James Ruppert explains how careful timing can save you cash in the used car market — and which cars you should be buying in 2015
24 January 2015

This may not come as a surprise, but the used car market operates all year round. So the good cars will always sell whatever the weather, prevailing conditions and time of the year.

Sometimes, though, the availability and prices of used cars can change on a seasonal basis. So as well as having your wits and a load of used car facts about you, don’t forget to consult the calendar and tap the barometer before you consider buying.

Traditionally, the fortunes of the new and used car markets have been linked to the change of registration plate. When that happens, it creates an artificially high demand for new cars and, to help pay for them, a larger number of part-exchanges flood into the car trade. This provides a variety of opportunities for bargain hunters.

If you can be patient, anticipate and take advantage of the seasonal swings and roundabouts, that’s all the better. However, if you need a car tomorrow, don’t worry too much about the weather and just get on with it. Either way, 2015 is going to be a cracker for the used car buyer.

Used supercars

Supercars are always with us. They are not subject to the fickleness of the weather, or anything much, except global depression. Even then, there is a hard core of buyers, and not necessarily enthusiasts, who will always want the next very bestest thing. That may leave the previous year’s model looking for fresh heated garage space. Oh, yes, and many supercars don’t only go very fast; they depreciate quickly, too.

A new Aston Martin Vanquish is always something to celebrate and, as the company enters an exciting new era, now is the time to preserve the old stuff for future generations. Right now, you can bag yourself an original big-bodied, muscular Vanquish from 2003 for about £50k. It has dropped in value considerably but should start to bob up again, and 2015 could be a smart time to buy.

Smarter people might be looking at bargain Ferraris this year, but actually there are no bargains and it is far too obvious a buy. Make 2015 the year of Maserati. Some might pitch them at Jaguar XK level, but that would be wrong; a GranTurismo is far more charismatic and a 2007 4.2 is now about £33k.

There is the Lamborghini factor, of course, but Gallardos are still holding out at £60k and they may even start to rise. Meanwhile, Audi’s interpretation of the whole supercar thing, the R8, is looking good. Over the past two years, I’ve watched them gently come down by £7k-£8k.

Consider a 2008 4.2 FSI. All the factory-fit extras – Bang & Olufsen 12-speaker sound system, upgraded sat-nav, rear parking camera, Alcantara headlining and Magnetic Ride dampers – would have pumped the new price by £10k. Instead, it may cost around £42k now, or less for older model years.

Used sports cars

This is the year of the Mazda MX-5. The new version won’t be arriving until the latter part of the year, and more realistically 2016 for some, so it might be better to strike now and get the Mk3. Right now, a 2011-registered 1.8i SE with less than 60k miles on the clock is £7400. I did stumble across a 2010 version with just 30k miles for the same money, which is a bargain.

Otherwise, you could wait until the summer has gone and scoop up a private one, because there should be a lot of very happy owners part-exchanging theirs in anticipation of the new, improved MX-5. Yes, prices are going to fluctuate, but the trend is definitely downwards.

The other really big sports car arrival is the Audi TT. That will be a mid-year thing, so there are already some turning up in the trade that are worth a second glance. If you have up to £12k in hand, you can choose between some decent private and trade deals. Indeed, as a celebration of petrol power, a 2010 1.8T FSI roadster at £11,500 would seem like a smart buy, especially in white and with a reasonable 41k miles. The dealer price is closer to £12k, but at least you would have a warranty. A dealer 2.0 TDI quattro is around that figure, so there is no shortage of  TT options.

Good-driving cars are hardly in short supply, but a Subaru BRZ still fetches £18k-£19k. Surely, it is time this year to sort out the better-value Caymans. The Porsche badge trumps anything else and, as the older Boxsters look like a lot of bother, spending just under £14k on a 2007 example with about 100k miles seems sensible.

Used SUVs and 4x4s

“I want one of those SUVs” is a conversation that car salesmen genuinely have with regularity these days. No one really understands what SUVs are, but everybody wants one.

Big SUVs tend to be more car than any normal person would ever need, but when you can bag a used example for half the value of a new one, there’s no need to settle for a boring MPV instead. That’s where the used market powers ahead.

For many years, the only logical engine option for SUVs has been diesel, but more buyers are turning to petrol, which is better value and more satisfying to drive. If the vehicle is mint, why not invest £2k more and go for an LPG conversion?

The arrival of the latest Volvo XC90 was preceded by five-figure discounting of new versions of the outgoing model at brokers and dealers. So shop around for a five-year-old example, which is out of warranty and now depreciating at a reassuringly attractive rate. Try to find a one-family-owned example being sold privately. Otherwise, budget on about £14k for a 2010 XC90 2.4 D5 Active with 75k miles.

