You may have read a ‘How to buy a used car’ or other car buying guide before? Some of them make it sound like a terrifying process.

It shouldn’t be.

With a bit of common sense anyone should be able to buy a decent used car and get value for money for their investment. Really the process can be boiled down to a few simple questions which you need to answer honestly as you navigate your way through the process.

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Question 1 – What is the right car for me?

Be honest with yourself here. Buying something too big, too small or too impractical (or expensive) to run could quickly become a millstone around your neck. The trick is not to buy on impulse or let a salesman pressure you into deciding before you’re ready.

Take time to evaluate what you really need, it might just be a little less flash that what you would really like, but in the long term that extra time to think it through may save you hundreds or even thousands of pounds.

Question 2 – How much can you realistically afford?

This is not how much you think you can you afford? That’s different. Make sure you’ve accounted for insurance and other running costs. If buying on finance, work out your monthly outgoings (be very honest and thorough about this – make sure you have accounted for all of your costs) and factor in the car’s running costs into the payments you’ll be making.

Question 3 – What will the insurance cost?

This can be a deciding factor and very expensive on flash vehicles that it often tempting to buy on impulse. – hence questions 1 and 2. Do the research and know what the costs will be here before handing over the cash or signing on the dotted line.

Question 4 – Could an Expert help?

It might be a car-crazy, knowledgeable friend or an independent expert. If you aren’t too sure, it’s always wise to get help.


Some cars hold their value better than others. Those that plummet are often thought of as rubbish, but in fact can make a great used buy.

Only a fool would pay the same for a new Korean luxury car as a BMW 3-Series. But two years on the fully loaded far-eastern luxury model will cost the same as an ex-fleet Ford Focus.

And finally

Buying the wrong car, for the wrong price on the wrong deal is not the end of the world. It happens to us all at some point. Read this guide and hopefully, it won’t happen again. For more tips on how to buy a car

Buying Options & Tips

Used Approved Car Supermarket Independent
used dealer
Private Sale Auction
Buying Experience Just like buying a new car but without the depreciation and teething troubles. Big stocks, all makes, low prices, minimal service Further down the food chain. Some are superb, others less so. No longer wears a sheepskin coat, but some are still villains Potentially the cheapest way to get the best cars, but some may owners overvalue their vehicle – sometimes just to negotiate . As risky as private sale but potentially cheaper and you see more cars at one go
For Choice, quality, peace of mind, nationwide stock lists Choice, price, easy Local, cheap, big choice including older cars Cheap, easy to haggle, seller should know car’s history Very cheap, big choice
Against Expensive, predominantly one make per dealer No haggling, not always local, might not have the exact car Do you trust them? No comeback, can only see one at a time You’e competing with dealers, no comeback, risky
Available Cars Nearly new, very clean. Maybe an ex fleet or lease car. Thorough inspection and preparation, service history, breakdown cover, and all repair work carried out properly Nearly new or new (pre-registered), average mileage, very clean. Lots of choice. Huge range from 3-10 years old. Many will be ex-fleet cars; higher mileages, less likely to be genuine, more risk Could be anything from a £50 banger to a distress sale Porsche Anything from ex-fleet cars to ex-police cars to unwanted dealer part-exchanges
Price Range High but you can usually get a good deal if you’re persistent Cheap but don’t expect a further discount Mid price. Most operate in the £3000-£10,000 range, plenty specialise either side of that. Always too high to start with, but for the brave haggler there are bargains to be had Generally low, but popular stuff can go for over the odds
Part Exchange Options Most will take anything in part-ex, but don’t expect top prices because they’ll trade it on or sell at auction. Might not want your car or will offer a low price and then sell it through the trade Most will take anything in part-ex, and prices can be good (because they’ll be selling it themselves) Not usually unless they are a back street dealer No
Warranty Manufacturer-backed approved 12 month warranty Balance of manufacturer warranty on nearly new, insurance-based used car warranty on others. You pay extra (or haggle for it) for anything over three months at most independents You can buy an aftermarket package A few hours if you’re lucky
Test Drive Yes Not normally Usually yes Yes No
Finance Provision Should be a good choice at competitive rates Rates not usually competitive, but quick and convenient Limited choice, can be expensive No No
Support & Customer Service Most will swap the car if you aren’t happy Pre-sale checks not always as thorough as manufacturer approved scheme You have legal rights, but might have to go to court to enforce them Difficult. You’ll have to prove the seller knew there was a problem Not usually
Other points Check what you get as schemes vary with manufacturer Is it an import? Are they really in stock? Ring before you drive 100s of miles Most independents are as good as you’d hope, but there are some cowboys around. Keep your head and don’t believe a single word of what they say. You aren’t there to make friends, just buy the car for the least money and go. Potentially risky and always time consuming, but should be the cheapest way to a good car if you can be tough enough. Visit a few sales before you buy. Get to know the ropes and what to pay. Always take this Price Guide with you.