Maybe you’ve been daydreaming about buying yourself a new (to you) car as a treat for graduating from university in a few months’ time, or you could be in the fortunate position of having been given some money to put towards a car for travelling to and from a new job you’ve landed. Here are some excellent tips for spending your car fund wisely.
1. Do your research: speak to friends, neighbours, colleagues and others who used to or still own a car you’ve got in mind. Search online, visit owners’ club forums and read used car buyers’ guides on sites like Honest John and Parkers, noting the good and bad points reported for your favourite models.
2. Create a shortlist: based on what you’ve found out, try and focus on the makes and models that will best fit your requirements and that sound the most reliable and economical to run. It may be tough but try to be realistic, crossing cars off your list that are flashy, costly to run, expensive to insure, unreliable or the wrong size or body-style for your lifestyle. If it replaces your current car, Carrot Insurance can advise you on the difference in premium.
3. Think beyond the short-term: if a second hand car is up for sale at a bargain price but has covered a high mileage, it could start costing you money in repairs sooner than you’d hoped. Many people automatically gravitate towards diesel cars thinking they will be cheaper to run, but this depends on your usage. Unless you drive on motorways a lot, petrol cars often work out cheaper to buy, run and service.
4. Focus on trade sellers: it’s tempting to buy a used car privately if the price and spec’ are attractive, but remember that you won’t be protected as much if you’re given a reason to complain, such as if the car is found to be faulty in some way after you’ve bought it. Car dealers, from small businesses to large car supermarkets, offer better consumer rights; and purchases are protected by the Sale of Goods Act.
5. Take a companion: a second hand car might be the most expensive thing you’ve spent money on in your life so far, meaning it’s perfectly sensible to ask a relative, friend or another person you trust to go and look at some used cars with you. After all, they may spot something you’d have missed on your own. Alternatively, organisations like the AA and RAC offer a used car inspection service, usually priced between £100 and £350.
6. Don’t feel pressured: buying a car is a big step and there’s nothing wrong with asking the salesperson for a bit of time on your own, allowing you to examine the car and make sure you’re comfortable with everything. Ask the seller as many questions as you need, as it’s important to leave no stone unturned.
7. Condition is crucial: an older car that has obviously been cared for lovingly is usually a safer choice than buying a newer car (perhaps even with fewer miles on the clock) that has clearly been abused and not looked after very well. Clean cars with no odd smells, stains, rips, tears, missing pieces or other damage are worth hunting that bit harder for. If a car’s interior condition doesn’t match its mileage, like if the steering wheel is really shiny, it may be ‘clocked’.
8. Full service history: it’s important to find out about a car’s life and to establish that it’s been serviced every year or at least in line with what the manufacturer has specified. Service histories should also tell you if a vehicle’s had ‘milestone’ work done, such as cambelt replacement, which could otherwise cost a fortune. Any recalls will also be in the history.
9. Inspecting the car: larger car dealers can usually show you some kind of maintenance checklist giving you peace of mind that the oil, brakes, tyres, battery and various other components are in good condition. You’re still entitled to inspect such things yourself, though, which is highly recommended when buying from small garages or privately. Electrics, handbrakes, lights, controls, bodywork and the interior should all be tested.
10. Test drive: Ideally, try to do so when the engine is cold, which will usually highlight any issues. Don’t fall in love with a car until you’ve experienced how the steering wheel, clutch, brakes, suspension, engine and gearbox feel. Any strange noises, dashboard warning lights, smoke, pulling to one side or juddering are bad signs. Test the air conditioning, audio system, boot, seatbelts, doors, bonnet, central locking and other less obvious features as part of the test drive, too.
11. Legal stuff: ask to see the V5C registration document (AKA ‘logbook’), ensuring the number plate and details for the seller and previous owner(s) all add up, with no spelling mistakes or signs of forgery. You can check a car’s identity and MoT history online for free and also pay a few quid for a private history check. Any remaining road tax is no longer transferred to a car’s new owner, who must pay for fresh tax themselves.
12. Agreeing a deal: based on the research you’ll have done, weigh up the car’s condition and feel free to respectfully haggle, keeping in mind your maximum budget and the minimum you want for a car you might be part-exchanging. Credit card payments are better protected than cash or cheques. Obtain a receipt, complete and return the updated V5C and keep hold of all paperwork for at least a year, just in case.