So, you're in the market for a used car. Where do you buy? What do you go for? Should you head to the dealer or the auction house? James Ruppert reveals all.
Ways to buy a used car – pros and cons
1 – Private sale
Here’s where you could get lucky and meet a very lovely person who has a truly lovely car to sell. You could be buying from someone who is passionate and protective and has clearly cherished what you want to own, plus they have a folder full of service history and a plausible reason to sell. So the rule is always to buy an enthusiast’s car from an enthusiast, if you can.
On the other hand, they may regularly sell cars for cash without a word to the tax man. That makes them car dealers without any of the responsibilities or warranties.
Genuine private sellers may have the balance of a factory warranty, or an independent one, or one that applies to specific parts, be they tyres, batteries or alternators, so do ask. There’s no comeback if you have a problem, provided they haven’t misled you or sold an unroadworthy car.
Pros: They have the perfect car.
Cons: There are no comebacks.
2 – Franchised main dealer
The point here is that you’ll pay more for the car because franchises have big, big overheads. The upside, of course, is that the cars should be the very best available and they’ll come with a great warranty.
The car should have a main dealer service history and the dealer should be able to sort out any issues to your total satisfaction. Ideally you should be getting something pretty close to the new car buying experience, and the whole deal is completely manufacturer backed. There should even be a no-quibble 30-day return policy. Oh yes, they will take whatever you have in part exchange.
The downside to main dealers is that because of space and these sorts of policies, the dealer’s used range may not be all that used, so you will be offered nearly new or fairly expensive two or three-year-old models. For many used car buyers, though, that’s about as risky as they would ever want to get.
Pros: Cast-iron cars sold with cast-iron guarantees.
Cons: Too pricey and not enough choice.
3 – Car supermarket
Well, the main reason to go to a car supermarket is that they have loads of cars to choose from, which, of course, is good, plus it’s often arranged in related rows to make it even easier for you to browse, just like a real supermarket. What you will find, though, is that the windscreen prices are plus an admin fee and are usually non-negotiable.
Some of the stock also comes direct from company/fleet auctions and can be scruffy, so you might need to offset the asking price against refurbishment, a service and a thorough valet.
Pros: Choices - masses of it as far as the eye can see.
Cons: No haggling.
4 – Independent dealer
These can vary hugely when it comes to both customer care and the quality of the stock. Specialists in a particular marque or type of car can be particularly good, however, and long-established family concerns often have a reputation to keep. Independents will part-exchange your old car and should offer a warranty, but check what it actually covers.
Their stock should be spring cleaned, serviced and given an MOT before sale. If not, they’re not doing a proper job, so look elesewhere.