Top tips for buying a used car

  • Buying a car from a dealer?
  • Follow our top tips for peace of mind
  • What to do if you end up buying a lemon

Happiness is a good car deal away...

Buying a car from a dealer? Our man in the trade gives you some top pointers to help make your new car purchase as trouble-free an experience as possible...

There’s a few things in life that can push your stress factor ballistically skywards. House buying is top, going on holiday comes a pretty close second and buying a car is definitely third. However, they should all be an exciting experience but in reality, that rarely seems to be the case.

Here at Parkers, we get frequent feedback from many of our car-buying readers. The majority have a great buying experience and the route to owning their dream car, for the majority – is trouble free. Saying that, for a small number of owners, that experience ends up being the headache from hell.

So, we’ll try to give you, the potential buyer, some useful Parkers tips and up-front advice about buying and what you should look out for – hopefully avoiding some of those potential pitfalls.

Used car buying tips: what kind of dealer?

So, you have your beady eyes on some shiny new metal – what next? Let’s look at what buying from different trade outlets actually means.

Many buyers will purchase from a trade dealer. Dealers can be either a Franchised main dealer, which means the dealer is tied with one or more motor manufacturers. Alternatively, the dealer may be classed as an Independent. These dealers can vary vastly from large ‘Car supermarket’ organisations to the small one-man back street garage. There’s advantages and disadvantages with both.

Pros and cons: main dealers

✅  They represent the manufacturer and as such, offer all the thrills and experiences of a main dealer network. Cars will be normally prepped to a high standard and various checks (such as HPI and mechanical checks) performed. Any faults should have been rectified beforehand and you shouldn’t have any nasty surprises when buying the car. In theory – it should be trouble-free.

  On the flip-side, franchised dealers are normally more expensive than independents but many people feel much more comfortable in paying the extra outlay with that added reassurance. If things go wrong, you can normally get the dealer to rectify it.

Pros and cons: independent dealers

✅  Independents are generally a cheaper alternative to buying a car compared to a main dealer. Many independent dealers are experts with some specialists offering better facilities than main dealers. In particular, specialist car centres, those selling sports or classic cars for example, are often top in their field. Enthusiasts often use this type of network as the specialist knowledge is often unrivalled.

  On the flip-side, the independent network can lead to some unscrupulous individuals appearing (and disappearing) quickly from the scene. The sheepskin-coated ‘Arthur Daley’ character certainly exists in the used car market. There’s no simple and easy way to make sure you’re dealing with a professional setup, but here’s a few pointers that will assist you on that journey.

Dodgy Dealer
Tony's out to sell you a lemon - he's the one to avoid!

Top tips: buying from an independent dealer

ℹ️  Before visiting the dealer, Google him. It’s pretty simple. See where he’s located. Can you see a dealership or is it just an old disused industrial estate? It’s not a guaranteed method but could be a very good indicator. We found one dealer’s address that was located inside a butcher’s shop.

ℹ️  Check any online reviews (Trustpilot for example). Many reputable independents have reviews left by previous customers, so check the feedback. If you do find lots of negative feedback and comments then it’s a pointer to steer clear.

ℹ️  Always pay on credit card. For most Independents this is not a problem. You are then totally covered by ‘Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act’ (see more below) should things go wrong. Outlets saying, ‘they don’t take cards’ should be treated with caution.

Top tips: buying from a Car Supermarket

Car buying tips from Parkers
Photograph: Getty Images

ℹ️  Lots of choice. Top of the independent food chain is the Car Supermarket and just as it says on the tin, it’s like 'Tesco' for cars. Some supermarkets are hefty operations in their own right and many top ones (like Motorpoint for example) have multiple outlets across the country.

ℹ️  No room for price negotiation. Here you’ll get the best prices in the sector. Supermarkets will price their stock very keenly and you’ll be seeing some of the lowest prices around. They’ll often have good stocks although trim-level choices may be limited. You’d be wasting your time trying to negotiate many hundreds of pounds off the sticker price – that just won’t happen. So, save your breath. Chances are if it says £10,000 on the sticker – that’s the final price and expect to pay it.

How to pay and buyer protection

ℹ️  Always pay by Credit Card as you have protection that’s written in law

We can't stress this enough. This is an area where you, the buyer, has a very powerful tool. If you purchase a car (or anything for that matter) using a credit card, spending between £100 and £30,000 - then you are covered by Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act.

This is the consumer's champion and the ace-card up your sleeve should things go pear-shaped. By purchasing on the card, you are covered (normally by the card company) for any breach of contract or misrepresentation by the trader. This is particularly useful if the retailer has ceased trading or has disappeared off the scene and won’t respond to your attempts to contact.

