Top Tips for Buying a Used Car

black car
Avatar photo
Written by Tim Barnes-Clay

Buying a second-hand car is certainly easier than it once was!

In the “old days” it was a case of finding a classified advert with one maybe two photos, then ringing the person up to go and have a look. You knew almost nothing about the car other than what they told you and some paperwork – and sometimes it wasn’t as described or there was something nasty they didn’t mention. Thankfully, these days not only do we have access to millions of online car listings, but we can also do hours of research, too! But there are still some handy tips worth thinking about when looking to buy a used car that can help you get the right one and avoid a lemon!

Time Of Year

Less of a tip than a general consideration but important, nonetheless. Used car prices fluctuate and they do so for many reasons. Seasonality is one of them and it’s a big one. For example, if you are looking for a used SUV in the winter the prices are going to be higher. This can be seen clearly after a dusting of snow or the first big rainstorm in the autumn. The same goes for convertibles in the summer as well as campervans. One of the best used car tips is to buy at the opposite time to when you may need it. If you want a lovely little MX-5 then make sure you start looking when its cold, dark and horrible. You may not get the roof down much, but you will save some money!

Check and Research

We have already mentioned research and it’s a big one. Once you know what car you think you may want, start digging! Look for common faults, look for different specs and more. Look specifically at changes made during a model’s lifespan and check you are buying one that has had any issues corrected. As well as manual research it is also worth using a car checker. There are free ones, but they don’t have a lot of detail. For a few pounds, though, you can get an enormous amount of info about a specific vehicle. Once you have narrowed it down to a car or two to look at, get them checked. You may well avoid buying a stolen car, a previously scrapped motor, or one that has outstanding finance.

car driving keys repair

Avoid a Bargain

It may seem completely ridiculous to say, but in the used car world bargains are not always what they seem. For example, you find yourself a make and model you like; you have a list of the trim levels you are after, too. You begin the hunt in earnest, and you stumble across one car that’s considerably cheaper than all the others. The mileage looks good and so do the pictures. This is where you should stop and think. There are some rare moments where a seller is genuinely trying to sell a car quickly and will price it as such, but these go fast! If it is still there in a few days, be wary! It may be there are some cosmetic issues and if you don’t mind, then it could be a great deal. But it may be there are some issues the seller is not being entirely clear about. Have a good look at the service history and any receipts, if there is a big gap recently then take that as a red flag and a sign someone might be hiding recent work.

Cold Engines and Dry Days

Two things that were always important used car buying tips are not quite as essential these days, but they still make sense and are worth remembering. The first is a cold engine. Starting from cold is normally the time an engine will show some of its problems. It’s actually quite a harsh process initially while oil makes its way around and the engine warms up. Knocks and noises can be much more pronounced, as can smoke. Make sure you ask the seller to leave the car cold for you. If the engine is up to temperature when you arrive and there is no reason for it, then be wary. Ideally take a friend or ask the seller to start it and have a good walk around to listen and see any exhaust issues. The second tip here is a classic – never buy a car in the rain. It’s a simple one and one well worth remembering. A wet car can look totally fine and then when it dries you notice faded panels, scratches, and worn plastics. It’s not just rain, either, it’s a bit of an old trick to wash the car before a viewing but leave it wet when the buyer arrives.  Its better to view a slightly grubby car than a sparkling one that’s still damp!

The used car market is booming in the UK right now, prices are quite high but there are lots of cars to choose from. Taking some time to research and get some checks done can mean the difference between a great car and a nightmare that ends up costing a lot of money to keep on the road.

Leave a Comment