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Should you buy a used car?

April 15, 2023

Should you buy a used car?

Great value, readily available…or dated and unreliable? Buyers tend to be split on the merits and drawbacks of buying a used car. So how can you tell whether a second-hand vehicle is right for you? We’ve brought together a summary of the pros and cons of buying a used car, and to help you get the best deal possible.

Pros and cons of buying a used car

One of the biggest advantages of buying a used car is, quite simply, the sheer choice available. Cars are resold across the market time and again, so there’s never a shortage of second-hand vehicles. That also means you have none of the lead times associated with buying new, meaning you can find the right car, agree a price and drive away a used vehicle in next to no time.

Another key strength of buying a used car is that they cost less to purchase and depreciate more slowly. And because they’re older and less valuable, they tend to cost less to insure, bringing your monthly running costs down significantly.

At the younger end of the used car spectrum, it’s not unusual for a car to still be under warranty. That means you buy for a lower price with the added security that if anything goes wrong with the vehicle, the manufacturer is responsible for picking up the bill.

However, on the other hand, the main drawback of buying a used car is that reliability declines across the life of any vehicle. That means that as it ages, it’s likely that your car will require more maintenance. Wear and tear will cause parts to fail and your repair bill will begin to climb. Not only that, as soon as a car passes the three-year mark, it will need an annual MOT and, once outside warranty, all the costs for keeping your car roadworthy will fall to you.

It’s also likely that an older car won’t be as fuel efficient as a brand new one. Improved technology in newer models and the impact of wear and tear mean that older vehicles regularly cost more to fuel and charge than newer ones. It’s also worth considering that safety and comfort features are constantly evolving, so older vehicles on the road are at a significant disadvantage when it comes to crashes or travelling in style.

Factors to consider when buying a used car

There’s a bit more to think about when buying a used car compared to buying brand new. Firstly, where should you look to find the right car for you?

Dealership or private sale?

Used cars are available to buy either through a dealership or via private sale.

Reputable dealerships typically provide greater security where reliability and service history are concerned. They may also provide a dealership warranty lasting around 12 months from the date of sale. That means that if anything goes wrong with your car, you have a window of time to return to the dealer so they can meet the cost of the fix.

The downside of buying from a dealer is that it will usually be more expensive than a private sale.

Private sales can throw up incredible bargains, but you need to do your homework, thoroughly research the car in question and be prepared to rigorously check the vehicle yourself. Here are the key points you should pay attention to:

Mileage – the lower the mileage, the better. But whatever the odometer says, check that it tallies with the general condition of the car (low mileage but worn interior is a red flag and the mileage on any past MOT and service paperwork should also be checked).

Condition – is it in a ‘like new’ condition, or has it been subject to a fair amount of wear and tear? Is the paintwork immaculate (damaged paintwork can lead to corrosion)? How recently have the tyres been changed? Ask all these questions and request paperwork to verify accuracy. Any and all damage should lower the asking price.

History report – has the car been in any accidents in the past that may have compromised its longer-term structural integrity and safety? Does it have a full service history showing that its maintenance schedule has been followed by an approved dealer or garage? If not, the asking price should be lower than comparable options on the market, and it may be advisable to walk away from the purchase altogether.

Once you’ve thoroughly investigated the car’s history, paperwork and presentation, always take the car for a test drive and pay close attention to:

Handling: does the car stay straight or veer off to the side?

Unexpected noises: these should be investigated

Electrics, stereo and air con: try them out make sure they’re working

External signs of damage and corrosion: take a close look around the outside of the car for evidence of scrapes and corrosion, including damaged tyres.

Ask to see all paperwork, including the service history and, finally, make sure the car comes with both keys.

How to finance a used car purchase

Once you’ve found a used car that fits the bill, you need to think about how you’re going to go about paying for it.

Firstly, make sure you’ve considered not just the potential purchase price including fees and interest but also the monthly running costs you’ll incur. That includes insurance, tax, maintenance, servicing, breakdown cover and fuel or EV charging.

Secondly, you need to think about finance. The simplest approach is to buy outright. This is usually the only means of completing a private sale, but, unsurprisingly, dealerships like this approach, too. The best thing about outright purchasing is that you’ll have full ownership of the vehicle, you won’t pay interest and you can sell it whenever you like. If you’re paying with savings rather than borrowing, it also won’t appear on your credit report, which is worth bearing in mind if you’re hoping to secure a mortgage in the near future.

If you don’t have the cash in the bank to buy a car in one go, another option is to take out a personal loan and pay off the purchase price and interest monthly. Alternatively, Personal Contract Purchase (PCP) is available via dealerships. This approach to buying requires an upfront deposit followed by fixed monthly payments across an agreed term. It’s a great way to spread the cost of purchasing a car, the downside being that the finance company owns the vehicle until you make your final payment. And if you can’t keep up with repayments, the car can be repossessed. It’s also worth remembering that whether you take out a personal loan or car finance agreement, they’ll have an effect on your credit rating, and you’ll repay interest on top of the purchase price of the car.

As always, it’s worth shopping around to get the best deals, and it's really important to read the small print carefully to make sure you understand terms and conditions before signing up.

Is a used car your best option?

If you want to spend less on a car, buying used can be a good option. There are deals available that can be particularly good value for newer cars that are still under warranty. The downside is that cars decline over time and maintenance and repair bills can be costly, not to mention increasing inefficiency that can see monthly costs and environmental impact rise dramatically.

Have you considered car subscription?

An affordable alternative to buying a used car is car subscription. A single monthly payment covers your hire fee and running costs so you can budget with confidence and enjoy the comfort and reliability of a new car. Find out more about flexible and affordable car subscriptions from Drive Fuze.