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How to buy a used car and get the best price

Carl Brennand 9th Feb 2020 5 Comments

Reading Time: 10 minutes

You have been asking us how to buy a used car and get the best price so here is our answer!

If you buy a car new, you lose up to 20% of its value as soon as you drive away from the dealership.

Basically, this means that if you are looking for a good deal on a car, a new vehicle is often not the answer. (Although check out our article here on how new cars can be better value than old!).

There are tons of other ways to buy a decent car that is in good working condition.  Here’s our guide to getting a great deal on a car.


how to buy a used car Step one: Do your research

buying a used car can save you money

Research is the key to getting the best price on a car.  Don’t just wander into a dealership and ask what you can get for your money – go prepared.  You need to answer these questions:

  • What different makes and models of car would you like to buy?
  • How high can the mileage be?
  • What condition do you want the car to be in?
  • How much is this car worth?

Knowledge is power.  If you know the approximate value type of car you’re looking for, you won’t end up getting ripped off.  Autotrader is a very useful site for judging the market, so make sure you scour it before going to a dealership.

Which car?

Get clued up about which car makes are better than others.  Everyone knows that Volkswagens are really sturdy and safe cars, but you pay the price for knowing you’re secure.  Skodas may be sniffed at, but they are made from similar parts and components as VWs and they have the exact same chassis.  The difference is, they have a much smaller price tag.  If you need to save money on your car, don’t buy the brand.  Do your research to get the best car you can get for your budget.

If you intend to keep the car for a good few years then go for quality and durability. Also you should take into account how much repairs might cost you in the future.  For instance, French may be great value for money, but the spares are notoriously expensive.  On the other hand, a Ford will probably cost you a bit more, but parts in the future are cheaper.


You need to be up to speed on basic mechanics to check you’re not buying a pile of junk.  Even cars that look great can be on the verge of mechanical collapse.  If you don’t have a clue, take someone with you who does.


When putting your budget together, take into account insurance and road tax.  Don’t blow your budget on the car and then not have enough money to insure it or pay for the road tax.  Be realistic about what you want the car for.  If you’re going to be doing a lot of motorway driving then you will need a car with more power that will consume less fuel.  However, if you just want a small car for running around town, there’s no point in looking at super cars – no matter how pretty they are.


HOW TO BUY A USED CAR Step two: Shop around

Car dealerships offer great deals on second hand cars

Second-hand dealerships

A good first point of call is your local second-hand dealership.  Find your nearest one by looking on CarSite, which has a list of all second-hand car vendors in the UK.  Prices at local businesses here tend to be slightly cheaper than car supermarkets as they have fewer overheads.  Also, a smaller business means you’ll receive a more personal service.  Fewer hard-hitting salesmen means more opportunity to haggle.

Car supermarkets

Car supermarkets – or car hypermarkets – have recently become popular, even though they’ve been around for the last 30 years.  They deal with new, nearly new and used cars.  The stock normally consists of ex-rental, ex-demonstrator, ex-company and ex-fleet cars.  This can mean the car is fairly new but has lots of mileage as the previous owner has used it driving around for work (the upside of this is that company cars are usually serviced regularly).  However, it can mean that the car has just sat in the showroom until it’s ready to be sold on.

The main difference between car supermarkets and smaller dealers include:

  • Fast turnover – you have to do your research and then turn up ready to buy on the day.  Otherwise, your bargain might be sold before you have time to sort out the finances.
  • Less chance to haggle – prices are often fixed at the lowest they will sell the car for.
  • Mainstream manufacturers make up the largest proportion of cars.

Part-exchanging tips

If you’re part-exchanging your own car, get an independent valuation before you go.  This will give you an accurate idea of how much your car is worth.  Then if their valuation is way below this, you can choose to sell your car yourself to get its full value.

Be certain the organisation is registered with the Retail Motor Industry Federation (RMIF) or the Scottish Motor Trade Association.  These organisations represent motor industry operators in the UK.

