Tips for buying a used car and how to get a great deal

Get the best deal you can when you're buying a used car. Maximise your budget, fulfil your needs and enjoy the ride

By BuyaCar team

There are plenty of ways to go about buying your next car; you don't even have to buy it with cash anymore. You can of course pay cash if you have the means to do so, but it's much more common these days to opt for a car finance deal instead. 

This is just one of the factors you can consider when deciding how best to go about your next car purchase. Budget is another key factor, but not just how much you spend on the car itself, but how much you can afford to spend on maintenance and fuel.

As we'll highlight below, there are several points of interest you'll want to bear in mind when buying a used car and if you spend a bit of time getting it right, your driving experience is bound to be far more enjoyable.

You don't even have to head out to your local dealerships anymore, here at BuyaCar we'll help you complete your purchase online and deliver the car to your door. Get more from your next used car purchase by following our guide to securing a great deal.

1. Set a budget

You always need a budget to stick to whenever you're making any kind of purchase, and when you're buying a car, that budget needs to consider more than just the cost of the car itself. There's insurance, road tax, and running costs including fuel and maintanance to consider as well.

You also need to make sure the budget you set is realistic for your current situation. It's no use shopping around for cars that will cost more than you earn in a year. Financial studies often suggest you should spend around 20% of your salary on your car, so if you're taking home £25,000 you should be aiming to put forward around £5,000. The same calculations can be used for a finance budget, too. 

Obviously you don't have to follow this rule, you're well entitled to spend as much on your car as you like. But, it's always worth being clear on how much you can realistically spend, especially in finance terms, because a finance contract requires a long-term commitment, and you'll need to be sure you can maintain the monthly payments for the length of the contract. If your car finance deal is £250 per month, you'll need to make the payment, and still afford fuel, insurance and road tax during the year, along with any unexpected costs for maintenance.

2. Do your research

If you’ve got your eye on a particular car, and you can afford it, the next step is to read a review or two. These give you a gist of what the car is like to drive and what you can expect from day-to-day ownership. If you need boot space for golf clubs, check to see if the car you're looking at will be suitable. If you have three teenage children, will there be enough space in the back?

You might also be looking for particular features such as parking sensors or sat-nav. In many cases, particularly with used cars, it's worth confirming whether a specific model has the feature you're after because it can differ depending on trim levels, or even which options the original owner specified when the car was built.

Our buyers' guides offer plenty of in-depth information on all the most popular cars.

3. Warranties

You might not necessarily think of warranties when you think of used cars, but, warranties from car manufacturers are getting longer and longer. Kia, for instance, offers a seven-year warranty on its cars, which can be transferred between owners. So if you buy a four-year old Kia Sportage, it will still have three-years’ worth of warranty left on it.

Every vehicle supplied by BuyaCar comes with at least a 30-day warranty. And if do make a purchase with BuyaCar, your warranty can be extended when you order your car for additional peace of mind. BuyaCar offers a comprehensive Warrantywise Premium Plus package, which can be added to a finance agreement, for an amount each month.

4. Running costs

Once you’ve got an idea of what car you’re looking for, look at the running costs. How much fuel a car will use is imperative to your purse strings, and is easy to find out as well, as MPG (miles per gallon) figures are covered in our reviews. For instance, while sporting offerings with large engines become more affordable to buy on the used market, they still use more fuel.

Premium brands like Audi, BMW, and Mercedes, generally cost more to service and fix than cheaper brands like Ford  or Vauxhall too.

5. Insurance

Insurance is a legal-requirement. Everyone has to have it, and everyone knows of an insurance cost horror story. Every car is sorted into a particular insurance group from 1-50. Cars in the lower groups are cheaper to insure than those in higher groups. Other factors such as your age and your profession will impact the cost of your insurance, too, so it's worth getting some hypothetical quotes to see if a car is realistic for your budget.

Generally, you’ll need to arrange insurance for a new purchase before taking delivery, or picking up a new car. If you’re buying on finance, then guaranteed asset protection (GAP) insurance may be worth considering. This offers extra protection should your car be written off, covering any shortfall between your insurance pay-out and the amount left outstanding on your finance. At the beginning of a PCP agreement in particular, this shortfall can be a sizeable amount.

6. Keep an open mind

There's no such thing as a bad car these days. While some cars are better than others, in terms of reliability and build quality you're unlikely to come across anything disastrous like you might have done 30 years ago.

So it's worth spreading your net wide, don't be fooled into thinking you have to buy an Audi if you want solid build quality, and don't avoid anything French because you think the engine will fall apart. Judge each car on its own merits rather than focusing on those old-fashioned cliches.

7. Reliability

Speaking of reliability, it’s easier than ever to check a car’s reliability. Sister publication Auto Express runs a survey called Driver Power. This takes things into consideration like reliability, owner happiness, and technology.

8. Shortlist

Picked a budget? Looked at running costs, insurance, reliability, and insurance? Great, all you need to do now is whittle the list down to a top five or ten. Don’t forget to pick with your heart as well as your head - it’ll be parked outside your home every day.

9. Don’t rush

Finally, once you’ve picked a car, don’t rush into buying it. You might feel the pressure to jump on the first car you find that comes close to fulfilling your needs. For an investment as big as this one, it's worth making sure it's exactly what you want before you part with your hard-earned money.