used car

Buying a used car can be a great way to get a car at a lower cost, however it can also have certain pitfalls. If you want to avoid buying a car which is damaged, stolen or otherwise not classified as roadworthy, then it is essential that you do proper checks before you complete your purchase.

Buying privately

Buying privately can give you a chance of a better deal than buying from a trader for example as a private seller doesn’t have overheads to cover. Meet the seller at their home rather than as arranged meeting place. There are different checks you can perform to confirm the car and seller are genuine, as listed below. Make sure they own the car, and they are in fact who they say they are. You should ask obvious questions such as how long the seller has owned the car, what history it has, why they are selling. As you’re most likely going to be paying cash you need as much assurance as possible that the car isn’t going to be a pup.

Buying at Auction

Auctions can be a very risky place to buy a vehicle, as you have very little legal protection. Most cars are sold as seen, so you are expected to notice issues before purchase. Always read the auction house’s purchase rules before you place a bid on a car.

Buying from a Dealer/ Trader

If you choose to buy from a used car dealer, look for one which has an established reputation for selling quality vehicles. Make sure that they are a member of a major trade association, such as the Retail Motor Industry Federation. This association can provide you with support if you do experience a problem.


You can ask the seller to let you see the car’s registration number, the MOT test number, the mileage and details of the make and model. You can then compare the details that the seller gives you with the details that the DVLA has on file using their online information checker. There may be some small discrepancies, but if you notice anything major then this should raise alarm bells. If the V5C registration certificate does not match with the car showing in the DVLA records then you should contact the police, as the car may be stolen.

You can also use the GOV.UK website to check that the vehicle has a valid MOT. If there are any distinct gaps in the MOT history of the vehicle, then you might want to ask the seller for clarification.

Private Checks

You can also pay to have additional private checks done on the vehicle. These checks usually cost up to £20, and are available from various agencies, including; the AA, the RAC, and Autotrader. They can show you whether the vehicle has ever been reported stolen, whether it has ever been involved in a serious accident and whether it has ever been written off and subsequently returned to the road.

Test Drive

It is a good idea to test drive a vehicle before you agree to purchase it. If possible, it is best to do this in dry weather and in good light conditions. If you are buying from a private seller, you should make sure that you are insured to drive it, as you may be committing a crime if you are not. Drive the car for about 15 minutes and try the car out on a few different roads if possible.

Buying the Car

If you do not think that the vehicle is worth the asking price, you can try to haggle with the seller. If you feel as though you are being pressured into paying too much, then you can stop the deal by saying no. If the deal does go through, make sure that you get the original log book (V5C registration) and a valid MOT certificate. It is no longer possible to transfer car tax over from one owner to another.

Paying for your car

Cash – It may be less expensive to pay by cash and you may avoid additional transaction fees, but you will not get any payment protection. You may also be at risk if you turn up with a large amount of cash.

Credit or Debit card – If you pay by credit card, you could accrue high interest charges but if something goes wrong with the deal you may be able to reclaim your money using the “chargeback” scheme or a “section 75” claim.

Electronic Transfer – This is a fast and safe way of making the payment, although your bank may have a maximum transfer value. Some transfer services will charge you to transfer larger sums of money.

Finance – You can arrange to pay off the car over a period of time, but you will likely accrue a large amount of interest on the payments. You may have to continue paying for the car even after you have stopped using it.

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