Best place to buy a used car

Buy online or visit a dealership? Weigh up the pros and cons before deciding the best place buy a used car

BuyaCar team
Oct 17, 2018

Of course we're biased. This website sells cars online so, naturally, we'd suggest that the best place to buy a used car is ... online.

If you like the sound of never visiting a dealership and doing everything from home - finding the ideal car, comparing prices from around the country, and applying for low-rate finance - then you've probably found the right place.

BuyaCar will deliver car to your door, fully checked and with a 14-day returns guarantee, so you can drive it - up to a limit - and send it back if it's not what you want.

We also have a team of expert staff to help you through every stage - from choosing your car to arranging delivery. But we realise that buying a used car online isn't for everyone and - despite the guarantees and returns policy - some people prefer to negotiate with a car dealer or inspect a vehicle themselves.

If that's you, then it's worth remembering that you can arrange finance and additional services, such as extended warranties, separately, which can be much cheaper.

We set out the pros and cons of the various places to buy a used car below, or you can see the latest online deals by clicking below.

Buying a used car online

Buying a new or used car online allows you to look for a car and order it at your pace, in your own home. What’s more, you’re protected by robust consumer laws which, crucially, include a 14-day period during which you can return the car for a refund.

If you pay for part of the purchase with a credit card (a deposit, for example), you'll get further protection from your car provider under the Consumer Credit Act.

It's easy to compare prices of cars from around the country, which can be delivered to your door, and finance quotes are generally available from a panel of lenders to ensure that you're offered a low interest rate, where available.

You should make sure that you're aware of the delivery charges and the restrictions on returning a vehicle. For example, there's normally a limit to the number of miles that you can cover if you decide to return the car. Going over this limit may mean that the car cannot be returned.

Protect yourself by dealing with companies that have a verified presence, including a UK address, phone number that they can be reached on, links to other companies and evidence of past sales, such as Trustpilot reviews.

 

Buying a used car online

For

✔  Order from home; delivery on a convenient date

✔  Huge choice from independent & main dealers around UK

✔  Easy to compare prices to find the best deal

✔  Customer service usually a priority to reassure buyers

✔  Low-rate finance that's easy to compare elsewhere

✔  Part-exchange & extended warranties available online

✔  Strong consumer protection rights

Against

Not possible to test drive the car

Main dealers may be more knowledgeable about a particular brand

Few cars over five years old available

Still need to visit local dealer for servicing

Buying a used car from a franchise dealer

Also called 'main dealers', these businesses repr esent the car manufacturer so, theoretically, should operate to the highest standards. They offer the lot: from test drives to servicing. Salespeople will walk you through the whole selection and purchasing process.

Some people like the process; others like to be guided on the various specifications avaialable. Sales staff will value your existing car at the same time so you know exactly how much money you have to change to the new one.

The cars tend to be among the best used examples available: rarely more than five years old, with low or average mileage and little excessive wear. Most manufacturers have approved used schemes, which typically ensure that cars are thoroughly checked and provided with a warranty. If anything does go wrong, you have a car maker's professional customer service team to contact.

Finance is always available but the rates on offer for used vehicles are rarely as good as the subsidised deals on new cars. This means that you can often get cheaper finance by arranging it elsewhere.

Most car makers are represented in major towns and cities so it’s easy to go from one main dealer to another, trying cars and comparing prices. However, you need to be a good negotiator to get the best price. Not everyone is comfortable with that but if you enjoy haggling, you can get a good deal.

 

Buying a used car from a main dealer

For

✔  Personal service from sales staff who should be knowledgeable

✔  Everything under one roof from sales to servicing

✔  Cars available for test drives

✔  Good choice of recent cars in good condition

✔  Approved used schemes offer extensive checks and warranties

✔  Manufacturers can deal with complaints

Against

Choice is restricted to one or two brands per dealership

Lots of travel needed to compare different brands

Prices usually higher than independent dealerships or online

Small selection of older cars

Commission-driven staff often under pressure to make a sale

You normally need to haggle for the best price

Buying a used car from an independent dealer

Independent dealerships aren't linked to any particular manufacturer, so they are free to sell what they like. Some generalise and sell most things, while others specialise in particular makes, models or price ranges. They vary in size from small shop units to huge car supermarket warehouses.

Without a manufacturer behind them, there's no requirement for a gleaming showroom, so their costs are usually lower than franchise dealerships, enabling them to offer cheaper deals. Finance offerings can be basic, so rates don't always represent good value - it's always possible to arrange this elsewhere.

Independent dealerships have no brand reputation to fall back on, so standards differ. The best can often outperform main dealers in terms of their knowledge of particular cars and servicing older ones, as well as their style of doing business which is often less corporate and more approachable. The worst are complete strangers to customer service.

Independent dealers are good sources of cars over three years old but their standards of vehicle preparation vary widely. 

Regardless, the Consumer Rights Act (2015) states that the car must be of satisfactory quality and fit for purpose. If the car develops a fault within 30 days of you buying it, is not fit for purpose or is not as described, you can reject it. Between 30 days and six months, the dealer may try to repair it but if they fail, you can reject it.

Buying a used car from an independent dealer

For

✔  Wider choice of older cars than at main dealers

✔  Lower showroom costs can mean cheaper prices

✔  Possible to test drive the car before buying

✔  Specialist dealers offer expert care for older cars

Against

Variable standards for cars and customer service

Finance availability can be limited

Main dealers often get the pick of the best used cars

General dealerships may lack knowledge of the cars

Buying a used car privately

Buying from a private individual comes with fewer safeguards but is often the cheapest way of getting a car.

Whether you respond to a classified listing or an online auction, you don't usually know exactly who you're dealing with and there's less legal protection than if you were buying from a business.

That said, the car must be roadworthy, it should match the description provided by the seller and the seller must have the right to sell the car.

Unless you have some expertise, then it's wise to have the car mechanically checked, as an MOT certificate doesn't prove that a car is in good mechanical condition. It's also work having a background check carried out by a company such as HPI to confirm the car's ownership. A car's V5 logbook document only shows a vehicle's registered keeper (the person responsible for keeping the car insured and taxed). It could be owned by a finance company, for example, which may mean that the car ends up being seized from you.

On the positive side, buying privately usually means that you get to meet the car’s current owner from whom you can learn a lot about the vehicle's history and condition. And you may be able to strike an excellent deal with skilled haggling 

Buying a used car privately

For

✔  Often cheaper than dealerships

✔  You usually meet the owner who knows the car's history

✔  Wide range of vehicles of all ages

✔  Test drive often possible

Against

Using your limited legal rights can be difficult

Independent inspection needed to guarantee car's condition

Usually need to travel to see the car

Finance and part-exchange must be arranged elsewhere

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