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The Smart Way to Buy a Used Car

Updated on October 30, 2015

It would be great if people always had the spare cash to just get rid of their used cars and buy new cars without having to worry about payments and interests rates. However, that is not the case and people do not always have the means and ways to buy brand new cars. In fact, there are even some people who opt to buy used cars not only because they want to save money but also because they are quite savvy when it comes to car values—most brand new cars lose 40% of their value in the first year alone. Think of how badly that will make you feel if you are still paying for a car, plus interest, that you bought 5 years ago.

If you like the idea of buying a used car, you have to know that it is not as easy as strolling into a showroom and just pointing at the car you like. Yes, buying a used car saves you money, but it is also very risky and can even be compared to a minefield. Take one wrong step and your used car buying venture will end up a disaster. You will either end up overpaying or getting a dud. You do not want that, of course, so check out some used car buying tips and guidelines below to get started.

A Quick Guide to Used Cars

Whether you choose to buy from ads posted on your local papers, your local used car dealership, or on the internet, below are some general tips that are worth knowing and keeping in mind.

  • Budget carefully. Before you buy a car, it is a good idea to gather insurance quotes and check on tax rates before you sign any papers for a car. Remember that you will want to factor in the costs of any work that needs to be done on the car. If you have plans of borrowing money to buy your used car, also ask for loan quotes prior to viewing cars for sale. This way, you will have a clearer idea of what you can afford and you will have the ability to tell if the quotes offered by finance dealers are really good or not.

  • Do some research. Another thing you need to do is take a look at price guides and compare similar cars in the classifieds. This way, you know the prices and car values of different cars and you can avoid being hoodwinked into paying too much. You can easily check out websites or forums where car prices are the topic du jour.

  • Ask about the service history. Cars that have not received any service are bad news. If you want to land a good used car, you want to make sure it is one that was taken good care of by the previous owners. Ask the seller about pervious MOT certs, records of regular servicing, and garage bills too.
    • If they say there are no records, ask them why.
    • Does it look like there is some consistent problem with the car that has never received attention?
    • Check if the history tells a consistent tale.

  • Check the Registration Document V5C. If you are a serious buyer, you should know that you have every right to ask to see the V5C registration document for the used car since this document shows not the legal owner of the car but the registered keeper as well. This document will also show you details about the previous owners of the car and it will do you well to give them a call and ask about the car. When you see the vehicle, make sure you ask these questions:
    • Is the person whose name is on the document the one selling the car?
    • If not, then what is their reason for selling the car in place of the owner?


  • Check for MOT certificates. If the car you want to buy is 3 years old or older, you should make sure that it has a series of MOT certificates. If you have a copy of the registration number of the car plus the document reference on the V5C, you may check its status online. Recorded mileage has to increase on a steady rate with the age of the car. If for some reason that is not the case with the used car you want to take home, you should ask why.

Quick Tips in Buying a Used Car

As a buyer, you have some rights and this means being able to view the car in the proper light. You also have the right to ask questions but there are some things that only you will be able to do for yourself to protect your interests. Check out some simple used car buying tips below:

  • Do not view a car in poor light, at night, or when it is raining. When you are looking at a used car, you can expect it to have some signs of wear and tear. However, it is a good idea to know exactly what those signs are. You have to make sure that you view the car in good lighting and weather so you can make a proper assessment of its condition.

  • Beware of very low prices. Used cars may be cheap, but there is a limit. For instance, if you see a nice 3-year old car that hardly has any signs of wear and tear selling for an absurdly low price, there has to be a catch and you need to know what it is. The general rule of thumb with used cars (and just about anything, really) is that if a deal looks too good to be true, it most probably is.

  • Watch out for funky smells. If the car has been sitting unused for some time it is okay for it to have a musty sort of smell. However, you want to watch out for strong cigarette-smoke odor as well as smells of rotting food. You will also want to watch out for any smells that indicate dampness. The reason for this is that no self-respecting owner would allow food to rot in the car if they truly cared for it. Also, smells of dampness could indicate a leak somewhere and cigarette smoke is just plain annoying and extremely hard to get rid of.

  • Look out for shenanigans. There are some cars that you really should steer clear of no matter how desperate you are. These cars include salvaged cars, stolen cars and lemons. You want a used car, not a problem, so steer clear of these. One way to check on the used cars you want to buy is to check Carfax which is a huge online database which shows detailed information about cars.

  • Don’t feel the pressure to buy NOW. Some used car shoppers feel the pressure to make an immediate purchase especially if the price seems cheap and the dealer is very pushy. Just remember that if the used car you are checking doesn’t feel right then walk away. There are plenty of other used cars that you can go for. Some private sellers may try to tell you “sob stories” to get you to buy their cars but the bottom line is this: that is your hard-earned money and you are buying a used car to help yourself and not to help anyone else.

Before You Sign and Hand Over the Money

  • Clear up the collection/delivery details.
  • Confirm what the price actually includes.
  • Put into writing the repairs that the seller has agreed to complete.
  • Make sure that you receive a receipt that shows vehicle price, seller’s details, terms of sale, and vehicle details.

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