PCP finance vs Hire Purchase: which type of car finance is best?

Want the lowest monthly payments or to own a car for the lowest overall cost? Find out whether PCP finance or Hire Purchase is best for you

John Evans
Jan 7, 2022

Fewer and fewer people are putting real cash into buying a new or used car. Even when budget isn't an issue, the idea of throwing a considerable amount of money at a car that is going to lose value as soon as the rubber hits the tarmac might not be enticing. 

Instead, it has become much more popular to purchase a car through finance, and this essentially boils down to two main options: Personal Contract Purchase (PCP) and Hire Purchase (HP). PCP gives you the benefit of lower monthly payments and greater flexibility - you can choose to hand the car back or make the optional final payment to buy it at the end of the contract - while you'll pay less interest overall with Hire Purchase if you want to own the car.

But which of these is the better option for you? PCP may seem the obvious choice thanks to its low monthly payments and the fact it's now so heavily advertised - online, on the radio, on TV and on billboards, to name a few - that it has become the default way for most new and used car drivers to fund their cars. In comparison, Hire Purchase is rarely talked about and seems to have largely been forgotten.

However, Hire Purchase may be a more appropriate option for you than PCP - potentially better suiting drivers who want to own the car at the end of the contract. We've put this handy guide together to help you make the right choice for your needs. So keep reading to understand which format best suits your needs. If you're still not sure, make sure to watch our video guides below which should help you come to a decision.

PCP vs Hire Purchase (HP): the big difference

Both PCP and HP are centred around an initial deposit, followed by a series of monthly payments. In both cases, these payments vary in size depending on the cost of the car, the length of the contract and the size of your initial deposit. However, things get more complicated once those monthly payments have been made. 

With PCP, the deposit and monthly payments essentially equate to the amount of value the car has lost while you've been driving it - the difference between the initial price and its predicted value at the end of the contract. Meanwhile, with Hire Purchase, the deposit and monthly payments cover the entire cost of the car.

This means that while you'd own the car at the end of an HP contract, once a PCP contract is up, you still wouldn't actually own the car; if you wanted to buy it outright you'd have to make the additional 'optional final payment' - this is closely related to the remaining value of the car. On the other hand, with HP, once the monthly payments are complete, there's nothing left to pay as the car is yours.

Consequently, PCP monthly payments are substantially less than HP when using the same contract terms. However, typically HP is available with longer contracts, so you can often spread the cost over more monthly payments, reducing the difference somewhat. Bear in mind, too, that if you do want to own the car, you're likely to pay less overall with Hire Purchase (again assuming like-for-like contract terms) as less interest is charged, with you paying off the balance faster than with an equivalent PCP deal.

Simply put, with HP you own the car automatically once you've made all the monthly payments, while with PCP you don’t - unless you make the substantial optional final payment to buy the car.

So which is best?

Depending on your situation, both PCP and HP offer viable alternatives to paying with cash. If you're running on a particularly tight monthly budget, PCP finance makes the prospect of financing a car much more manageable, with much lower short-term costs meaning you can park the car of your choice on your driveway without necessarily breaking the bank. 

Hire Purchase, meanwhile, is a more affordable way to buy a car outright - with no massive final payment to worry about. It allows you to go about the process in a similar way - spreading the cost of a car over a longer period potentially - and you can keep the keys once the payments have been made since you become the owner at this stage. 

While the issue of interest will have an effect on the overall cost of your contract - with interest charges racking up faster with PCP as you're paying off the borrowing more slowly - the choice between PCP and HP will come down to personal preference in many scenarios.

Those who absolutely want to own the car are better off going for Hire Purchase, while those who love the idea of getting a desirable model for low monthly payments and then changing every few years will find it much easier to do that with PCP.

HP and PCP - their key features and who they suit

Hire Purchase and PCP finance have many similarities, but a number of important differences. Keep reading for an overview of the pros and cons of both options:

Hire Purchase (HP) features:

  • Available on most ages of car, new and used
  • Variable deposit: as little as zero in many cases
  • Payments can be spread over a term to suit you - generally up to 60 months
  • No mileage or condition penalties (provided you complete the contract and take ownership)
  • You pay less interest overall than with PCP, as you're paying off the finance balance faster
  • The car is paid off by the end of the term and you then own it, so you can keep it or sell it

HP suits someone who wants to:

  • Own the car rather than just borrowing it, as you would with PCP unless you make the large optional final payment 
  • Have no more payments at the end of the finance term - as you'd own the car with nothing more to pay
  • Have the certainty of still having the car you like, know and trust in years to come
  • Keep the car after the end of the contract rather than change again in the near future
  • Waste less money on depreciation by changing the car less regularly

HP’s biggest single advantage:

You own the car at the end of the term with nothing more to pay and having paid less interest overall than purchasing a car at the end of an equivalent PCP finance deal (a contract of the same length with the same deposit).

Personal Contract Purchase (PCP) features:

  • Available on all new cars but generally restricted to used cars up to five years old
  • Variable deposit: as little as zero in many cases
  • On new cars, manufacturer discounts - known as deposit contributions - or freebies including free or discounted servicing are often available
  • Low monthly payments; these cover the difference between the initial price and the predicted value at the end of the contract, with interest charged on the whole balance
  • You don't own the car at the end of the term but can return it to the finance company or trade it in
  • It’s possible to buy the car when the contract ends by making the optional final payment, which is set at the start of the contract

PCP suits someone who wants to:

  • Have a newer and/or better car for the same monthly payments as an older/cheaper one on HP
  • Not worry about depreciation but instead, know what the car will be worth at the end of the finance term, with the option to buy it
  • Upgrade their car regularly and take advantage of improvements in performance, economy and safety
  • Hedge their bets by having multiple options in terms of either keeping the car, returning it or trading it in. You don't have to make a decision until the end of the contract
  • Not worry about repairs and breakdowns by having a newer car that should be more reliable and is more likely to be under warranty

PCP’s single biggest advantage:

You can get a better car for your monthly budget and it's easier to change cars more regularly than with HP.


Read more about:

Latest advice

  1. Car maintenance

  2. Car ownership

  3. How long does it take to charge an electric car?