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Buying a used car

When you’re buying a used car you need to make sure you do your homework. It’s an exciting time, but you have to do your best to remove emotion from your decision-making process. If you manage that you could find yourself in a much stronger position to find the car you want at a price you’re happy to pay.

  1. Know the market
    Spend time online looking for your ideal car. You can see what’s available and how much it’s likely to cost you. Use a valuation site to check how much you should be paying. Sites like Glass’s Guide (, What Car? ( and Parkers ( are well-known sites. You can even see what options and specifications are available on these sites. The more you research, the easier you could find it to get your ideal car.
  2. Check out what could go wrong
    Use a website like Honest Johns ( to see if there are any common faults linked to the second hand car you’d like to buy. Remember, however, that people who have had a bad experience are far more likely to put a review on a website than people who have had a good experience, so use your common sense when reading reviews.
  3. Set your budget. And stick to it.
    Buying a car is an exciting time. But make sure you don’t get carried away. Do your homework and see how much you can afford to spend.
  4. Avoid modifications
    Unless you’re looking for a car that sounds like thunder, you’re probably best to avoid any kind of modification when buying a used car. Simple things like new alloy wheels are counted as a modification by insurance companies. So it pays to get an insurance quote before you buy a car – it could save you from a nasty shock.
  5. A dealer or a private purchase?
    If you go to a dealer you’ll have more protection under the Sale of Goods Act. The downside is that the car is likely to cost you a bit more than buying it privately. No one is allowed to sell a car that isn’t fit for the road (as that’s a criminal offence). But once you’ve parted with your money for a private purchase, it could be a lot more difficult to get any problems rectified.
  6. Who else has a key?
    Always insist on getting both keys for the car you’re buying. A replacement key for a modern car could cost around £100, and you don’t want to worry if somewhere out there someone has a key to your car.
  7. Always, always test drive the car
    Take the car out and use as much of the equipment as you possibly can. Be methodical – on a hot day it may be difficult to remember to check the fan heater and the heated rear screen. Check all electrical equipment, like the 12v socket, windows, seats and sunroof to make sure they’re all in good order. Check the little things: is the locking wheel nut adaptor there? What about the owner’s manual? It can be helpful when looking at second hand cars to have a checklist to make sure you don’t miss anything on the day. You might even want to take a friend who knows cars along to make sure there aren’t any tell-tale signs of problems. If you don’t have a friend who knows cars, consider taking a professional from the AA or RAC along with you. There’s a cost for the professionals, but it could save you an expensive mistake in the long run.
  8. Use your common sense
    Ask to see proof that the seller is the registered keeper by looking at the V5C form. Ask to see the car’s service history and any receipts for repairs that have been made to the car. A little trick you can use when you’re dealing with a private seller is to call them and tell them you’re interested in “the car”. If they ask “which car” it’s more likely you’re dealing with a trader – so keep your wits about you.
  9. Carry out an HPI check
    This vehicle history check gives you peace of mind as it will show if the car has any outstanding finance, if it’s been stolen, or clocked or even written off. You can use the HPI (, AA or RAC websites, or apps, to check this. There’s a small cost for checking (normally around about £5-£10 per check).
  10. Don't be afraid to haggle
    The used car market is one place where people expect a little haggling, so go for it. Remember that the seller is trying to maximise their profit, just the same way as you’re trying to get a bargain. Always be polite and ask things in a positive way. For example “How much discount can you offer me?” is a more positive way of saying “Is there any discount available?”
  11. Keep your eyes open
    Make sure you have a good look at the car before you agree to purchase it. Looking along the length of the car could help you see any dents, scrapes or misaligned panels. And always look at the car during daylight hours – it’s much harder to spot any imperfections at night or when it’s raining.
  12. Complete the paperwork
    Make sure you have the section of the V5C that is meant for the new keeper. It’s proof that you are the new keeper until the full V5C is sent to you from the DVLA. Always double check that you have insurance for your new car before you drive it away and make a note of when the MOT is due for renewal.
  13. Avoid being desperate
    There are a lot of used cars out there. Avoid buying on a whim. If you’re not 100% certain that the car is the right one, at the right price, for you then walk away. If you follow these simple steps and spend time researching online you could be able to find a great car at a great price. Looking for a second hand car can be daunting at first, but it could also be a fun experience that results in you getting the car you really want.

This article is intended as general advice only which is not intended to cover specific circumstances and needs. The information in this article is also not linked to any of the products offered by Clydesdale Bank PLC.

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