ℹ️  You have less protection paying by debit card

Unfortunately, you haven’t got the same protection if you use a debit card, although banks offer a Chargeback option. This works by reversing a transaction. It is not enshrined in law but most banks participate in the scheme. Chargeback tends to be useful for smaller purchases under £100.

We wouldn’t recommend purchasing a car using a debit card – even if you do have the funding. Pay on credit card and repay your card back from your debit card – doing it this way avoids interest charges.

What to do if you buy a lemon

If you have just purchased a used car and it has major faults then you could get it repaired by whoever sold you the vehicle – or you could get your money back. However, you can’t reject the car because you’ve changed your mind.
Under current legislation, consumers are covered by The Consumer Rights Act 2015 in that all products must be of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and as described.

The act allows consumers to reject the car if you’ve owned it for less than 30 days and either claim a full refund or request the vehicle be repaired or replaced. After 30 days you can request the vehicle is either repaired or replaced free of charge. The dealer must be given the opportunity to do this. If, however, the work is unsuccessful – you are entitled to a refund. The dealer can deduct a ‘fair use’ amount after the first 30 days.

If there’s a major issue within the first six months of ownership, the dealer should accept there was an issue and offer a refund/partial refund. If they don’t accept this is the case – they must prove it. After the six-month period, the onus moves to you the owner and it will be up to you to prove there was a problem.

Dealing with the Dealer

How to deal with dealers

When you’re buying a car and potentially part-exchanging, you’ll need to barter out a deal. This can be a pretty stressful affair, but here we’ll give you some pointers on how to make everything run just that bit smoother.

ℹ️  Dealers have access to many various specialist trade valuation tools which gives them a very accurate insight into what your car is really worth. If you’ve done your research, sites such as Parkers offer the consumer a valuation service which in most cases, will reflect fairly closely to what the trade sees. As you’ve done your homework, then you are not going to get any nasty surprises when you begin the negotiating process.

ℹ️  Your optional extras are NOT worth what you think they are. Unfortunately, this is something we frequently see. The fact that you may have spent thousands of pounds of your hard-earned cash on every perceivable additional option, there’s no way you’ll recoup this back. Prices on options drop like a stone (up to 50% after the first year). Also, the dealer won’t be that interested in all the options although he'll probably 'upsell' them to the next potential owner. Dealers should allow you some modest percentage on top – but don’t expect big ££

ℹ️  Most dealers can spot ‘tyre-kickers’ a mile off and they are unlikely to be woo’d by these antics. You’re sure to be given the cold-shoulder

ℹ️  Don’t ask the dealer what his ‘Best Price’ is. It’s a pointless question.

ℹ️  Don’t try and pick a ton of faults with a cheap car to try and get more money off. Most dealers will just ignore you.

ℹ️  Dealers often have monthly or quarterly targets – buying towards the end of the month could bag you a better deal if it means the salesperson hits their bonus.

ℹ️  Give your part-ex car some love. Vacuum and clean it thoroughly. Interiors that look like a biological war zone with year old pizza embedded into the trim won’t cut the mustard. When negotiating your part exchange present a positive ‘case’ for your car. Service history, receipts for work carried out and a nicely presented example will count in your favour.

Mythbusting: car deals and dealers

Car dealer forecourt

  Myth: The more owners a vehicle has had, the lower the value of your car

  Myth: Dealers like being paid in cash and it can get you a cheaper deal

 Myth: Floor Mats add value. No sorry they don’t. They’re just floor mats!

✅  True: Convertibles are worth more around Spring time

✅  True: A tank of fuel adds value. Yes, it does. £70 worth of fuel is £70 in anyone’s money.

✅  True: If a dealer’s car is cheap then it’s probably been around too long and the dealer wants it gone

Top five tips to get the best used car deal

Follow these tips, and you're likely toget a better deal...

1. Work with the salesperson

...not against them. In the end, you BOTH want a deal

2. Consider if you really need those extras

After-sales goodies such as extended warranties and GAP Insurance earn the salesman big bonuses. Do you really need them and if you do – could you get a cheaper alternative yourself?

3. Car finance: shop around

The dealer’s finance package again makes the salesman big bonuses. Do your research on what’s best for you as repayments can vary vastly. It’s an open market so shop around.

4. Always purchase using a credit card

You’re covered by Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act should things go wrong

5. Pay it off quickly!

If you pay by credit card, don’t forget to pay off the balance quickly [normally within that month] so you’re not hit with big interest charges.

Car buying tips from Parkers
Photograph: Getty Images