Your Car Buying Guide

Our top tips for buying a used car

The following guide has been put together to help your car buying experience become as hassle and stress free as possible. What makes our guide different is that we focus around the later stages of your decision making when buying your car and our advice when things go wrong.

Finding a car you love is in our mind, easy enough. However, who to buy from is the biggest risk factor in the whole buying process as this is who is taking your hard earned money.

Your car buying journey

The below will take you step by step through your car buying journey.

What car do you want

You will find endless sites available advising you on what car to buy, with plenty of written and video reviews. We wont go into this with you, we will advise you that sites such as What Car, Honest John and Parkers offer extensive information on most cars currently available in the UK.

Finding your next car online

Nowdays there are plenty of websites that list cars for sales. We will focus on the sites where you can buy from a dealership:

With over 36 million car buyers visiting this site a month, this is by far the most powerful website to use when finding a car. AutoTrader have invested in their on page experience offering a vast amount of information about the car you are looking to buy. In late 2016 they rolled out dealer reviews to assist car buyers in their search for a trusted dealerships (we strongly recommend researching a dealerships reviews elsewhere instead of using only one platform).

The major strength of AutoTrader vs the market is the volume of dealerships who use their platform. This means more cars for sale at any one time.

This is the new powerhouse that joined the UK market a couple of years ago. They are the biggest classified site in the US and were founded by  Recently they purchased another classified site called Pistonheads. 

The strength of CarGurus is their “Best Deals First” feature which displays cars based on the value of their deal for you the customer. They also hold dealer reviews at the centre of their product offering.

One of the newer sites available to UK car buyers. In the words of Carwow, Carwow, stylised as carwow, is a platform for buying new cars from franchise dealers. It uses the reverse marketplace model to remove the need for buyers to negotiate with car sellers – users choose the car they would like to buy, along with the various specifications and features, then receive offers direct from dealers.

One of the older classified sites that are around. 

An interesting addition to the car buying marketplace. They essentially aim to become to the Google of the car buying world in that you search for what you want in a car and they serve you ads matching your requirements. 

Well known for buying and selling household good, Gumtree has established itself as a major player in the UK car market with more and more dealerships listing stock.

Operate in the same way sites such as AutoTrader & CarGurus, however they were recently purchased by Ebay to become part oft their family.

Part exchange or private sale

This is one of the bigger decisions facing car buyers, do you choose the ease of sale vs getting more money in your pocket. Companies like We Buy Any Car have thrived in recent years on their ability to pay out fast thus removing any hassle. However, a report on AutoTrader identified that you can actually net 20% more by selling privately.

Can be completed traditionally via the dealership or now with numerous car buying websites such as  We Buy Any car or The Car Buying Group.

As mentioned before you are more likely to receive more money for your car selling provate, however this comes with the hassle of listing your car and dealing with other potential buyers. Sites such as AutoTrader,, Gumtree, Ebay and Pistonheads.

  • Buying the car outright will be your biggest outgoing. You can choose to pay the fee upfront or via a finance deal.

Pricing up the cost of your new car

Buying a car outright is only part of the consideration you should be taking. The below identifies key areas you should be checking:

  1. Buying your car– this will be your biggest expenditure and can either be paid in full or you can take out a finance deal and pay over a period of time.
  2. Finance deals– if you have taken out finance from a dealership or broker then you will need to factor in your monthly repayments alongside the below.
  3. Car insurance– once you have found the car you want to purchase make sure you go online and use comparison sites such as Compare The Market or Go Compare to check how much your monthly or yearly cost to insurance your car will cost.
  4.  Tax– it’s now easier than ever to find out how much you will pay for car tax. Sites such as AutoTrader display this against each car listing, if you cant find this use to find out.
  5. MOT– if the car your buying is older than 3 years then you will need to have an MOT test which is typically around the £50 mark. Always try and use a trusted local garage.
  6. Servicing– in order to keep your car performing at a high standard it is recommended that you service your car at least once a year. A full service can range anywhere between £120 to £350 depending on the make/ model of your car.
  7. Fuel– this is an area often forgotten by motorists when buying a new car. Most classified sites now clearly display the MPG for each car along with a clear expected cost to fill your tank. You can also check here
  8.  Other costs– there are plenty of other additional costs that will arise through car ownership. New tyres can add up, an option here are part worn tyres. General car repairs come at a cost along with other maintenance outgoings such as valets should be considered.

How to check your getting value for money

The good news here is that new classified websites such as CarGurus do this part for you by displaying if you are getting a good deal based on the other similar cars for sale. If you have more than one car your interested in, then you should always use this in negotiating with a dealership. The bigger franchise dealerships often promote a price match vs similar makes and models of car.


