Currently reading: The smart money: PCP deals vs used cars
PCPs may rule in showrooms, but buying used is smarter. We've picked second hand alternatives to every kind of new car

No one buys new cars any more – at least not with their own money. Apparently the smart people invest their hard-earned in a Personal Contract Purchase (PCP), which allows them to put a lump sum down and get the brand-new vehicle they want parked on their drive.

With a PCP it is possible to pay the resale price and keep the car at the end. Alternatively you can trade it in and take out another PCP, or just hand the car back then walk away. Trouble is, you’re buying into a recurring cycle of regular payment despair that is difficult to get out of.

Unless, that is, you decide to take that deposit and instead use it for a one-off investment in a used car. That’s where the really smart money goes – and over the next few pages we have the proof, with new PCP deals versus used cash options to suit nearly every taste and budget.

Electric cars

Five and a half grand buys an old-school EV, and it will do a silent job for local trips if you want to feel good about the environment – and potentially longer trips too once our national infrastructure can offer full recharging support. For buyers chasing no-emissions motoring, this is a cost-effective way to do it. 

Buy new: Nissan Leaf N-Connecta Propilot (£5489 deposit, £389 per month for 37 months)

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For your deposit: 2011 Mitsubishi I-Miev E, 6000 miles, £5250

Officially the range is 93 miles and it takes seven hours to get fully charged. This one had the Tamashii Pack, so air-con, and the mileage remains marginal. It’s something for short, local, uncomfortable journeys for shopping or the commute. 

Also try: 2012 Citroën C-Zero, 22,000 miles, £5300 | 2012 Renault Fluence, 33,122 miles, £4999 | 2013 Renault Twizy, 3000 miles, £4400

Family Estates

Estates are an oddity, but there’s solid demand from business buyers and families who want practicality without bulk, or to tow without an SUV’s aerodynamic penalties. Used options are plentiful, but finding a well looked-after one is the challenge. Choose a stylish something with a nice badge and big price or a hard-working lugger.


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Buy new: Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer SRi 1.4 (£3563 deposit, £358.29 per month for 36 months)

Family estates

For your deposit: 2010 Kia Ceed SW, 99,000 miles, £3000

There were some big-mile Passats and the Skoda Octavia is tempting, but here’s something different and super-reliable. This is the quintessential private car being sold through a dealer with a warranty, a reassuringly complete main agent service history and a full MOT. Here’s cheap, practical estating at its best.

Also try: 2009 Vauxhall Insignia 2.0 CDTi estate, 103,000 miles, £2999 | 2006 Volkswagen Passat estate, 62,000 miles, £3100 | 2013 Seat Ibiza 1.6 TDI CR ST, 139,000 miles, £3700


The sad truth is that not every supercar buyer will be an actual owner. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s much more satisfying to own one and enjoy all the trauma and excitement it may involve. This gives us a massive deposit to play with and it would be easy to pick a preloved Aston, but I think we can be a bit less obvious than that.

Buy new: Aston Martin DBS Superleggera (£60,809.83 deposit, £1999 per month for 24 months)


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For your deposit: 2017 Maserati Granturismo V8 Sport, 18,500 miles, £60,000

You can debate all day long whether this is a supercar, but it is at least Maserati and it has the same GT aura as an Aston Martin. It may not be a Superleggera but it is genuinely Italian. Also, you would be buying this at a main agent, so there are no short-term worries whatsoever. That’s what you call a super car.

For your deposit: 2014 BMW i8, 10,000 miles, £55,950

Cutting-edge supercars don’t come much sharper than this. Relatively old but it still looks like the future. The i8 remains a head-turner even a few years down the line, and 134mpg and 0-60mph in just over four seconds are pretty convincing arguments. For sale by a dealer with all the correct history. Buy it, put some miles on it.

Also try: 2008 Porsche 911 Turbo, 41,000 miles, £60,000 | 2014 Nissan GT-R Nismo, 14,000 miles, £55,499 | 2015 Audi R8 4.2 V8 Quattro, 17,000 miles, £59,995

Premium SUVs

Whether you like it or not, the premium end of the car market is turning into a slightly higher-rise one that will never knowingly go off-road. With that in mind, there have been even more SUVs to choose from. It’s down to badge preference now, and into the mix comes some serious deprecation, especially for anything powered by one of those dirty diesel engines. You could have a Porsche Cayenne or a Mercedes-Benz M-Class, but the one that started it and still looks pretty is the BMW X5.