The facelifted 2010 Mercedes-Benz M-class also looks like excellent value. If you want to make a statement in a premium 4x4 that isn’t a Range Rover, this is the way to do it. The 3.0 BlueEfficiency in Sport trim is the one that most will want, and you will need £16k to secure a 120,000-mile example from an independent dealer.

Meanwhile, there has been lots of activity around the Jeep brand, with new models arriving later in 2015. Although Jeeps don’t feel as solid as their German and Japanese rivals, you get a lot of value. So a revamped 2010 Jeep Cherokee 2.8 CRD Limited, which has every piece of kit that you need, starts at under £10k for a 50k-mile example from a dealer.

Used MPVs

Buyers have been falling slightly out of love with big people-carrying vans. Interest has shifted largely to SUVs, but the bottom line is that families are always going to need cars. So the fact that there seems to be more than enough deeply unfashionable but seriously practical wagons around must be a good thing. Especially as they are getting cheaper.

The one people-carrier that you should never overlook is the Ford Galaxy, which remains the best value, most practical and decent to drive. The Galaxy’s ubiquity drives down prices of what is the nicest way to cram seven bodies into one space. A 2010 2.0 TDCi Ghia is just over £8000. Then again, a 2.0 EcoBoost Titanium from a private seller will have fewer miles and a generous amount of kit. For families who do a modest mileage per year, that is a no-brainer.

And then there is the Vauxhall Zafira. It isn’t nearly as good as a Galaxy, but as a mid-sized family runaround, it’s the biggest bargain buy of all. About £4500 will get you into a 2010 1.6 Exclusiv. Below £5k, there are loads of petrol options, but you will need to tiptoe between the specifications and get yourself a nice Design or SRi, although the Elite has largely everything apart from the kitchen sink.

Oddballs are good in this sector, because they can be overlooked and underrated, which is why I may be completely alone in suggesting that the heroically ugly Chevrolet Orlando be given the time of day – especially as a 2011 1.8 LT is under £7k. Most of the examples on the market are one-family-owners and sold through dealers who may be the only ones to part-exchange it. It has all the equipment that you would ever need and is a car to buy and run into the ground.

Used company cars

You know the ones: fleet manager favourites that were built to do the motorway slog. Unregarded, largely unloved, but there to do a job. And when that job is over, that’s where we come in and buy them for buttons. Except that manufacturers are still building far too many of them, which explains why you can pick up ‘nearly new’ ones for very tempting prices.

Exhibit one is the Ford Mondeo. There is a new one out that makes the old one look really, really old. However, once you realise that you can get a 2014 example for £11,995, you forget about that pretty quickly. It will have a year’s worth of miles under its tyres, but at less than 30k miles, it will be nicely run in. What you will get is a Business Edition TDCi Eco that’s an ex-demonstrator. 

Otherwise, there are ex-hire cars often direct from the hirers, with 10k fewer miles, for a few hundred quid more. Even better, Ford franchises have them with even lower mileages for complete peace of mind. Nearly news are everywhere; I won’t go on.

The new Volkswagen Passat is coming, but that won’t necessarily mean that its excellent predecessor is going to be that cheap just yet. If anything, values will harden for a while. However, there do seem to be quite a few year-old ones around.

Who wouldn’t want a 2014 1.6 TDI Bluemotion that will deliver about 70mpg? Many car supermarkets now seem to have them in Tech S spec and you will pay from £12,500. Delivery mileage, though, would cost you a whopping £17k, so there are clearly bargains to be had if you can tolerate just a few more miles.

A buyer's guide to...

Colours and specsCars finished in alpine, toothpaste, emulsion and just about any other shade of white paint that you care to mention are now filtering through to the used market. And the colour is holding up extremely well. White is almost the new silver.

Whatever happened to silver? Well, it still exists and is tolerated by used car buyers because they have less choice and, hey, it will be cheaper.Black, meanwhile, remains a favourite of secondhand buyers but, as ever, muddy metallics and some shocking citrus experiments are treated with contempt. They still sell, of course, but for less.

What used buyers never tire of is specification. They just can’t get enough kit. A car without the essentials - which increasingly means climate control, heated seats and a sound system that you can sync with an iPod - might struggle to sell. The equation is a simple one: low spec means low price.

FuelThis year doesn’t look very good for oil-burners. There are suggestions that some long-in-the-tooth diesels may be banned from city centres and even incentivised off the road with a scrappage scheme, so the market looks quite nervous.

None of that is likely to take hold in 2015, but it could have consequences. Some car buyers could realise that they don’t actually need a diesel to pop to the shops, so sales of new oil-burners could slump and the values of smaller diesels could also dip as a result. In addition, previously depreciation-light high-mileage diesels could start to drop in value significantly.

