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Used cars buying guide – What to check and how to get the best deal possible

used cars

This used car buying guide could make it easier to purchase a vehicle (Image: GETTY)

There are a bunch of variables when buying a used car that can make the process stressful.

In addition to this, unless you have an immense knowledge of cars then you could unfortunately not only get a bad deal but also buy a car that is not up to par.

In an attempt to quell any anxieties and worries, the AA has created a buying guide which should make the process simple.

We’ve asked our experts some of the most common used car buying and car finance questions – from what to check when buying a used car, to advice on consumer rights and finance eligibility.

What should I check when buying a used car?

Make sure you read used car reviews, compare the engine and trim options, research running costs, check the vehicle history, inspect the tyres, windows and general condition of the car, and take it for a test drive. Make sure the handbook, V5C and service history are available and, if you’re buying from a dealer, ask the seller questions about the warranty, payment and car finance options.

Our checklist for buying a used car gives you a comprehensive break down of what you need to look out for, so you can tick things off as you go and not miss anything.

Can used cars be financed?

Yes. Car finance can be used for both new and second-hand cars. *With AA car finance you could borrow between £1,000 and £25,000 to help you buy your next used car. Repayments will vary depending on how much you want to borrow, your credit score and the repayment period.

Can I get car finance?

Not everyone will be approved for car finance – be it AA car finance or otherwise – and there are several factors that can determine your eligibility.

However, with AA car finance there is a free eligibility checker which looks at your credit file and carries out an affordability check to see if an application for AA car finance is likely to be successful; it doesn’t impact your credit rating. If you’re given a quote you can apply, but this will involve a full credit search.  

The AA car finance calculator can also give you a rough estimate of what your monthly payments might be.

What are my rights when buying a used car from a dealer?

Your rights are covered by the Consumer Rights Act 2015. These state that any car bought must ‘be of a satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and as described’.

In most cases you’ll be entitled to a full refund within 30 days and have the right to reject anything faulty. After this you may only be able to ask for a repair, replacement or partial refund, depending on how much more time has passed. It’ll also be harder to prove any faults aren’t just general wear and tear.

If you buy through one of our approved dealers then you get extra cover. This includes the dealer promising to provide a minimum of 6 months MOT, a road test for the vehicle, a free history check and handing over all essential documents.

used cars finance

Car finance can be applied to used cars too (Image: GETTY)

Should I buy a second-hand diesel car?

Diesel cars offer better fuel economy than most petrol models and are still the right choice for many drivers, particularly those whose annual mileage is higher.

More and more cities are considering restricting access for some older diesel and (and petrol models) or are introducing charges for access, so if you frequently have to drive into one of our bigger towns or cities then a diesel’s probably best avoided, unless you’re buying one of the latest, and cleaner ‘Euro 6’ diesels. 

When is the best time to buy a used car?

February and August are good months to pick up a bargain as dealers look to clear their forecourts before the new number plates arrive. Demand for convertibles drops in winter and searches for 4x4s peaks ahead of winter, so buying out of season can make the car you want more affordable. 

How do I sell my car?

You can sell your car to a car buying service, trade it in when buying a new one or sell it privately. In practice the car buying service is likely to give you the lowest price and the least hassle. You might get more for a trade-in, but it will usually be more inconvenient.

To help you with this, read our tips for selling your car successfully.

used cars

February and August are good months to pick up a bargain (Image: GETTY)

How much is my car worth?

The value of your car will be based on different factors including its make and model, age, mileage, condition, previous number of owners, service and MOT history.

You can also look at similar used cars for sale to help give you an idea of how much your car could be worth.

Which used cars are the most reliable?

Most cars are pretty reliable these days, but some manufacturers have a better reputation for reliability than others.

In a recent ‘reliability survey’ the Toyota Yaris and Suzuki SX4 S-Cross came out joint top, as the only 2 to score 100% for their reliability. The Nissan Leaf, Toyota RAV4 and BMW 3 Series made up the rest of the top 5.

What documentation do I need when buying a used car?

The current buying process doesn’t necessarily require any physical documentation. What you do need when buying a used car is a credit or debit card with enough funds, and after the purchase you and the seller need to tell the DVLA that the car has a new owner. This is best done online.

However, you still need to make sure the seller hands over the car’s V5C form, its service history and handbook. The official MOT record can now also be found online.

Can I negotiate used car prices?

It’ll depend where you’re buying the car, but usually you can haggle on the price. There are a few things you can do to negotiate:

• Check the car’s price from other dealers.

• Know what your car is worth when part-exchanging.

• Look for any superficial damage.

• See how long the car has been for sale.

Which used cars hold their value?

The cars that depreciate most slowly tend to be those that are rare but popular. Many sports cars and trendy SUVs are currently holding their value well because there’s more demand than supply.

Different trim levels can also affect how much models depreciate, so it’s worth researching in greater detail if you’re after a specific style. Always compare the new list price with that of the used model to get a good indication of how well it has held its value.

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