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Many find buying a used car to be a hugely daunting experience, but it needn't be so.
We don’t blame you if you’re feeling a modicum of trepidation – especially if, like most people, you want to make sure you get the best deal out there.
Unfortunately, that’s not likely to happen if you simply wander down to your nearest car dealer and stump up the price on the screen for one of its offerings. But there are some simple tricks and techniques you can incorporate into your buying process to help you get a great deal. Here are our recommendations:
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10. Slow and steady wins the race – take time to research
If you rush into buying a used car, you’ll no doubt miss out on getting a great deal. While this won’t be helpful to those whose car has failed its MOT on Friday and who need to get to work on Monday, you should make time for yourself to do some research on a car before going head-first into laying down your hard-earned for it.
Of course, it makes sense to choose the right car for you, which may not necessarily be the car you might think. Fancy a family-friendly SUV, for example? Check whether an estate would suit you better – they often feature as much room and, because they’re not as fashionable as SUVs, prices fall faster. They're usually lighter and thus more economical too.
Also, think about which make of car to buy. Some marques, usually premium ones such as Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, tend to hold their value better – ostensibly a good thing, but it does mean they’re more expensive to buy used. More mainstream brands – Ford, Vauxhall, Peugeot and Seat, for example – usually lose their value more quickly but their cars are often equally competent and make for great value buys. So if you’re lusting after a premium car, ask yourself whether you’re willing to pay the extra – or whether you might be better off paying less for a car that is just as good but wears a less upmarket badge.
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9. Don’t buy the first car you see
It’s awfully easy to get overexcited by a prospective purchase and dealers can spot an eager customer from 50 paces. Don’t be tricked by lines like "I’ve got loads of people calling me about this one" because, unless there’s a crowd of people viewing the car with you, it’s a throwaway comment. Viewing multiple cars also means you’ll be able to form comparisons between them all and work out which car is right for you.
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8. Buy at the right time
Car sales trends are seasonal. That means certain types of car are popular at certain times of the year. Broadly speaking, for example, SUV sales go up during the winter, when buyers are thinking more about buying big, safe cars to deal with all weathers; meanwhile, convertible sales are stronger in spring and early summer, when buyers want to set themselves up for al fresco motoring during the warmest months.
As you’d expect, prices for these cars tend to be at their highest at the times when they’re most in demand. So if you do want to buy one, it’s best to wait until they are less popular. In other words, buy an SUV in the summer or a convertible in late autumn or winter.
But what if you don’t want one of these more niche types of car? Well, then we’d advise getting in quick now while everyone else is enjoying a spot of festive cheer. From mid-November through to early January, people’s minds aren’t really on buying cars because they’re spending their money elsewhere, meaning car dealers tend to be quiet. With demand on the ebb, the few buyers who are out there can grab some bargains as dealers try to grab what sales they can during the off season.
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7. It’s good to talk
Although it might be a bit of a pain having to pick up the phone, it’s a useful way of getting some information about the car before you leave the comfort of your own home. Plus, you’ll be able to make sure it is still available so you don’t waste your time.
If you are looking at an ad from a private seller, make sure you start with: "I’m calling about the car you’ve advertised for sale." It may seem daft not mentioning the car, but if they’re a trader selling multiple cars but pretending to be a private seller, you’ll catch them out since they won’t know which one you’re calling about. Be on your guard.
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6. Look in unusual places
Few people simply head down to their local car dealer to see what’s there these days – so much the better, because there's a wealth of places to look for a car online. Facebook marketplace, Gumtree and online auction sites such as eBay are great hunting grounds. But the best deals are to be had at car auctions.
Car auctions are where many vehicles that have come from lease and company car fleets are sold on to dealers to go out into the wider market. But private buyers can take part too – and because you effectively cut out the middleman by buying at an auction, you cut out their profit on the deal, meaning you can make some great savings.
However, buying at auction is a very different process from buying a car normally. You’ll need to register with the auctioneer as a buyer and, if you do want to buy a car, you won’t get to test drive it first. You only get to hear it run and inspect it as it’s driven into the auction hall. And once you’ve left the premises, the purchase is final, meaning you need to be clear on what you’re looking for.
If that doesn’t put you off, visit a few auctions first to make sure you understand how it works. Do your homework to make sure you’re happy with what buying at auction entails. Get it right, though, and you’ll make a significant saving on your next used car.