Buy new: Jaguar F-Pace R-Sport 2.0D 180ps Auto (£6325 deposit, £399 per month for 37 months)

Premium suvs

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For your deposit: 2004 BMW X5 3.0D Sport, 80,000 miles, £6300

If you’re going to buy an old SUV, make sure it’s a one-owner, fully loaded one like this, with a reversing camera and xenon headlights. It also sits on a set of brand-new Michelins. Perfect.

Also try: 2006 Range Rover Sport 2.7 TD V6 HSE, 90,000 miles, £6100 | 2011 Jeep Compass 2.2 CRD Limited, 71,000 miles, £6000 | 2006 Audi Q7 3.0 TDI SE Quattro, 97,000 miles, £6200

Everyday drop-tops

There isn’t a better roadster than the MX-5 and hasn’t been for a couple of decades. The argument for buying new on a PCP then opting to pay the final sum will always be a sensible one. But if you’re on a budget and don’t believe in borrowing, there are choices that could put an even more charismatic badge on your key fob.

Buy new: Mazda MX-5 132 SE+ (£3271 deposit, £219 per month for 43 months)

Everyday drop tops

For your deposit: 2008 Mini Cooper S Convertible, 99,000 miles, £2850 

The thing about a Mini is that while they may be everywhere, they really are jolly good fun to drive. Just as hairdressery as the MX5, yes, but in the right colour and with 170bhp, you’ll have a ball. Also, unlike some drop-top options, sorting them out when they go wrong isn’t likely to cost more than the purchase price. Very affordable – and a potential future classic in Cooper S trim.

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Also try: 2005 Smart Roadster, 61,000 miles, £2725 | 2004 Toyota MR2 1.8 VVT, 86,000 miles, £2600 | 2003 MG TF, 35,000 miles, £3000

Off-road workers

When there’s work to be done, the contractors go to rock-solid models like the L200. The secret to buying used, then, is to avoid anything that’s been thrashed on a building site, so ideally from a VAT-registered soft business that wanted something different for the school run. These are Defenders for people who don’t want to break down. 

Buy new: Mitsubishi L200 Warrior double-cab diesel (£10,698 deposit, £292.13 per month for 37 months)

Off road workers

For your deposit: 2014 Toyota Hilux 2.5 D-4D Active, 125,000 miles, £10,000

It has a box canopy on the back, is finished in utility white and there are those fluorescent stripes on the tailgate that may not be strictly legal. Yes, this Hilux has been to work with its previous single owner, although God knows how many drivers it has had. Never mind, this is an utterly indestructible ’Lux. Also, people won’t mess with you if you get out of one of these in workwear.

Also try: 2013 Isuzu D-Max 2.5 TD Yukon, 129,000 miles, £10,000 | 2013 Volkswagen Amarok 2.0 Bi TDI Highline, 134,000 miles, £9995 | 2006 Land Rover 90 TD5, 117,000 miles, £10,000

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Sporting icons

For a relatively small investment you can drive a 911 every day, as long as you can keep up with the payments. Cheaper and better-value alternatives, like a Jaguar XKR or an Aston DB9, are worth considering, but in truth there’s no substitute for a used 911 – especially as older ones are more compact and much cooler. 

Buy new: Porsche 911 Carrera 4 GTS PDK (£23,100 deposit, £1080.50 per month for 36 months) 

Sporting icons

For your deposit: 2004 Porsche 911 3.6 996 Carrera 4S, 78,000 miles, £22,500

The really affordable 911s are in private hands but, if it has a history like this one, you should be safe and sound. This is a Tiptronic example, too, and so is the equivalent of our PCP buy – just older, smaller and better. Looked good enough to go and see then buy.

For your deposit: 2014 Chevrolet Camaro 6.2 V8 45TH Special Edition, 42,500 miles, £22,500

Well, here’s the brutish all-American opposite to a sophisticated European, and it is truly wonderful. Looks amazing, sounds brutal and it has new tyres and brakes, plus an £899 service with a fresh MOT. This is a real rarity and another great way to spend the deposit.

