Buying a used car from an independent dealer

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Used car dealers can be great for an affordable car if you do your homework!

Used car dealers come in all shapes and sizes

When many hear the words ‘used car dealer’, they might recall stories of the local ‘Dodgy Dave’. He’s worn the same camouflage jacket since the 90s and has set up multiple used car dealerships over the years – selling terrible cars to unsuspecting drivers along the way.

As a young driver, it can be challenging to know where to look for a used car – and who to trust. Often, a deal can be too good to be true. However, independent used car dealerships can be a great way to get an affordable car, if you do your homework!

To help you know what to look for and what to avoid, we’re going to run you through everything you need to know about buying a car from a used car dealer.

What is a used car dealership?

Used car dealers are usually independent local businesses that buy used cars, fix them up if needed, and sell them on for a profit.

Independent used car dealers have no affiliation to any car manufacturer, so they don’t sell any new cars.

A used car dealership typically has around 30-40 vehicles available at any one time and will usually only have a couple of staff.

For used car prices, used car dealers are middle of the road, with private sellers being cheaper and approved used vehicles being more expensive.

What kind of cars are sold?

At an independent dealership, you can find a wide range of used vehicles.

Typically, they’ll be older and cheaper than what you’d find at an approved used franchise dealer.

The cars come from people who’ve either traded the vehicle in or sold it directly to the dealership.

How do I check the used car dealer is legit?

You’re guaranteed to hear a few horror stories about an independent used car dealer and many of us have bought a death-trap car in the past. That doesn’t mean they’re all bad, though most are honest businesses offering cars at a reasonable price.

Unlike with an approved used car from a franchised dealership, you don’t get a significant warranty – usually just a couple of months max. Likewise, you have no backing from the manufacturer, and they won’t have conducted a full 120 point check (they will have checked it though… hopefully)!

To make sure you’re buying a decent car from a legit dealer, you should do your due diligence. Checking TrustPilot is always a good shout, but many dealerships won’t be on there. Instead, you can:

  • Check Google reviews: Googling the dealership you’re looking for will provide a Google Maps location, with reviews and ratings listed beneath this. If it’s particularly low, you might want to avoid them. Also, if there are no reviews, you should be sceptical.
  • Check Facebook reviews: Search Facebook for the dealership – many people leave reviews here.
  • Check with the DVLA: If you’re interested in a particular car, use this DVLA tool to get information about your vehicle. It should match what the dealer is saying. Also, check the MOT history. If there are consistent fails, it’s probably not been looked after, and you should avoid it.

What should I do when I go to see the car?

Firstly, have a good look at the car and the mileage. If the vehicle is advertising 20,000 miles but is 8 years old and clearly beaten up, run away. It’s probably not legit!

Checking the steering wheel, gearbox, and the driver’s seat is an excellent first-glance indicator of the car’s condition.

Secondly, make sure to ask for the V5C Vehicle Registration Certificate (known as a ‘logbook’). Make sure this has a DVL watermark, and the details in the book match what the dealer is saying.

Top 5

The Five best selling colours for a used car sold in the UK during 2019:

1 Black

2 Silver/Aluminium

3 Blue

4 Grey

5 White

Source SMMT, 2020

Test driving a car

Can I take the car for a test drive?

Yes! You must take the car for a test drive. If you can bring an experienced driver with you, do so. Bring your driving licence and double-check with the dealer that you’re insured. Dealers usually have a special kind of insurance for this, so it shouldn’t be a problem.

When you drive the car, check everything in it – the radio, air conditioning, windows, indicators, and so on. Check how the car feels. When in a safe road, set the wheel straight and remove your hands an inch from the steering wheel. Does the car veer to the left or right? If so, this can indicate a problem with wheel alignment.

For a full list of what to check, see our Is it a Good Car! Checklist.

Also, it’s well worth forking out for a private history check (data check) on the car. Usually, costs are around a tenner and make sure that the vehicle has never been in a crash, stolen, or had any major repair issues. You can get these from the likes of HPI or Autotrader.


If you pay upfront for a car, use a credit card as part payment. Even if you put £100 on the credit card and pay the rest from a debit card or cash, you’re eligible for Section 75 Protection.

How should I pay the dealer for the car?

If you want to pay upfront you can:

  • Pay by cash: No extra fees or interest, but not recommended. If something goes wrong, you have little consumer protection.
  • Pay by debit card: You may have some protection if your card provider offers ‘chargebacks’, but it’s not guaranteed.
  • A credit card: Highly recommended you utilise a credit card if you have one. Even if you put £100 on the credit card and pay the rest from a debit card or cash, you’re eligible for Section 75 Protection. Meaning you’re covered on goods costing between £100 and £30,000. If you’re sold a dodgy car, your credit card company will take on the case for you.

If you want to finance, you can:

  • Take out a Hire Purchase Agreement: This is where you break down the cost of the car over a long period, usually between 2 and 4 years. You also pay interest – as a young driver, this will typically be around 8-10%.
  • Take out a PCP agreement: You break down part of the cost of the car over the long-term, minus the ‘guaranteed future value’. At the end of your term, you can pay this future value fee (a couple of grand) or hand the car back. You also have a mileage limit and will be heavily fined if you go over it.

Independent used car dealers will usually offer finance through a credit broker, like CarFinance 24/7.

Whatever way you decide to pay, make sure to haggle! The dealer will be expecting you to do so, so don’t be shy. A good start is to find the car’s value, using a site like Autotrader, and work back from there. This lets you know what you can expect to pay for a car at an independent dealer, taking into account mileage and age.

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