So this year is about the resurgence of petrol, and not just because the fuel is really cheap at the pumps right now. That can’t last, but it may make cars with six cylinders and V8s easier to sell. 

BatteriesThe elephant on the forecourt is an electrified one. Even though sales have risen and buyers aren’t so nervous of electric vehicles, the car trade continues to view them with suspicion.

Although the odd silver surfer will buy a Nissan Leaf for the cat food run and some businesses can justify the capital expense that can be offset by a clever accountant, people are not buying EVs in the numbers necessary to create a sustainable market.

The BMW i3 is doing wonders for the image, but only when it comes with the range-extender option. Meanwhile, the value of early hybrid vehicles is hardening.

The used car calendar 2015

January - Happy new year? It definitely is for used car buyers. This is when new car registrations blip upwards because buyers have waited patiently until after the festive break for a car registered in 2015. So part-exchanges increase and used values are certainly softer. A good time to buy.

February - It could be very cold outside. This means that the car dealer forecourts could be covered in snow and deserted. A jolly good time to be shopping for used cars, then, because dealers and desperate private sellers will be open to offers. For a real bargain, sniff out a privately advertised convertible.

March - Yes, it’s 15-plate time. You won’t be part of that madness, but you can lurk in the shadows and pick up a part-exchanged vehicle that is being advertised to clear. Mass-market Mondeos and Insignias are often the worst affected as owners ditch them for shiny new motors.

April - All of a sudden, the used car market is fully active with a vengeance, especially if the sun has come out. Prices will harden and sharpen and the canvas convertible that you promised yourself could now be out of reach. Be patient and do your drop-top hunting on a rainy day.

May - For many businesses, the financial year ends in April and a higher number of three-year-old and four-year-old vehicles are for sale because of that. It might be worth hanging around the increasingly busy car auctions — although make sure that you don’t get carried away.

JuneIf things are starting to get hot and sticky, you might find that there are certain types of cheaper 4x4s knocking around that have been part-exchanged. The higher mileage and less fashionable Japanese and American examples will be the ones to go for.

July - In the early part of the month, used business will be buoyant, so don’t rush into any hasty deals, because it will start to change. For a while, everything will overheat, both on the forecourt and at the auctions. Now is the time to be patient and top up the tan.

August - The whole country has gone on holiday. The children have been scooped up and the last thing that anyone has time to do is shop for cars, especially in this weather (which is probably either too hot or too wet). Dealers will want to rustle up sales, and private deals can become too good to pass up.

SeptemberThe change to the 65-plate. Those who care about such things have chopped in their old cars and this is your opportunity to pick them up for a bit less money, because suddenly there are more used cars around. Prices will be far from on the floor, though.

October - It’s time to take a look at classic cars. There are ones that didn’t manage to sell in the summer and disillusioned owners who’ve had enough. As for ‘real’ cars, the novelty of driving around in a full convertible could be wearing off as the early signs of winter start to bite.

November - The used car market is winding down a bit now. If you are brave enough, the fleet cars washing up at the auctions might be worth a closer look. Private sellers are starting to get very nervous indeed at this time of year, so it is a good month to go shopping for a used car.

DecemberThis is a two-week month if the dealers are lucky. Everyone is worrying about Christmas dinner with the in-laws and buying presents, not cars. All of which makes it the right time to take a vehicle off the hands of a dealer or a private seller in the truly festive spirit.

Autocar's guide to buying a used car

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Comments
3

24 January 2015
I don't know if anyone else does this, but if you are buying something with a few miles on it, instead of just test driving it- pay to have the car re-MOT'ed at the local franchised dealer.

If the seller knows it to be dodgy- they will refuse.
And the main dealer MOT will pick up most of the expensive faults on the car, dealer franchises love to make long expensive lists of replacement parts when things aren't 100 %. Best 50 quid spent ever!

25 January 2015
"Who wouldn’t want a 2014 1.6 TDI Bluemotion that will deliver about 70mpg?" Well, anyone with a pulse presumably.

"Many car supermarkets now seem to have them in Tech S spec and you will pay from £12,500." Lot's of creamy six cylinder petrols engined cars available for £10k less. If it does 30mpg who cares? £10k costs a lot to borrow, even nowadays.

  • If you want to know about a car, read a forum dedicated to it; that's a real 'long term test' . No manufacturer's warranty, no fleet managers servicing deals, no journalist's name to oil the wheels...

25 January 2015
"Avoid the VAG 1.6TDI (too many recorded problems)"

Not my words, the words of Honest John (to paraphrase Alan Partridge).

  • If you want to know about a car, read a forum dedicated to it; that's a real 'long term test' . No manufacturer's warranty, no fleet managers servicing deals, no journalist's name to oil the wheels...

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