Picking a model that is a few years old will dramatically slash the upfront cost - but choosing the wrong car could leave you significantly worse off further down the line
Many motorists will be planning on driving away with a new car now that the new “68” registration plates have been launched.
But for lots of people – including younger drivers – second-hand cars are the only choice, as they are often the only cars that those on a tighter budget can afford to run.
Buying a used car is a great way to cut costs, as the first owner has taken the hit of initial depreciation. Most new cars lose around 40% of their value in the first year, according to the AA.
Picking a model that is a few years old will dramatically slash the upfront cost.
But there are risks associated with buying second-hand, so it's important to take your time, and not rush into anything, even if you’re not spending a fortune.
When searching for a set of wheels, it’s not just the initial cost of purchase you need to think about.
There are also running costs to consider, as well as the condition and ownership of the vehicle.
Alex Buttle from car buying comparison site, Motorway.co.uk , said: “It may seem obvious, but think about what you need from the car before you end up with a convertible when you really need a family estate.
"Think carefully about petrol or diesel, as if you live in London, for example, heavily-polluting diesels now have to pay an additional tax on top of the congestion charge.
"You may find hybrid cars are more expensive to buy, but you will pay little or no duty as they are low-emission vehicles.”
Also think about the size of car you’re buying, as smaller cars (with smaller engines) are generally cheaper to insure.
The key to finding the best value used car is by first getting an indication for how much certain models are fetching for that age and mileage.
Sites such as AA Cars can help cut down this legwork by showing you how much certain age models are fetching, while sites such as Parkers, What Car? And Carbuyer will also give you a rough estimate of what a car is worth.
Elsewhere, Honestjohn.co.uk and model-specific forum sites can also be a useful source of information on common faults and “what to look for” tips, but bear in mind that the few who have had a poor experience are more likely to be outspoken than satisfied customers. Don’t forget Topgear.com as well.
James Fairclough, motoring expert of AA cars, said: “Value can be a difficult concept. A cheap price tag might mask the fact the car needs a lot of work down the line.
"By contrast, a slightly pricier model from a respectable dealership could have far fewer miles under its belt, so may be better value in the long-term. This is all worth weighing up in the search for your next car.”
In recent years, cheap finance and personal contract plans (PCP) have fuelled a boom in new cars.
Drivers have been able to buy a brand new car with a relatively small deposit, followed by affordable monthly payments spread over a number of years.
Given that drivers upgrade their car after just two or three years, should you specifically look for a car that has been on a PCP deal?
Motoring expert, Rebecca Jackson, who presents the WhatCar video reviews, said: “The old PCP cars go into the used network in the same way as a part-exchange car would.
"You will not know whether or not a car has been on a PCP deal as this would be classed as part of the data protection of the previous owner.
"And, even if a dealer gives a guaranteed value at the time of original sale (when the PCP deal was done), a car is only worth the amount it sells for on the day it sells.
"When buying a used car, the key is to shop around in several places to find the car that suits you best for a price you can accept – and service you like.”
One option you might want to consider is buying a car that is four years old.
According to MoneySavingExpert, by a time a car is around four years old, it’s often great value as its price has most likely halved since new – even though it has just 20,000-30,000 miles on the clock. So you might want to consider narrowing your search to cars in this category.
Whatever the age, remember you’re not purchasing an asset that will increase in value.
Buying from a dealer
Pros - Many dealers have approved used cars that have been checked before selling. They may have replaced faulty parts before sale. Many also offer warranties.
If you buy through a dealer, you also have rights under the Consumer Rights Act which states the car must be “of satisfactory quality taking into account the car’s age and mileage.”
If there is a fault you are entitled to a refund.
Cons - You will pay more than you would buying privately.
Buying privately via a sites such as eBay or Gumtree
Pros - You will pick up a car more cheaply, than you would from a dealer. You can bid from your living room.
Cons - While the car must match the description in the advert, you have fewer rights.
It is a riskier way to buy a car because if something does go wrong, you have very little legal protection.
There’s a risk of scams.
Buying from a car supermarket
Pros - Can offer some great deals.
Con s - You won’t get the same level of service and expertise as a traditional dealer set-up.
Buying at auction
Pros - You might be able to bag a bargain.
If the seller is a dealer, you will get protection under the Sale of Good Act.
Cons - Auctions are really only for the experienced buyer. Dealers have an eye for detail and are good at making a quick decision.
There’s a danger you could get carried away and pay too much for a car. You need to remember there is an indemnity on top of the hammer price.
If the seller is a private individual, the car only needs to be “as described” so it’s “buyer beware” once again.
If the car turns out to be faulty, your legal rights are limited.
Tips when buying a used car
When buying a used car, it’s important to go and give the vehicle the once-over before signing on the dotted line.
Buttle said: “Look for any obvious repair work, particularly work that might suggest the car has been in an accident. Look under the bonnet, check the oil level by lifting up the dipstick, and look at the engine to see if there’s any sign of oil or water leaks.
"Check the lights work, the seat-belts work, and make sure the tyre treads aren’t heavily worn or deflated.”
If you’re worried you might miss the obvious, take a friend along who knows what to look for – and who can immediately raise red flags.
You could also consider paying for a professional inspection. A little outlay could save you a packet in the long run.
A spokesman for motor insurer and telematics provider, Insurethebox, said: “Unlike many of today’s cars, used cars don’t always have top-of-the-range safety features.
"Check to see what is available. Things you should look for include airbags, traction control and anti-lock brake systems.”
If your insurance covers it, take the car for a test drive. This is your only opportunity to check the car’s general mechanical condition.
Mike Brewer, motoring expert and spokesman for Smartdriverclub, said: “The look may be quite different from the feel, and you may spot signs of emerging problems when driving the car for the first time.”
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