Research by Auto Trader has identified that the UK car buying public simply doesn't enjoy visiting a dealership so naturally haggling may not be our strong point. Most car dealers have room to maneuver when selling a car so paying the full price is a no no unless the purchase is made online without a visit. Here are a few tips below:

  • Do your research before arriving at the dealership
  • Build rapport with the sales person to get them onside
  • Play one dealer against another if you have more than one car in mind
  • Let the dealer do the talking when it comes to price
  • Leave and make an offer by email or text
  • Not as described offers an opportunity for discount
  • If your using other dealer services such as finance then push for discount as they often make most money from commissions
  • Buying privately? Always worth going in under the market price as you have nothing to lose and people often want a quick sale to pay for a new car of their own

Buying a car at long distance

Based on our experience of reading reviews from car buyers who have travelled some distance to view or buy a car this is a high risk strategy. The price may appear good, but there are many considerations that should be factored into your decision. Buying from a franchise main dealer vastly reduces your risk as they have nationwide garages, however independent dealers should be considered.

  1. If your simply viewing a car, you must seek assurances that the car is ready for a test drive and is mechanically sound. A long round trip to view a car will not only cost you time but it will also cost you money for fuel
  2. If things go wrong within your warranty period where can the car be fixed? Do the dealership expect you to use their preferred garage? If so, this will be a major problem. We strongly recommend getting an agreement in writing on where your vehicle can be fixed or you could end up with a hefty bill for repairs due to a dealer refusing to pay for another garage to fix your car.
  3. Can you drive away the same day and do you have to pay a delivery fee. These questions should be answered prior to your visit as these are additional costs that could mount up.

Be prepared before you visit

This comes in 2 main areas; research the specific car your about to visit and more importantly research the dealership.

This must be the most commonly overlooked part of the car buying experience. If the dealership has horrendous reviews then avoid them like the plague. The public can’t all be wrong about them so listen and avoid. Would you visit a hotel that is rated 1 star and has a terrible reputation? Buying a car is a big expense to dont take a risk with your money and safety. Read more about how to research a car dealership here.

The first check is a simple one around the mileage. The typical annual mileage for any car is around 10, 000 miles so anything a logn way off this measured against its age should raise red flags. Questions should be asked of the dealer before your visit. The second part is a HPI check which tells you if the car has been written off or involved in an accident. If this hasnt been declared by dealership in their ad then we recommend leaving this car well alone as their could be massive issues with the car in the long term.

Your test drive

This is another area not enjoyed by the average car buyer as often, apart from the obvious cosmetic look on a car we cant tell if the car is mechanically sound. The internet is full of online guides designed to help you on your test drive. The AA, RAC and WhatCar have some great guides you can look at. The below offers a few brief pointers to help you. For absolute peace of mind, should your budget allow it, take a mechanic or even a friend to check the car over as this could potentially save you money in the long term.

  • Feel the bonnet, check for excessive smoke and the sound of the engine when pulling off
  • Does the steering feel responsive and without vibration or resistance
  • Do they brakes feel sharp? If the pedal is low down before responding or they grind they may need replacing
  • How do the gears feel when the car is parked? Are they smooth when changing?
  • Is the clutch biting point high to the pedal? If so the clutch may need replacing which comes at a cost
  • Take someone with you. It's always good to have a second opinion as often we can become emotionally attached to a car before buying and this may cloud your judgement.
  • Does the car drive in a straight line? Check on a quiet road
  • Check all doors, the boot and handles work as they should and are not too stiff

If something doesnt feel right or you have a nad bad feeling about either the car or the dealership then walk away and give yourself time to think. A dealership will always tell you their is great interest in the car, in reality often this is a tactic to force your hand to act quick and make the purchase.

Paying for your next car

There is 3 obvious ways you can pay for your next car; cash, credit card or through finance.

  • Car Finance- There are plenty of car finance brokers out there who can help finance your next car. The Financial Conduct Authority have been all over the industry since the days of Wonga and as such brokers are under scrutiny to treat customers fairly. The main advantage of buying from a finance broker is that often they can find you a better rate than dealerships offer. Further to this they can assist you every step of the way on your car buying journey, most importantly when things go wrong. It is in the best interest of your car finance company to find a resolution with the dealership.
  • Credit Card- Only advised for smaller purchases as often interest rates can be high. This is a good solution if its for the short term or in particular when paying a deposit. Sites such as Martin Lewis recommend making a payment on a credit card as this protects you under Section 75 meaning any purchase over £100 is covered and they are duty bound to help you when things go wrong.
  • Cash- It appears gone are the days where paying cash gets your a good deal. Obviously this can only be judged on a dealer to dealer basis so if you are a cash buyer then of course ask for discount. The risk of paying cash arises if and when things go wrong as you have no protection unlike with car finance or on your credit card. You will have to fight the battle alone.
  • Be wary leaving a deposit. I have read many reviews where car buyers have left a deposit on a vehicle prior to seeing it on the basis that it would be refunded should they not want the vehicle. However on rejecting the car the dealership refused to refund the deposit with the car buyer left out of pocket. 

