Buying a used car Guide
Only fools rush in: do your research before buying a used car!
How much should I budget for a car?
We recommend that you shouldn’t budget any more than 15-20% of your monthly wage on driving expenses.
This percentage includes the actual vehicle (or car payment), insurance, fuel, road tax, and maintenance! If you stick to this amount, your driving expenses won’t take up too much of your salary.
For example, if you make £1300 a month after tax, then you’d have £260 to spend on motoring expenses.
The break down could look like:
- Car £102
- Insurance £90
- Road tax: £0
- Fuel: £50
- Service & MOT: £12
- Breakdown £6
Before looking at buying a used car, make sure you work out how much you can afford to spend.
If you decide to finance a car, figure out the monthly payment and then work out the insurance, road tax, and rough fuel cost. If you go over your budget, you’ll need to think about a different car.
Insurance for young drivers is sky-high, and will probably be your most significant expenditure after your car payment.
Similarly, road tax and fuel can take a big chunk out of your budget, so you need to buy a car that will be affordable overall.
What should I look for in a car?
If you’re like most young drivers, your bank account is probably looking quite modest.
As such, it’s important to make sure you think clearly about what you can afford, and what you should be looking for in a car.
There’s no point looking at Ferraris when you’re on a Dacia budget!
You should look for the following things:
The car itself is within your budget:
If you choose to buy a car outright, make sure it’s not going to decimate your savings. Don’t opt for the most expensive car you can afford, just because you can!
This is probably more important when you finance, as you’ll notice that you’ll be able to buy better cars for a lower price (like with a PCP deal). Of course, you’ll be paying interest, and you’ll have a mileage limit! Don’t stretch your budget.
After the car itself, your next highest motoring cost will be your car insurance. Before buying a car, make sure to get some quotes online for how much the insurance is likely to cost you. Smaller cars, like superminis and city cars, will cost considerably less to insure than a big SUV.
Cheap to run:
Do your homework and check out the fuel economy of the car (measured in MPG, miles per gallon). Opt for something that achieves a high average MPG, and you’ll save yourself a fortune in fuel.
However, that’s not to say that you have to go for a car you don’t like. Just make sure to keep realistic expectations, and remember that you’ve got plenty of time to drive the cars of your dreams.
What kind of car should I buy?
At YCD, we generally recommend a supermini or a city car for a young driver – something like a Ford Fiesta, Vauxhall Corsa, or a Hyundai i10.
These cars are relatively affordable, are in the lowest insurance groups, and many models come with £0 road tax.
Naturally, though, not all young drivers are the same, so you might need a larger car if you have children.
We’d recommend a hatchback, which offers a huge amount of practicality while still being fairly affordable – something like a Ford Focus or a Vauxhall Astra is a good choice.
Why buy from a franchised dealer?
A franchised dealer is a car dealership that is endorsed by a car manufacturer. In fact, buying a car from a franchised dealer is the only way to buy a brand new car from a manufacturer.
Of course, buying a new car is out of the question for most young drivers. However, franchised dealers are still useful, thanks to approved used cars.
These are vehicles that have been rigorously checked over by the manufacturer and tend to come with a more extended warranty when compared to independent dealers.
As such, you’ll find that franchised dealers probably offer the best and most reliable vehicles, but they are more expensive than independent and private dealers.
Why buy a used car from an independent dealer?
An independent dealer is a fully registered car dealership that sells used cars.
An independent dealer is probably the best compromise between budget and car quality.
You’ll get a warranty from an independent dealer, but it will be shorter and less thorough than a warranty from a franchised dealership.
As the cars are not backed up by a car manufacturer, it’s essential to do your research and make sure that you’re going to a reliable garage.
You can do this by checking out Google reviews, Facebook reviews, and Trustpilot.
Should I consider buying a second-hand car from a private seller?
Buying from a private seller is the cheapest way to buy a used car, but it’s also the riskiest. A private seller is just an individual – like you or me – who wants to sell their vehicle.
There’s no dealership involved. You won’t get a warranty, and you have no guarantees of quality or reliability.
