When you’re buying a car, it can work out a lot cheaper to get it used. And if it’s only a few years old, so nearly new, you could save yourself thousands of pounds compared to the brand new sale price. Whether you’re looking for something cheap to get around locally, or have your heart set on your dream car, there’s plenty of choice on the second-hand market. 

The only issue with buying second-hand is that you don’t always know what you’re getting, or even the things to look for in a used car. That’s why we’ve provided a few handy tips for buying a second-hand vehicle below!

Top tips

1. Think About Your Requirements

One of the first things you need to think about when buying a used car is what you really need it for. Is it for short city drives, or long hauls? Do you need to tow a caravan or trailer? How about boot space, or number of seats? Maybe your main priority is getting a cheap car to run. Whatever your essentials requirements are, make sure you make a list so that you can keep track of the type of vehicle you’re looking for.

2. Smaller Engines Work Out Cheaper

While a larger engine often sounds more appealing, as more horsepower must be better, power shouldn’t be your only consideration. Unfortunately bigger engines tend to use more fuel than smaller ones, so if you’re looking for the more economical choice, a smaller engine is the way to go. Of course if you’re planning on taking a lot of long journeys, a tiny engine may not cut it! 

3. Consider the Costs

The cost of a second-hand car isn’t just about the upfront price. You may be putting down a deposit and getting a car on finance, or buying the vehicle outright - either way, there are many other costs to consider. Fuel is probably the largest expense for most people, after the car purchase. You can work out the rough fuel cost by using the Gov.uk fuel consumption tool. This site will also let you know the approximate price of road tax, as well as the emission rate. 

You’ll also have to factor in things like car insurance, yearly MOTs, as well as servicing and maintenance costs. You should probably consider breakdown cover too, if it’s not included in your insurance policy. While these expenses are generally annual, so you don’t have to worry about them each month, you’ll still need to budget for them.

4. Compare Dealerships

While it can be tempting to just use your local car dealer, it’s unlikely that you’ll get the best deal that way. If you’ve got a particular type of car in mind, contact all the dealerships in your area to ask for a price estimate. And once you’ve got the lowest price, see if any other dealer is prepared to beat it. You may even be prepared to travel relatively far afield to get the best deal on a car - simply expand your radius as far as you’re willing to go! If you can find a car a few hundred miles away that’s thousands cheaper, it’s probably worth the time and travel costs.

used car deal

5. Don’t Forget to Haggle

Dealers do expect people to haggle. So agreeing to the asking price will often mean you’re paying more than you need to. A lot of people aren’t comfortable with haggling, but there are a few good techniques you can use to make it easier. First, you need to have done some research, so you know what the car is worth. That way, you’re coming from a strong position. Another thing to keep in mind is that any flaws with the vehicle, whether it’s a small dent or scratch, will mean you can ask for a price reduction. 

You may also wish to look at a dealership’s discounted cars - if they’ve already lowered the price, there’s usually more wiggle room. And even if you’re not able to get the dealer to budge, you can always ask them to include something for free, from new floor mats to a top-of-the-line sat-nav.

6. Look the Car Over

Before you commit to buying a used car, make sure you look at it carefully, and if possible, ask someone along who knows a lot about cars! Consider the overall condition of the vehicle, such as whether there have been any previous repairs, the quality of the tyres, and the state of the engine. It’s also a good idea to test out all the gadgets and buttons inside the car - does the radio work? How about the electric windows and the lights? While these things probably won’t cost a fortune to fix, if they don't, you can use these small issues to haggle!

7. Petrol, Diesel or Hybrid?

There are certain benefits to each of these options. Petrol cars tend to be cheaper, though can be less reliable and have less efficient engines. Diesel cars are more economical and are great for long journeys, but cost more to purchase, have higher fuel prices, and emit harmful nitrous oxide. 

With a hybrid, these are generally cheaper all round, apart from the initial sales price! They’re also better for the environment, as are fully electric cars. For more information about which type of vehicle to choose, you can check out the pros and cons in our blog post here.

8. Take it for a Test Drive

You can’t really know how a car handles until you take it for a test drive. Make sure you’re comfortable, and that everything can be adjusted, such as raising, sliding and tilting your seat. See if the suspension is decent, and how loud the engine is. And definitely get an idea of what the power is like, how smooth the clutch is, and whether the brakes work properly! A lot of the time, you’ll know if it's the right car for you as soon as you start driving.