IF you choose to leave a deposit either pre sale or on your visit ensure you have it in writing that its refundable. This can either be on your receipt or in an email.

  • Warning. If you decide to pay by card some dealerships will try to add on a processing fee at the very last minute.

What does your warranty cover

Firstly we should address that a warranty will not cover typical everyday wear and tear items such as tyres, breaks, clutch and windscreen wipers. These are things you should check during your purchase and address with the dealer. Mechanical and electrical faults are covered within your warranty. However, experience teaches us that with mechanical issues you would need to rely on the dealer taking responsibility for certain issues if they occur post sale. Where they fail to agree to fix issues you would have to prove they were there before the purchase was made. This is often very difficult so being thorough in your pre sale checks are vital.

Be wary of the upsell

Car dealers make most of their wages based on upselling products for your new car so they are likely to push hard once you have found the car you want. If there are add ons you want to purchase then you should research the costs online as there are plenty of like for like products available online especially in the car finance and warranty world. You could literally save £100s by taking 5 mins to check.

Always check the paperwork

You might think this is obvious but trust me, you might be missing a trick here. I continue to read reviews daily from car buyers who purchased a car, had issues, contacted the garage to get any issues resolved, yet the dealership is trading under a different name. Other common areas to check are:

  1. The Logbook or V5
  2. Service book
  3. Car manual
  4. Sales contract *check for sold as seen as this may affect your rights if things go wrong
  5. Finance agreement
  6. Spare keys

Get your promises in writing

Any dealership should be able to sell you a car and offer an amazing level of service pre purchase. It's what happens next that stand a good dealership and a rogue trader aside. If you are made a promise pre purchase to fix an outstanding issue, get this in writing, demand it. Without this you may find a dealership unwilling to help and this could end up costing you money and stress.

Know your rights

Buying a used car is a risky business, we rely on the former keeper having maintained the vehicle and that the dealership have undertaken any promised tests prior to the sale. Experience of online reviews led this site to be launched due to car buyers having nowhere to turn when things go wrong. The below will help you understand where you can go and what you can do to help you resolve any issues.

The above section on “Paying for your next car” explains your rights when using certain payment methods. Have all complaints and communication in writing as this may help you if this goes further with trading standard, Citizens Advice or even in court. The below has been taken from Citizens Advice:

If there’s something wrong with your used car (e.g. it’s breaking down, the brakes have gone or it’s been clocked), you may have a legal right to a repair, the cost of a repair, or some or all of your money back.

You should report a company to Trading Standards if, for example:

  • they misled you into buying their products or services
  • they sold you unsafe or dangerous items
  • they didn’t carry out the work properly, for example, their work left your home in a dangerous state
  • they sold you fake or counterfeit items
  • they pressured you to buy something you didn’t want to buy
  • they sold you a car that wasn’t ‘roadworthy’ (it would cause danger if it was on the road)

You won’t be entitled to anything if:

  • you were told about the fault when you bought the car – and someone fully explained what the problem meant
  • you inspected the car and should’ve spotted the problem, for example a dent
  • you’re just unhappy with how much you paid for the car
  • you caused the fault

Your consumer rights are different if you’ve changed your mind about the car and there’s nothing wrong with it. Click here to lodge a complaint:

Your rights are very limited when buying from a private seller. The logic here is that the car is sold as seen, the seller has no obligation to have completed the same checks a dealership will have. The only instances where you have rights are if major outstanding issues werent declared when you asked, but you must ask this question and again, if you can get this in writing this will help your case. However, proving the seller knew about this issue and kept it from you is very difficult to prove.

Set your expectations

Buying a used car comes at a risk. This risk increases dramatically with age and mileage so you must bare this in mind when making your purchase. Things will inevitably begin to go wrong the older the car is so expecting a dealership to pay for wear and tear issues is highly unlikely. Looking at the service history is a great indicator of how well a car has been maintained especially with older, high mileage cars.

If things go wrong where you can turn

As mentioned above the obvious places to go are Citizens Advice, Trading Standard, Motor Ombudsman. However, experience again teaches me that there are other ways to get the attention of the dealership to resolve issues including the below:

  • Leave an honest online review- avoid any comments that are defamatory or libelous and stick to your opinion and feelings. Stick to the facts as anything fabricated will not help your cause.
  • Try to reach a compromise once you have the dealerships attention.

Order a car dealer background check today

Learn more about who you are buying from with the only car dealer background check available in the UK courtesy of our team here at Carbuco. We help reduce the risk of who you are buying from by researching any dealership on your behalf.

Author: Carbuco

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