There are around two million new car sales each year in the UK – but about four times as many used cars change hands. Many of those vehicles have some ‘history’, so you need to ensure that you don’t buy one that’s worn out or been pranged – or one which has outstanding finance on it.
If you follow our advice you can minimise the risk of buying a duffer, but as some of the information that relates to buying a used car also relates to buying new, make sure you also check out our new car buying advice.
If something appears too good to be true, it almost certainly is.
When is the best time to buy a used car?
If you buy a used car privately, you’re not in as strong a position as if you buy the car from a trader – but there are still ways that you can redress the balance. The key thing to remember is that if something appears too good to be true, it almost certainly is.
Because there are two peaks in the new car market (1 March and 1 September), there are lots more used cars around at these times. Consequently, dealers are keen to sell these trade-ins as quickly as possible, so think about buying your used car at one of these times when supply is usually greater than demand.
Should I buy a petrol or diesel car?
With fuel prices so high ever, some car buyers are often tempted to choose diesel automatically, as these are more economical.
However, you pay a premium for a diesel car because they’re more expensive to produce – and you may have to cover tens of thousands of miles before you get that premium back. Most city cars and superminis are very economical even in petrol form – 55mpg is quite normal for some of the smaller 1-litre city cars.
Buying a small car with a diesel engine may cost hundreds of pounds more, but it won’t necessarily be that much more economical. When you consider that diesel is usually more expensive to buy than petrol, it takes even longer to get your money back.
Also, diesel cars are more complex, so more likely to go wrong; modern ones need a regular blast to clean their exhaust filters out, with lots of low-speed driving potentially causing major problems.
Buying a small car with a diesel engine may cost hundreds of pounds more, but it won’t necessarily be that much more economical.
Ultimately, you need to work out what the price difference is between the petrol and diesel variants of the car you’re considering buying.
You then need to look at the difference in fuel economy, how many miles a year you typically drive and how long you’ll keep the car. Once you’ve established all those things you can decide which fuel makes the most sense – and the chances are that it won’t be diesel.
Your fuel choice should really be between petrol and diesel. Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) is not as widely available as it was, and there are lots of dodgy conversions about.
You might also want to think about a hybrid car. On the motorway, a hybrid may be no more efficient than a conventional one. However, you’ll reap the benefits of a hybrid if you’re using the car in urban areas regularly, where you’re braking and accelerating more frequently.
Electric cars are becoming ever more popular, and make most sense if you have space for your own charging point at home. They’re becoming more readily available on the used market, and increasingly affordable.