Try these car supermarkets:

Car auctions can save you money if you're careful what you buy

Car auctions

Car auctions can be a great way to get a bargain.  You have to be on your game as you will be up against lots of dealers who know their stuff.  Always go with someone who knows their mechanics to check the car is in good working condition.  You’ll not be able to test drive the car, which means you should test drive the same model elsewhere to check you like it.  Do this before you go to auction.

Here are our top tips for auction:

  • Go to the auction first as a spectator to get the feel of how auctions work.
  • Read the terms and conditions of sale carefully – watch out for hidden extras and always factor in any delivery costs.
  • Don’t get carried away bidding – stick to your budget and factor in any seller’s premium or other fees charged on top of the ‘hammer price’, such as road tax etc.
  • Test the car as soon as you can after you’ve paid – if there’s anything wrong you’ll only have a very short time in which to complain.

You can take part in live auctions online if you can’t get to the sale.  However, if you are an auction amateur this isn’t the best idea.  Unless you know your cars, we strongly recommend you go there in person.  For online sales, cars are given a grade to rate their condition.  You can also view the car on the webcam to have a look at it.  Auction houses should be up front about the condition of the car and demonstrate clearly if the car is damaged and, if so, to what extent.

There are lots of auction houses across the country. Look on Google for your local ones. Here’s just a few popular ones:

For more information read our top ten tips for buying a car at auction.

Ex-police cars and stolen property auctions

You can get some great bargains online, as long as you can trust the vendor.  The Government and the police auction lots of vehicles online, which are often unclaimed stolen property and can be in quite bad condition.  However, some are absolute steals.

Bumblebee Auctions is the UK Police Property Disposal website.  The site sells off cars from around the country that have been seized by the police.  They are very upfront about the condition of the car.  However, because these vehicles have often been stolen and an owner hasn’t been found, you may not get an owner history.

With this site you also need to be able to collect the car, so buying from a police station that isn’t local might not be cost effective.

Other ways to get ex-police cars

There are also several sites around the country selling ex-police vehicles.  These are often high-powered vehicles with a complete vehicle history, sold at less than half their value.  They will have quite high mileage, but you know that they have always been driven by professionals, serviced regularly and never abused.

Before the vehicles are put up for sale, all the police equipment is removed.  The interior is refurbished and the outside is re-sprayed.  Be prepared – most of the vehicles are white!  They usually come with a 12-month MOT, but if the one you want doesn’t, find a company that does offer it and use their offer to haggle.

Buying privately

Buying privately is often the best way to grab a bargain.  However, it is also fairly risky as you are putting your trust in an person who might not be what they seem. You can protect yourself, though, by seeing our tips to avoid being swindled, which are especially important when buying from an individual.

However, as long as you stick to the tips, buying privately is often cheapest because:

  • They don’t have any overheads.
  • There won’t be hidden extras.
  • You can haggle with the person and they probably won’t have sales experience, which gives you the advantage.

There are loads of places to look for private sellers.  Try newsagents for magazines such as Autotrader and check local papers, which always feature private car sales.  You can also have a look on these sites:


  • Always look at the MOT certificate.
  • Check the mileage is genuine – look for any signs the dials have been tampered with.
  • Check how many previous owners the car has had – the fewer the better.
  • Do not buy a car that a 21-year-old male is selling after having it for a couple of years.  Chances are they have bashed it around and driven it hard.  Buying from an older seller is much safer, as they are far more likely to have driven the car carefully.

Buying online

Buying online can nab you a great deal on a second hand car

Purchasing a car online is tricky.  To buy a second-hand car, you really need to go and have a look at it and check it is in good working condition.  It doesn’t matter how it looks on the outside on a photo, it could be a wreck on the inside.

It is for this reason that we at Moneymagpie believe that getting a car online is not the best idea, especially if you are a first-time buyer.

However, online resources are really useful for getting an idea of price for when you do buy your car.  So it’s well worth taking a look at sites like eBay Motors – just don’t get carried away and buy something on impulse.

If you want to double check the value of a vehicle, use the tool below!

HOW TO BUY A USED CAR Step three: Haggle down the price

Negotiate a good deal on a second-hand car

Haggle  Considering current economic conditions, you have the upper hand as fewer people are splashing out on big expenses like cars.  The salesmen are as desperate to meet their targets as you are to get a good deal.  Use this to your advantage and push them as far as they will go on price.

