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Stay in the driving seat

Buying a “new-to-you” car can be an exciting time, especially if it’s your first. But you’ll do yourself a big favour if you can leave the emotion at home — and not just because you’ll be less of a target for dealers eager to take your money. Stay cool and calculating, and you’re more likely to get the car you want and the price you want to pay. Here’s a list of quick tips that’ll help you make that buy be a good buy:

Do your market research

It’s easy to research the kind of car that’s going to suit you best – most dealerships now show you what they have, both locally and further afield, through their websites. So you can see what’s out there, and what kind of price you’re likely to pay. Websites like can also guide you.

Before you go near a dealership, take a little more time to check that those prices are fair. Sites like and are reliable places to check out deals and they’ll even tell you about other options, like specification or modifications. The more homework you do, the better equipped you’ll be for a successful search.

What’s wrong with this picture?

A photograph doesn’t tell you much, and neither does a glowing review. If you’re reading reviews about a car, go to the one- and two-stars first. If a lot of them have been having the same issues with a particular set of wheels, that’s a red flag to look out for.

A website like Honest Johns can also help find common faults linked to the kind of car you’d like to buy. You’ll be kicking yourself later if you find a flaw and then realise that loads of other people found it before you!

Set your budget and stick to it

We really mean ‘stick to it’. Buying a car is a big deal, and it’s easy to think that a few hundred pounds extra can’t hurt when you’ve seen one that ticks all the boxes. But it could mean the difference between a finance payment you can manage and one that stretches you just a little too far. Keep a tight hold of those purse strings!

Avoid modifications

Spoilers, alloys, blacked out windows and exhaust mufflers that sound like the approach of Armageddon might be designed to add cool to your car. But they’ll also add loads to your insurance, so they’re best avoided. Check insurance costs before you make your final decision. It could save you from a hefty insurance premium.

Dealer’s delight or private purchase?

Buying privately might cost a little less than going to your local used-car garage. But if anything goes wrong once you’ve handed over the cash, you might find there’s very little you can do about it. So it’s best to take someone with you who knows a bit about cars. You can also check the car’s history using or the AA/RAC websites or apps.

You won’t normally need that kind of background check at a dealership, plus you’ll have the protection of the Sale of Goods Act if anything does go wrong. The car will likely cost you more. However, if you go well-equipped with market prices and any other deals available, you’ll be in a good place to haggle. So you could drive away in a decent bargain!

What to do when you go to view

Take a tick list on your test drive

Never say no to a test drive, no matter how good the car looks. And while you’re behind the wheel, check everything. And we do mean everything. Locks, electric mirrors and windows, heaters and AC, 12v socket, USB ports — it’ll help if you make a list of all the features in the owner’s manual or online listing and go through it point by point.

If you’re really not confident, take someone along who knows cars. You can even ask the AA or RAC to check the car before you buy. There’s a cost involved in that. But the cost of a car that needs constant repairs is far higher.

Forms and phone calls

Whoever you’re buying your car from should have the V5C form, sometimes known as the ‘logbook’. Ask to see it to make sure the seller is the registered keeper. While you’re about it, ask to see the service history, along with any receipts or guarantees related to repairs. And if you’re calling a private seller, be non-specific. Say you’re interested in ‘their car’. If they ask which one, they’re probably a trader, and you’ll need to keep your wits about you.

Eyeing up a good deal

It’s not always easy to do, but if you can, try to view the car on a dry day during daylight hours — it’s much harder to see flaws in the dark or in the rain. Also try looking along the length of the car, from front to back — it could help show up dents, dings, scrapes, scratches or minor misalignments.

More things to try before you buy

Step back in time

If you haven’t done it already, do a vehicle history check. It will show whether the car has any outstanding finance, if it’s been stolen, even if it’s been written off. You can use, or the AA/RAC websites or apps. There’s a small cost but it’s not much to pay for peace of mind.

The key to a good deal

Every car should come with two keys. Make sure you get both, because a replacement, especially for a modern car, could cost around £100. Besides, you don’t want to be worrying about a stranger driving off with your new wheels!


No car dealer will ever be surprised if you haggle, so don’t be shy. You’ve both got a job to do — the seller is trying to maximise profit, and you’re trying to get a better deal — and it’s an expected part of the process. Stay polite and positive, but be firm and don’t leave loopholes. For example, say: “How much discount can you offer?” rather than: “Is there any discount available?”

Don’t be desperate

Never buy a car in a hurry. Take the time to do the research, and you’ll be in a much better place to find the right car at the right price. And if you’re not getting the deal you want, be ready to walk away. It might be enough in itself to clinch the deal. If not — there are plenty more to choose from. Buying your car shouldn’t be a chore, it should be an educational experience!

Don’t forget the paperwork

Once you’ve made your deal, make sure you have the right part of the V5C — it proves that you’re the new keeper of the car. The DVLA will send you a new, full form once they’ve received the other half of the old one. Make sure the car is insured to you before you drive it away, and that you know when the first/next MOT is due.

And that’s all there is to it — happy motoring!

Disclaimer: This article contains links to third party websites. We don't control these websites and aren't responsible for their content.

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