Also try: 2010 Jaguar XKR 5.0 V8, 30,000 miles, £23,000 | 2004 Aston Martin DB9, 70,000 miles, £22,000 | 2007 Lotus Europa 2.0S, 39,000 miles, £23,000

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Hybrid hatchbacks

Private hire is a career, and what better way to have a low-emission impact? Toyota is a guarantee of quality and getting the engineering right. The styling is a bit weird but, if you want your petrol to go farther and not pay so much road tax, it’s hard to argue with a Prius. Other manufacturers have entered the fray, so, despite congestion zone appearances, there are options.

Buy new: Toyota Prius Plug-in Business Edition Plus (£7990 deposit, £349 per month for 42 months) 

Hybrid hatchbacks

For your deposit: 2011 Honda CR-Z i-VTEC IMA GT, 73,000 miles, £6000

Okay, this one can’t pick up a fare, but just look at it. Don’t be boring – instead, drive a pocket-sized coupé for fun and entertainment. This example had a full service history, rides on 17in wheels and has one of those panoramic sunroofs. It will do more than 55mpg, too. 

Also try: 2011 Lexus CT200h 1.8 SE-I CVT, 120,000 miles, £6598 | 2016 Suzuki Baleno 1.2 Dualjet SZ5, 28,000 miles, £7900 | 2009 Honda Insight, 53,000 miles, £6000

People movers

Some buyers with a grand in their hand think “I’ll put £1k down and get something new”, then three years later they have to find £6000 to keep the car – although many just start all over again. That marginal deposit doesn’t give us much to play with, but that’s our game. An easy-to-own SUV or MPV is the answer to many motoring prayers, and we have a bangernomic budget to blow on just about anything useful.

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Buy new: Peugeot 2008 1.2 Puretech Allure (£999 deposit, £210.17 per month for 36 months)

People movers

For your deposit: 2005 Mercedes-Benz A150 Classic, 95,000 miles, £1000

Small, useful family transport with a badge? Once, the A-Class looked like the future, and it was certainly clever and brilliantly packaged. This example is a two-owner car with a full MOT, service history, a couple of new tyres and a couple of keys. These are growing old gracefully but you do have to watch out for rot and neglect.

Also try: 2007 Ford Focus 1.6 Zetec, 98,000 miles, £1000 | 2004 Vauxhall Astra, 74,000 miles, £1000 | 2006 Renault Mégane 1.6 VVT, 67,000 miles, £1000

Small hatchbacks

With some manufacturer-backed schemes with tiny deposits, our story doesn’t work so well, unless you add the cost of the credit. When you go for the really easy payment options with 0% over a shorter period, then the amount paid up front becomes used supermini money. There are loads to choose from and the key is to find pristine one-family-owner examples.

Buy new: Ford KA+ 1.2 85PS Active 5 door (£4399 deposit, £149 per month for 27 months)

Small hatchbacks

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For your deposit: 2013 Citroen DS3 1.6 E-HDI Airdream, 71,000 miles, £4000

Here is a less-obvious option, with fewer doors but arguably a touch more style. You pay zero road tax for this one, too. This particular example was at a dealer, so it came with a reassuring warranty to put your mind at rest. 

Also try: 2012 Vauxhall Corsa 1.2 SXi, 67,000 miles, £4000 | 2012 Hyundai i10 1.2 Active, 28,000 miles, £4100 | 2012 Suzuki 1.2 SZ2, 52,000 miles, £4200

Executive saloons

New saloons aren’t a growth area unless they have the right badge. It says something, though, when Audi has to give buyers a £3k deposit sweetner to tempt them in. The Black Edition doesn’t have to be an Audi, especially when there are sharper BMW and Mercedes alternatives to be enjoyed.

Buy new: Audi A4 Black Edition 35 TFSI (£9029.93 deposit, £299 per month for 48 months)

Executive saloons

For your deposit: 2012 Alfa Romeo 159 1.8 Lusso, 44,000 miles, £8995

Why follow the crowd by sticking with the dull old Germans when the Italians can look this good? A 159 is lovely to look at and drive. The one we saw also had a full service history that included a new cambelt and water pump. The mileage is still pretty small, too, so here is the Alfa you always promised yourself.

