Used Cars 101 | Your Guide To Buying

Used cars

Did you know that more than half of all car buyers are currently opting to buy used rather than new? Or that consumers are actually three times more likely to buy used than new? This is hardly surprising given the value you can get in a used car for a much more realistic price point. Not only that, but used cars are a particularly good option for younger drivers, perhaps getting their first car.

So, in this actionable guide, we’re going to cover some of the most important things you’ll need to know when buying a used car. These tips are going to help make sure that you aren’t taken advantage of missing anything vital when it comes to making that all-important purchase.

Used cars

Finances first

Buying a car, regardless of whether it’s new or used, is an expensive venture. And, as with any big purchase, the first thing that needs to be considered is your finances and how you’re going to afford it.

First, determine how much you can realistically afford to spend on a car by setting a maximum budget and keeping that in mind. You should always set an ideal budget that is lower than your absolute maximum, as this starting budget leaves room for price escalation, and you should never buy more than you can afford.

Depending on where you get your car, your payment options will differ. Mainly, you’ll have two options: pay in full or used car finance. When you buy from an independent garage or private seller, however, they are unlikely to accept finance as an option, so bear that in mind when budgeting for your purchase.


Seller or scammer?

Always research the seller, whether that be an independent garage, an online site or even a private seller. You never really know what to expect when you’re not buying from a well-known chain dealership, and there are certainly people out there who will try to scam you.

To try and prevent this, make sure you get as much detail about the seller as possible. If you’re using an online service or an independent garage, make sure you’re checking out the ratings and reviews beforehand, as these can tell you a lot about the service you can expect.

If you’re buying from a private seller, such as an acquaintance or someone you’ve seen advertising online or in the local area, then be sure to speak to the person first. Try and get a feel for their intentions.


Inspect every detail

When we say every detail, we mean every detail. Nothing is too insignificant when it comes to a used car, as many problems can be easy enough to hide, and while something might seem minute, all those little things add up. So, always inspect the car thoroughly and test drive the car too.

These steps are important for all car purchases, but particularly for used cars, as these are much more likely to run into issues. Here are just a few things to check:

  • Check seats and trim for signs of damage
  • Inspect the bodywork for rust, chips, scratches and dents
  • Check all electrics (lights, windows) are working and try the air-conditioning.
  • Check all the panels – these should fit perfect; if there are gaps, the car might have been in an accident previously
  • Check the windscreen for chips and cracks
  • Excess wear on pedal rubbers, carpet and seats – could indicate the car is older than the seller stated
  • Check the tyres and spare wheel
  • Look for excessive exhaust smoke and unusual noises
  • Watch for smoke coming from the exhaust
  • Check the oil cap and oil levels
  • Insist on starting the car cold to check performance – if they refuse, they might be covering something up


Check the history

If you’re satisfied with the car’s physical inspection and test drive, your last step is to make sure you check the car’s history. This is vital as you need to be sure that the information the seller is giving you is true and that there is nothing funny going on with the car.

Checking the car’s history is going to tell you a whole load of valuable information that you, as the new seller, need to know before you go ahead with your purchase. These include:

  • If the car has outstanding finance on it – if it does, you might be made responsible for these outstanding payments
  • If the seller’s description and details match what they said
  • If the car has been stolen
  • The car’s true mileage history – clocked-back odometers are very common, and the seller may be lying about its mileage to get a better sale
  • If the seller is the car’s true owner

You can check the car’s detail online with the DVLA – all you need is the seller to provide you with the registration number, MOT test number, mileage, make and model.



Never take the asking price as the right price, as this is up for negotiation. Remember before when we talked about setting a budget with your ideal price being lower than the maximum you can afford? This is so you can negotiate your price when you’ve decided you want to proceed with the sale.

Now, don’t try to take advantage of the seller by offering something far too low, as you’re likely to be rejected outright, and the seller may no longer take you seriously. Instead, look at the market for this type of car and see what a fair price is that’s in line with your ideal budget.

Start here, and negotiate calmly and clearly. If you’re firm and fair about this process, you’ll hopefully be able to negotiate a price that suits both you and the seller, doesn’t break your maximum budget.

So, now you will hopefully be feeling ready to tackle the world of used car sales and find yourself your next ride. Take the tips in this guide on board and make sure you’re smart about your research. With patience and attention to detail, you should be able to secure yourself the perfect used car in no time!