Buying a used car? Don’t make these 10 mistakes

Thinking of joining more than half a million other motorists and buying yourself a used car this month? Good for you – but think and check carefully before you part with your cash. Here’s why.

There’s nothing wrong with buying a second-hand car. Loads of people do it. Industry figures show that 6.9 million drivers go down the second-hand route when purchasing their next set of wheels every year. That’s around 575,000 a month, proving that the used car market is booming.

There are so many advantages to buying used, the main one being bagging yourself a real bargain that has already lost its depreciation and now represents excellent value for money to you.

But to get yourself behind the wheel of that little gem you do need to avoid some nasty pitfalls – mistakes that can end up putting the brakes on your latest purchase and costing you dearly.

Here are 10 top used car buying mistakes to avoid, to make sure your dream buy doesn’t become your worst nightmare.

1. Rushing in headlong

Before you dive in and buy the first thing you fall in love with, think carefully about what you actually need. Do you have a family, and would they appreciate getting in and out of a three-door car rather than a five-door? Do you have a dog that needs a decent sized boot? Is a big engine really necessary when a smaller, more economical one would do?

2. Getting the timing all wrong

Be patient if you can and wait for the best time to buy your new pre-owned car. The motoring year for salesmen goes in cycles and car dealers often have targets to achieve, even on used vehicles. The best time to do a deal with a salesman is at the end of each quarter (March, June, September and December) or end of year (also good because it’s the quiet Christmas period). Look also for when a new version of a car becomes available, as that can drive down the cost of the previous model.

3. Paying the asking price

It’s easy to get carried away when you find your dream machine, especially if you know other people are looking at it too. But don’t end up paying over the odds for it. Most people, including dealers, will expect an offer and a bit of haggling. If you’re buying from a trader and can’t lower the price, hold out for an ‘extra’, such as a full tank of fuel or some new car mats. But stick to your budget and wait for the car you want at the right price.

4. Ignoring the figures

It’s important to know what your new car is going to cost you on a daily basis because, if it starts to become more expensive than you expected, it can tarnish the enjoyment of owning it. What will its fuel economy be like? What is the CO2 output of the engine, as this affects the road duty (VED) you pay. What will the insurance premium cost you? Are the car’s servicing costs within your budget? And how much are parts likely to be?

5. Not seeing the faults

One of the most common complaints to consumer organisations is about faults on second-hand cars. Citizens Advice say that more than a quarter (28%) of people who bought a used vehicle in the last decade has had a problem with it, while the Motor Ombudsman dispute body says eight out of 10 vehicle purchase gripes are about used cars. Most garages or mechanics will do a car inspection for you. Look at the car’s service history to see if it’s up to date, and have the vehicle’s history checked. A MotorCheck report, for example, will give the car’s real mileage, highlight if it has had a change in colour, show if it has been through the correct number of MOTs and reveal how many manufacturer recalls it has had. 

6. Ignoring comfort issues

Even if you love the appearance of your pre-owned beauty when you are standing there looking at it on the forecourt, it’s important not to get carried away by looks alone. Get behind the wheel and make sure the seats are comfortable and adjustable to exactly the right position for you. Does the steering wheel move to the height you need? Is your head touching the roof lining? Is there ample legroom behind you for passengers? All off these things are vital to check before parting with your cash.

7. Getting the towing woes

Do you tow a caravan or trailer? If you can’t find your dream car with a tow bar already fitted you will have to organise that yourself. Every car is different when it comes to fitting a tow bar – some are more complicated than others and the price to mount the hitch can vary widely. Check the cost of the tow bar work on your potential purchase before you buy it.

8. Getting the dimensions all wrong

Do you play golf? If you do, you’ll need to check that your clubs will fit in the back of your planned purchase. Likewise, if you have a baby seat or two to put in the rear of the car, will they go in easily, and can you reach them conveniently through the front or rear doors to install them? And if you have a garage, make sure the car will actually go in it if that’s the intention. People often forget to check this.

9. Not checking the details

You have found the car you love and you’re ready to buy it. There are several things you need to make sure are in place. The car must have a registration document which you will need to update to prove you are the owner. Don’t buy a car without one of these. Make sure there is a service book which is hopefully up to date with work carried out. Ask for any manuals that go with the car and check there is a spare wheel or tyre repair kit. Ask for a spare key – every car should have one. Get an invoice or receipt to prove the car’s yours. And ensure you are insured before you drive away.

10. Not taking a deep breath and just thinking

Taking all this advice into account, it comes down to not rushing in and buying something just because you have fallen in love with a dream car. Buying with your heart instead of your head could turn a dream buy into a disastrous one. Just like buses, if you have to miss out on one car, another will be along soon. Think carefully about your purchase to ensure you really do have the car you always wanted.