Where to buy your first used car

Choosing your first used car can be tricky. It’s important to think about where you buy it too. Should you buy from a franchised dealer, an independent, or a car supermarket? What about buying online, or from a private seller? We’ll talk you through the different places where you can buy your first car.

Franchised dealer

Franchised dealers (or main dealers) usually sell one make of car, although they will have used cars from other brands in stock as well. The used car stock at a franchised dealer will typically be just a few years old, as they don’t tend to sell really old and cheap cars.


  • Quality cars, some will be almost new.
  • Most franchised dealers sell used cars with a one-year warranty.


  • Prices are usually higher than at an independent dealer or car supermarket.
  • The majority of a franchised dealer’s stock will be the brand they sell new, so there’s more variety at a car supermarket.

Independent dealer

Independents aren’t tied to a particular brand, although they may specialise in a certain make or a particular type of car. A small independent garage is more likely to stock older cars, so there’s a better chance of picking up a bargain here rather than at a franchised dealer. If you are asking yourself where to buy your first car and you are shopping on a tight budget, an independent dealer can be a good place to start.


  • Sell older vehicles, so a good source of cheap first cars.
  • Like-for-like cars will probably be cheaper to buy at an independent rather than a franchised dealer.


  • Warranty cover is unlikely to last as long as the package is offered by a franchised dealer.
  • Small dealers won’t have a big range of cars to choose from.

Car supermarkets

Think of a car supermarket as supersized independent dealers. These are car retailers on a big scale, and some have hundreds of cars in stock. If you are thinking about where to buy your first car and want to see lots of different cars in one place, a car supermarket is for you. The service can be a bit short on frills, though, and many have a no-haggle policy. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as prices are usually low.


  • Lots of cars to choose from, all in one place.
  • Prices are usually cheaper than at a franchised dealer.


  • Some offer a no-frills buying experience.
  • Warranties are likely to be cheaper than at a franchised dealer unless you pay extra.

Online retailers

After a few false starts, online car retailers are growing in popularity. The likes of Cazoo, Cinch, and Carzam keep their showrooms online. You can choose to have the car delivered to your home, or some companies allow you to collect it from a distribution centre.


  • Very wide choice of makes and models.
  • No need to travel, so the buying process is quick and convenient.


  • You buy without a test drive, although most online companies offer a money-back guarantee if you aren’t happy.
  • No opportunity to try more than one car before making your mind up.

Private sellers

Another option is to buy privately – in other words, directly from the car’s owner rather than a dealer. This can be a cheap way to buy a car, so long as the owner doesn’t have an inflated view of its worth. However, buy a lemon and your legal rights are limited.


  • Private sales tend to be cheaper than dealer cars.
  • The owner should know all about their own car and be able to answer any questions.


  • No warranty unless the car is still covered by its original warranty.
  • Unless the seller lies to you, there’s little legal comeback if the car is faulty.


If you want a true bargain, an auction is where to buy a used car. But it’s not a place for a novice car buyer, and it’s easy to get your fingers burned. Buying from an auction should only be considered if you know a lot about cars, or can buy with the help of someone who does.


  • Some bargain prices.


  • You could pay too much if you get carried away.
  • If the car breaks on the way home from the auction, tough.

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