Car supermarkets keep prices low. This means you probably won’t be able to push down the price – but you should still try.

How to haggle

The key to good haggling is research.  Know what deals are available and play sellers off against each other.  You need to know your budget and set yourself an upper limit.  Then start by offering 20% under the asking price and hopefully you’ll be able to push the price down.  Always be nice when haggling and if you can’t get money off, try and get extras added in.  If you can get a year’s MOT or road tax, you are already saving a lot.

Don’t get pressured into buying insurance and extras as part of the package.  Shopping around for insurance is almost certainly the better option.  However, if you do your research before you go you’ll have an idea of the price you should be paying for insurance. Then if the dealer’s price is fair, you can go for it.  If it’s not, leave it.

Tips for a safe purchase

There are several pitfalls you must be aware of when buying a used car. Did you know:

  • One in four vehicles is on outstanding finance. If you buy a car which is on outstanding finance and the loan isn’t paid, the car belongs to the finance house.
  • One in five cars have had a plate change. You need to know the difference between a cloned car and a car that has legally changed its licence plate.
  • 30 cars a day are reported as stolen. You will lose your money if you buy a car that belongs to someone else.
  • More than 350 cars a day are found to have a mileage discrepancy. Be careful not to pay extra money because a seller has turned back the clock.

One way to find out if the car you’re interested is safe is to get a HPI check before buying.

More tips to avoid Rip-offs:

  • Never buy a vehicle without a registration document or certificate (referred to as ‘registration certificate’). Ensure the certificate is genuine by holding it up to the light and checking the watermark.
  • Before you go to view the car, find out where the 17-digit Vehicle Identification Number is on that specific model.  Then when you view the car you can take the VIN number and check it matches the number on the certificate you are presented with.  Be suspicious if it looks like the VIN on the car has been tampered with or is not there.
  • Avoid ads that only give mobile phone numbers – they are virtually impossible to trace if something goes wrong.
  • If adverts give specific times to call on a landline this could indicate a telephone box.  If you’re suspicious, give the number a call outside the times given.
  • Always view the car in daylight at the seller’s home.  Don’t view it at night or when it’s raining otherwise you may miss important details on the body work etc.
  • Make sure the owner is familiar with the car.  If they are not, this may indicate that the car is stolen.
  • Watch out for cars with a ‘Q’ registration number. It shows the age of the car is unknown.  Unless the owner can prove exactly how old the car is, a ‘Q’ number plate can mean that the vehicle is a kit car or has been written off and re-built from different parts.
  • Are all the locks on the car the same?  Thieves often replace locks they have damaged.
  • Make sure that the engine number matches the registration certificate.  It is also important to check that the engine hasn’t been interfered with.
  • If in doubt, walk away.

For more tips visit the AA website.  If you need to find out about checking vehicle information have a look at this page on the GOV.UK website.

Remember – Discovered you bought a stolen car? You have no right to its ownership. Always be sure before you buy.

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hpi clear check
hpi clear check
1 year ago

This article contains amazing write up and a useful content. 

13 years ago

I have been looking around for a new car here in Spain but have now come to conclusion that it is not worth it – prices are on average 10-15% more expensive than the UK and I would estimate that if i bought a new car it would lose more than 20% value due mainly to the way people drive here, the lack of parking and narrow roads!! Came across the site as i was looking for advice. nice site.

Mike Rizzo
Mike Rizzo
14 years ago

Really cool I enjoy most of the articles which have been written, and especially the comments posted! I will come back!

14 years ago

I would like to share one more useful website for car sellers. auto2u.co.uk offers to advertise your car online. They come take pictures, make description etc.
Basicly they prepare your ad from a to z and save your time and money.
Also their search engine is easy to use, it allows to be very specific what you looking for.

Jasmine Birtles
14 years ago
Reply to  Tika

Thanks Tika although I see from your email that you’re actually from auto2u.co.uk. You should be upfront about your affiliation.

Jasmine Birtles

Your money-making expert. Financial journalist, TV and radio personality.

Jasmine Birtles

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