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Buying a Used Car

Buying a used car can be tricky, especially for someone who has never done it before, here you will find some advice on buying from a dealer, a private seller, or from an auction, there is also a printable checklist (click here) on what to look out for when you inspect a car, and there is advice on what to do if the deal goes wrong.

Before you buy:
Decide how much you can afford to pay. Include the cost of insurance, MOT, road tax, petrol, repairs and servicing. Dont rush into a decision. Shop around. Look through price guides to see how much you should expect to pay for the car you want.


If your knowledge of cars is sketchy, use the checklist. It gives the main things to look out for when assessing a car's condition, and tells you the signs that point to a car which has been stolen or clocked (had it's mileage altered). As a back up, take someone with you who knows about cars.

Or you could pay for an independent inspection by a professional mechanic. Motoring orginisations such as the AA, RAC, and Green Flag usually offer this service, it costs roughly £100 or more but it could save you money in the long run.

BUYING FROM A DEALER:
This is the safest way of buying as you get the maximum protection from the law. But there are dodgy dealers, so look for an established firm with a good reputation. Ask friends if they can recommend anyone.


Look for a garage whose cars have been part inspected by the AA or RAC. Ask to see a report on the car you want to buy, it will not be as detailed as one you pay for yourself, but will provide useful information. Or choose a dealer with a quality checking scheme, such as Ford Direct, Rover Approved or Vauxhalls Network Q.

Buying a used car


When buying from a dealer, the law says that a car must be:

of satisfactory quality
it must meet the standard that a reasonable person would regard as acceptable, bearing in mind the way it was described, how much it cost and any other relevant circumstances. This covers, for example, the appearance and finish of the car, it's safety and it's durability. The car must be free from defects, except when they were pointed out to you by the seller.

as described
a car said to have "one careful lady owner" shouldn't turn out to have three previous owners, all males under 22.

reasonably fit for any normal purpose
it should get you from A to B, and for any other purpose that you specify to the seller - for example, towing a caravan.

BUYING PRIVATELY: This should be cheaper than buying from a dealer. It is also riskier. The car may be stolen, It may have been used as security for a loan or hire agreement and actually belong to a finance company.


You have fewer legal rights if you buy privately. The car must be as described but the other rules dont apply. If a private seller lies about the condition of a car, you can sue for your losses - if you can find the seller.

Some dealers pretend to be private sellers to avoid their legal obligations and to get rid of faulty or over-priced cars. They adverstise in local newspapers and shop windows.

Signs to look out for include:

  • ads which give a mobile phone number or specify a time to call, it may be a public phone box, not the sellers home
  • the same phone number appears in several ads
  • when you phone about the car, the seller asks "which one?"
  • the seller wants to bring the car to you or meet you somewhere, rather than you going to the seller's home

Buying a used car


BUYING AT AUCTION: You can pick up a bargain at an auction but you need to know what you are doing. Go as a spectator first and see what happen.


If you dont know much about cars, take someone with you who does. Decide the maximum you can afford and stick to it. The entry form attached to the car's windscreen will give you an idea of the car's history.

Auctions are probably the riskiest way of buying a used car. Your usual legal rights (mentioned above) may not apply if the seller issues a disclaimer, such as the term 'sold as seen', which excludes all or some of those rights. Read the auctioneer's conditions of business carefully to check whether this is the case.

Checks to make:

Ask to see the vehicle registration document (V5) If the seller can't produce this document, be suspicious. A common excuse is that it has been sent to the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency) for updating. This may be true, for example, the seller may have changed address recently, but be wary. It means you cannot check the car's ownership and identity details.

The seller should have a green slip if the car was bought very recently and the V5 is with the DVLA for the change of ownership to be recorded (this applies only to cars that have been issued with new V5's, introduced in March 1997.)

Are there any spelling mistakes or alterations to the V5? if so, it may be a forgery. All legitimate V5's have watermarks.
Ask for proof of identity and address such as a driving licence, passport, recent gas or electricity bill. Check that the same name and address is given on the V5.

ll cars have three main identifying features:

  • the vehicle registration mark (the number plate);
  • the vehicle identification number (VIN) This can be found on a metal VIN plate, usually in the engine compartment, and stamped into the bodywork under the bonnet and the driver's seat. As a security measure some cars have the VIN etched onto their windows or lamps; the engine number. These are shown on the V5.
  • The numbers on the car should be the same as those on the V5. Have the identification numbers been tampered with? The engine and VIN numbers may have been interfered with. Areas of glass may have been scratched off the windows, or stickers may cover up etching which has been altered.
  • Another clue is whether the seller can show you the insurance policy for the car. If it is stolen, probably not. Use the ckecklist to help you spot the signs of a stolen car.

What to do if things go wrong

  • Go back to the seller straight away, explain the problem and say what you want done
  • If you aren't happy with the outcome, get advice. Contact your local Trading Standards Service (sometimes called consumer protection department) or go to a citizens advice bureau or consumer advice centre. See the phone book for details.
  • If the dealer is a member of a trade association, they may be able to help.
  • You can go to court or use a trade association concilation/arbitration scheme. A consumer adviser can explain the procedure.
  • If your a member of the AA or RAC they could help if you have problems with buying a used car.

"One lady owner..."

Used Car


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