Ultimate Guide to Buying a Used Car
By: Victoria Affleck
Last updated: 25 October 2019
Buying a car can be a complicated process at the best of times, so knowing what to do when buying a car is important to ensure you get the best car and deal for you. As a result, we’ve compiled the ultimate guide to buying a used car in the UK, containing everything you need to know and consider during the buying process.
But first, before going ahead and making any decisions, it is important to ask yourself some questions before buying a car. Consider the following:
- Do I really need a new car?
- What is my budget?
- What kind of car do I want or need?
- Should I buy from a dealer or private seller?
- How will I pay for the car?
- What is included in the advertised price?
- Will I be charged any other fees?
- Does the car come with a spare tyre and jack?
- Can the car be delivered to me?
Once you have asked yourself these all-important questions and you are still set on making a purchase, your next task is to find a used car to buy. It can be tough to find a car that is practical, suitable, in budget and nearby - especially if you have something specific in mind.
When searching for a used car, you may want to consider visiting a dealership (such as Car Giant) to view their second-hand cars for sale, or ask your friends and family if they know of anyone selling a vehicle.
Whether you are buying a car from a dealer or private seller, it is vital that you are dealing with a trustworthy source. This reduces the likelihood of any issues to arising during the buying process, to make it as pain-free as possible. Read on to find out our top tips and advice on buying a used car.
How to buy a used car in 5 simple steps:
When it comes to purchasing a car, you’ll need to check the vehicle thoroughly before you buy it. You may be wondering what to check when buying a used car, so here are some things to look out for and things to ask the seller.
Before you see the vehicle:
- Ask for the registration number, make, model and MOT test number
- Check the information you have been given against the DVLA records here
- Check the MOT status and history of the car
- Check whether the vehicle has been recalled due to safety problems
Once you have these details, you should consider carrying out a HPi check using the registration number/chassis number. This tells you whether the car has been written off and has any outstanding finances. This is important, as otherwise you may incur debts of the previous owner – the last thing you need when buying a car. There are a number of websites that can help you check details about a car that you are interested in such as this one.
When you see the vehicle:
- Ask to see the V5C vehicle registration certificate (log book) – check whether it has a ‘DVL’ watermark and the serial number isn’t between BG8229501 to BG9999030, or BI2800000. If it is, the V5C may be stolen so call the police when it’s safe.
- Make sure the details in the log book match the details you’ve been given
- Check the vehicle identification number and the engine number – make sure these match the details in the log book
- Organise an independent inspection of the car (e.g. through the AA for a small cost)
If the car is in perfect working order and you have agreed an amount with the seller, it is time to make the big purchase. You may be wondering, what documents should I get when buying a used car? Before walking away, ensure all paperwork for buying a used car from a private seller is handed to you. Remember to triple check that these documents match with the car in question before walking away.
These documents include:
- The registration document (V5C)
- The MOT certificate
- A full service history
- Any write-off car checks (if applicable)
Once you have purchased the car, you must register it in your name. Depending on whether your car has a V5C registration certificate (log book) or not, the way you can register your vehicle may differ.
Ways to register your vehicle:
If you have a brand-new vehicle with a brand-new vehicle registration number, the dealer will often register the vehicle for you. You should receive a log book in the post within 6 weeks.
If you are purchasing a used vehicle with a V5C, the seller can register the vehicle to you online or by post. The most popular method is by post, whereby the seller fills in the “new keeper” section and sends off to the DVLA. The dealer or private seller will also give you a ‘New Keepers Details’ slip from their log book – commonly referred to as “the green slip” – which you must also send to the DVLA. This confirms to the governing body that you are the new owner of the car.
However, if the vehicle does not have a V5C, you can register the vehicle in your name by applying for an ‘Application for a vehicle registration certificate’ – also known as a form V62 – but you will have to pay a fee of £25.
It is important to insure your car when you purchase a new car, as it will protect you against any damage or loss. In England, Wales and Scotland, you must have motor insurance for your vehicle if you use it on the roads and in public places. There are penalties in place if you do not have a valid insurance policy, including:
- A fixed penalty fine
- A court prosecution with a maximum fine of £1,000
- Six penalty points and/or disqualification
- £150 plus car pound fees to recover the car
- Their vehicle being clamped, seized or disposed of by police
Dealing with insurance when buying a new car can be a minefield to navigate, so it is worth taking your time to find the right deal that offers everything you need, such as breakdown cover or having a courtesy car if needed.
The best way to find car insurance is to browse through comparison websites, such as Money Supermarket, Confused.com Go Compare or Compare the Market, or perhaps speak directly to insurance companies to see if they can offer you a deal. Alternatively, you may want to consult an insurance broker to find the best deal for you.
But, before you even think about signing on the dotted line, it is a good idea to read through the fine print carefully, so you know exactly what you’ll be paying for and what you’re covered against.
Beware, new drivers!
If you are a new driver, you may find that your car insurance is sky-high, but this is typical of someone who has passed their driving test. However, it is still possible to find a good deal – consider options, such as a black box which can bring the cost down as the years go by if you show your insurance company that you can drive safely.
When you buy a second-hand car, you must tax your vehicle before you can drive it – even if you have insurance. If you’re buying a car, you can't carry over any remaining months on the tax disc – and the seller can't give or transfer that ‘unused’ tax to you.
To tax the car you are buying, follow the following:
- If the vehicle is already registered in your name, you can use the 11-digit reference number on the V5C (log book)
- If you have just bought the vehicle and it’s not registered yet, you will need the 12-digit reference number from the “green slip” the seller gave you – this is titled “New Keeper Supplement (V5C/2).
How much road tax (VED) you have to pay depends entirely on what you drive – you can easily check what you will be paying by simply entering your number plate onto the Vehicle Certification Agency website.
It is worth noting that car tax applies for all drivers – even if you are exempt and do not have to pay anything, such as when you are disabled, otherwise you may face a penalty of up to £1,000.
Bear in mind that cars registered on or after April 1st, 2017 pay car tax according to the car’s emissions. Whereas in subsequent years, most cars will pay a flat ‘standard’ rate of £140. Alternative fuel cars will pay £130 a year and zero emissions cars will pay nothing.
However, if the car you are purchasing is an electric vehicle costing under £40,000, you won’t pay any VED. This is because the government considers that you run a pollution-neutral vehicle. However, as mentioned above, you must still apply for tax exemption every year, otherwise you may face a penalty of up to £1,000.
If your car is diesel, registered before March 1st, 2001 or costing over £40,000, you may find that your car tax will be more expensive, so you may want to bear this in mind before making a purchase.
Now that the car is officially yours and has been registered, taxed and insured, you may want to customise your car it to make it more personal to your style. This may include adding accessories, such as air fresheners or radio-system, or perhaps evening purchasing a personalised number plate – the options are endless!
To “upgrade” your car, you may want to do some of the following:
- Change the seat covers and car mats
- Add a steering wheel cover
- Customise your gearstick
- Add LED lights
- Add air fresheners
- Add a sound system
Please note: If you decide you want to buy a private reg plate, you will need specific documents. Read about what documents you need to show your authorised dealer here.
Beware to take into account legalities, in order to ensure you aren’t wasting any money and you aren’t going to get in trouble. For example, there are specific requirements that you must abide by for private number plates, tinted windows and subwoofer sound systems, to name a few.
However, be careful not to decrease the value of your car by adding extras, such as engine modifications or big exhausts and spoilers. This can leave you in a spot of trouble when it comes to selling the car at a later date, or even with the police if you break the law.