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5. Consider buying an electric car
You might think electric cars are the stuff of the future. Not so – with plenty of used examples flying around, they’re very much of the here and now. And some of the best electric cars around are available for peanuts on the used car market, simply because they’re still an unknown quantity for many people.
Some electric cars come with a battery lease, which will push their prices down further. It means you have to pay a monthly fee to lease the battery from the manufacturer but, with some of these, there are benefits – for example, some car makers will guarantee to replace the battery once it starts to wear out. That being the case, it’s worth considering these models as they can be great bargains with added peace of mind.
Whether an electric car will work for you depends on your lifestyle and how many miles you usually have to do in one go, and whether you can easily charge it up at your home and/or workplace.
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4. Look up the MOT history online
This tool is incredibly useful and is completely free to use. If you’re looking at a car that’s over three years old, it will have gone through an MOT inspection. By putting the registration number into the search box, it’ll show you the results of the test including any advisory or fail points.
If there is anything mentioned, you should make a note of it because this will give you a checklist of items to inspect when you go to see the car. It’ll also allow you to start looking into how much it might cost you to replace these parts. Make sure to factor that into your negotiations with the dealer regarding the price.
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3. Check how much your car was when new
If you're looking to purchase a car registered after 1 April 2017, then it's important to know how much it was when it was new. Any car registered before this date has to pay an annual vehicle excise duty (VED) based on the carbon dioxide (CO2) figure produced by the engine and this information is usually quite easy to find out.
After this date, it's a flat rate fee of £140 with an additional £310 surcharge for any car that had a list price of over £40,000 when new. That last point is very important because this extra charge applies for five years, starting from when the vehicle is two years old and finishing when it reaches six years of age.
Working out whether a car falls foul of this surcharge isn’t simply as straightforward as looking at the price of an equivalent car in the back of a magazine. For example, a Kia Stinger GT-S has an on-the-road price of £40,535, so you’d be forgiven for thinking it incurs this extra charge. However, the current taxing system is based on a car’s list price along with any manufacturer extras, and doesn’t include the vehicle’s first-year tax payment (which is based on CO2 emissions) or the cost of aftermarket, dealer fit options.
So, based on the 221g/km CO2 figure produced by the Kia, we can deduct £1240 from that overall figure to get a list price of £39,295. Even if we add on the option of metallic paint (£645), it just manages to avoid the additional fee.
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2. Shop around for finance
The majority of used cars are bought on finance these days and many buyers take out hire purchase or PCP deals with the dealer from which they’re buying the car. This is a convenient way of buying, but it doesn’t always translate to the best rate of interest.
By contrast, a personal loan, if it’s available to you, can work out much better value for money. Because you don’t have the added financial instruments open to PCP and hire purchase buyers (i.e. a large deposit and/or a balloon payment), the monthly repayments are higher, which is why this option isn’t as attractive to many. But there are two key positives: first, of course, if you have good credit, the interest is usually lower with this type of finance arrangement; in effect, you’re paying less for the credit because you pay more off sooner. Second, you own the car throughout – something you don’t do until the finance is paid off with the other two options.
However you obtain your finance, though, it’s key to remember that you don’t necessarily have to get it from one place. Independent finance houses, some specialising in car finance, offer alternatives, while other dealers might offer a very similar car with a better finance deal. Do your homework, shop around and make sure you aren’t paying over the odds.
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1. Haggle, haggle, haggle
Haggling is crucial to getting a good deal on a used car. If that sounds obvious to you, you’re in the minority; more than half of all car owners say they didn’t haggle on their last purchase. But most cars are priced up with a margin in mind for negotiation. So if you don’t negotiate, you’re paying over the odds.
Haggling doesn’t have to be awkward or embarrassing. Just remember at all times that the power to purchase is in your hands – no matter how much the salesman might try to make you think otherwise. Do your research before you buy; establish what you think is a fair price, go in with a maximum figure in mind and don’t exceed it. And never forget that there’s no harm in walking away; there’s nothing a car dealer hates more than the sight of the back of a customer and, if you still want the car, you can always pick up the phone later.
If you’re still not convinced, ask yourself this: what have you got to lose? After all, if you’re unsuccessful, you won’t pay any more than you’d pay without trying. Get it right, though, and you’ll end up with a great used car at a bargain price. If you really dislike haggling, then large car 'supermarkets' are a good choice - they tend to want to shift their stock quickly, and thus price keenly accordingly - but they tend not to entertain haggling.