (it will fall off!)
  • Are the tyres legal and look to be inflated correctly?
  • Sit in the drivers seat. Is it comfortable for you? Can you get in and out easily.
  • Can you see clearly enough to be able to control the vehicle?
  • Can you reach all the major controls comfortably and do they all work.
  • Do all the washers, wipers, lights and horn work?

Starting the engine

If a cars engine is going to have any faults they will probably show up better when it is cold, therefore always be wary of a car with a warm engine. The owner may have had someone else look at the car but he may be trying to disguise something.

  • Start the engine - modern day petrol or diesel engine cars should start quickly with the oil light going out straight away. If the oil light takes a long while to go out or comes on at idle after the engine is warm - beware! The engine may be excessively worn.
  • A little noise may be present initially but there should be no excessive noise from the engine once running.
  • There should be little or no smoke from the exhaust. Diesel engines may smoke a little if revved hard. Any excessive smoke could signify a worn engine or fuelling system. Water vapour may be present on cold damp days.
  • Turn the steering lock to lock. Is it notchy or has it any excessive play.

Road test

Do not let the owner of the car drive you. If the car does have faults he may be able to disguise them with his driving style.

  • Can all gears be selected smoothly without undue noise, with the correct amount of gear stick movement and reasonable pressure on the clutch pedal? A heavy pedal probably indicates impending clutch problems.
  • Find a hill and accelerate hard in a high gear. Does the engine increase in revs without a corresponding increase in vehicle speed? If so the clutch is worn and slipping. At the same time check for excessive smoke from the exhaust.
  • Does the vehicle drive in a straight line on a straight road or tend to wander. This could indicate worn steering or suspension components or worse still an accident damaged bent car!
  • Does the vehicle stop in a straight line. If not suspect worn or damaged brake, steering or suspension components.
  • Does the vehicle handle bumps in the road? Any undue movement or noises from the suspension could be costly.
  • Are there any extra noises whilst cornering? This may signify worn drive shafts or suspension components.
  • Does the engine have the performance you would expect?

After the road test

  • Before turning off the engine check the temperature gauge is at normal and that the oil light is still out.
  • Turn off the engine and check under the bonnet and under the car for any leaks. They could have been cleaned off before you got there, but not now.
  • Check the oil filler cap for condensation or white or tan residue showing there is water present in the oil. The engine may have done many short runs or it could have serious problems.
  • VERY carefully remove or release the pressure on the coolant cap (using suitable heat resistant cloth or glove) any undue excessive pressure or milky white or tan residue could mean serious engine problems.
  • Check the service record. Modern engines work hard, especially turbos. If the service book is not up to date, beware!

Specifics for diesels.

The latest diesel vehicles are very refined and barely discernable from their petrol counterparts, but earlier models will vary slightly.

  • Diesel engines are in general noisier, especially from cold or when the bonnet is raised.
  • Some diesel vehicles require stronger clutches and gearboxes so will require the equivalent extra effort to operate.

Diesel engines will sometimes smoke a little if pushed, but any undue smoke means excessive wear!