It is risky. You’re trusting the character of a person! The best way to buy from a private seller is to purchase a used car from someone you know, or someone a close friend can vouch for.
Otherwise, proceed with caution when buying from a private seller.
How do I find the right car for me?
When looking to buy a used car, we recommended that you shop around – don’t feel stuck with one dealer.
Make sure to search widely and do your homework to make sure you’re getting a good deal.
Use a free valuation tool to assess whether the price you’re seeing is reflective of the car’s value!
Before anything, though, decide what you need in a car and what budget you can afford. As we mentioned earlier, if you’re a young/inexperienced driver, that’s likely going to be a supermini!
How do I check the service history of a second-hand car?
Never buy a car without a full-service history. A car service is a regular maintenance on the vehicle to keep the car safe and running well.
Every single vehicle on the planet comes with a service logbook and a time frame for when you need to get it serviced.
For instance, this is usually once a year or every 10,000 miles. After taking the car to the garage, you’ll get a stamp in your logbook – to verify the service.
When looking to buy a used car, don’t consider a second-hand car without a fully stamped logbook, as it’s likely it’s not been taken care of!
How do I check the MOT history when buying a used car?
You can quickly check the MOT history of a car.
- Jump on the GOV.UK website.
- Enter the car’s registration number.
- Hit “check MOT history”.
- You will be able to see every MOT test since the car was purchased.
- If all you see is PASS, then the vehicle is likely a good’ un. Lots of failures? Tread carefully.
Should I check the car’s background history?
Checking if a car has ever been in an accident or written off is dead easy.
Simply use a reputable car check, like this one from the RAC. It costs around a tenner, but it’s well worth it, It’ll let you know if the car you’re looking at has a questionable history.
Some dodgy dealers will buy used cars that have been ‘written-off’, in a bad accident. Such cars are called a ‘CAT C’ car, so if you do see that in an advertisement, avoid the car!
You’ll find that some people, deliberately or otherwise, will sell these cars on. While experienced mechanics might be able to fix a CAT C car up, it’s a terrible idea to attempt this as a new or experienced young driver.
Another typical ‘dodgy Dave’ is to ‘clock’ the car’s odometer. By altering the mileage, the vehicle looks like it’s driven a lot fewer miles than it has. A common scam, but it should be reasonably easy to avoid.
The steps we mentioned earlier, like checking a car’s MOT and service history, is the easiest way to verify if the mileage is genuine.
At each MOT the distance the vehicle has travelled is recorded. If a car was at 50,000 miles on its last MOT and is miraculously now on Gumtree at 25,000 miles? It’s clocked!
What should I check when I see the car in person?
There’s a fair few things you ought to check when seeing the car in person. Of course, this can be difficult if you don’t have much experience in buying cars, or this is your first car.
The things you should check are pretty obvious.
For example, check the cosmetics of the car – is there any dents or scratches? Has the paintwork been chipped?
The interior of the car is also hugely important. After all, that’s where you’ll be sitting! Check for stains on the fabric of the interior, and be aware of any funny smells (yes seriously – if the last driver was a smoker, you’ll have a tough time getting rid of the smell!).
Also, check things like the car’s tyres. If they look to be in poor condition, or are just barely at the legal tread depth, either avoid or get money off. You don’t want to buy a car and then have to invest in new tyres a few months down the line!
However, checking the car over isn’t limited to the obvious things. Checking out the car’s accessories and electrics are easy things to forget.
To stay on top of things, see our full list on the ‘Is it a good car‘ page!
How should I negotiate when buying a used car?
For a first time buyer, negotiating is probably one of the hardest parts of the process.
You know you should do it, but you’ve probably heard a bunch of different ways to approach it.
We’d recommend a ‘gray man’ approach – be polite and friendly with the dealer, but make sure you’re firm. Before going into the negotiation, set a strict limit on how much you’ll pay for the car.
If the car is advertised at £5300, for example, you might decide that you’re not buying it for more than £5000. Of course, you ought to consider extras too.
Would you pay £5100 if you received an extra warranty length and six months road tax on the dealer? Know your limit and stick with it!
As it’s such a tricky subject, we’ve got a complete guide on how to negotiate!