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Also try: 2010 Mercedes-Benz C220, 63,000 miles, £9000 | 2013 BMW 320d SE, 90,000 miles, £8500 | 2010 Lexus IS 250 2.5 F Sport, 52,000 miles, £8995

Large luxury saloons

If depreciation is going to decimate any model demographic then it is the increasingly irrelevant luxury offerings that will suffer. So if you’re going to PCP and move on, the barges are great for those who can afford the churn. The upside for used car buyers is getting an enormous, unstressed, comfy old bus that could last a few years – or give you fault-finding nightmares. You will, though, get a lot of motor for the money.

Buy new: BMW 730d Sport (£3999 deposit, £699 per month for 47 months)

Large luxury saloons

For your deposit: 2007 Honda Legend 3.5 i-VTEC V6 EX, 119,000 miles, £3500

No, this isn’t a Lexus. It happens to be even more dull but still fairly adorable. Basically this is a giant Civic with a ton of old tech, including outdated voicecommanded sat-nav, which would be a laugh. The thing is, though, this is going to be as reliable as a baby Civic if looked after. You are also unlikely ever to see another.

Also try: 2009 Lexus GS 300 3.0SE CVT, 126,000 miles, £3600 | 2006 Audi A8 3.0 TDI, 134,000 miles, £3500 | 2005 Mercedes-Benz S320, 99,000 miles, £3700

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How to get the best finance deal

It is always best to compare schemes, lenders and different annual percentage rates, all of which will reveal the true cost of the loan over the whole period. Be on guard for additional costs that penalise early payment, such as excessive mileages and any damage, however small. Consider taking out GAP cover, which will pay out in full if the car is a complete write-off, and most importantly settle the outstanding finance on the car, even if that amounts to more than its value.

Buy used and get a warranty

A warranty is in effect an insurance policy that covers your car against specific mechanical failures. Cars purchased from independent dealers and car supermarkets may be offered with a warranty package, but it is also possible buy your own warranty cover.

There are plenty to choose from and some cover more than a simple mechanical failure. You can even get a policy that operates when a car fails its MOT, and there are packages that cover maintenance and spread any servicing and repair costs over the year. It will suit some drivers perfectly and remove any worries they have about unexpected expenditure.

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It’s important to read the small print to see exactly what is – and what isn’t – covered. You may have a claims limit and you may even have to contribute to costs. High-mileage cars and older bangers may not be eligible, usually if they are over a decade old or have covered more than 100,000 miles. At the other end of the market, some sports cars and complicated luxury cars may also be excluded.

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A good warranty will cover the engine, fuel and ignition systems, cooling system, electrics, gearbox, transmission system, steering, suspension and selected clutch and brake parts, but not wear items such as the clutch itself or the brake pads.

Alternative choices beyond PCP deals

Personal leasing is another popular new-car buying alternative where the buyer pays the dealer a fixed monthly amount for the use of a car, with servicing and maintenance factored into the payments. The mileage must not exceed a specified limit and at the end of the lease agreement the vehicle goes back to the dealer.

This is a more expensive way of running a car because it includes servicing and maintenance schedules. The initial deposit is high, too, and is often three months’ payment. 

This article was originally published on 24 August 2019 and updated on 14 August 2020. 


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bbrucealvarez 3 December 2020

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bbrucealvarez 3 December 2020

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Ski Kid 14 August 2020

The comparisons are incorrect

You should buy a 2 to 3 year old car with 1 or idealy 2 yrs warranty and the depreciation saved would be immense that is the smart way,unless you got an absolute bargain pcp giveaway  Audi,Merc and BMW tend to do these. But beware an article in Autocar a few years ago described how these three entice the middle class, I would like to call it working Middle  class ie 90% or mor eof the population, into signing up for £300 to£500 per month for life they get trapped in ,with jus tsfficient or nearly enough left for anothe rdeposit which meand they get their next car for just an extra £50 or £100 each month,yes it goes up every 3 years.Equaly I know a guy that purchased a supercar ,about 9 years old and after 3 years needed a new engine cost was £30 to £35k so it got scrapped off.