Buying a used car can save you lots of cash compared to a brand new. Whether you’re after a cheap runaround or a dream machine you've lots of choice on the second-hand market. But with murky histories and hard-nosed salesmen, it can be a minefield. This guide is filled with top tips and checklists to help guide you through the process!

1. Year old cars are MUCH cheaper than new cars:

The average new car has a list price of around £28,500. But by the time it's one year old with 10,000 miles on the clock it costs just £21,000 – a reduction of more than 27% in the first 12 months! This will be its steepest decline, so if you want the best value deal, look at nearly new cars.

2. Smaller engines can be cheaper:

The choice of a 1.0-litre or a 2.0-litre engine isn’t just about pure horsepower. A large engine will usually burn more fuel than a smaller one. So engine size is a vital consideration if fuel economy is an important factor in your decision.

Of course, this depends on how you use the car. A small engine is most efficient when it’s used as intended, such as to pootle around town. If a small engine is used at a high speed, it'll need to work much harder to keep the car moving - burning more fuel.

3. The best time to buy a used car:

Once you've decided what car to pick, now you need to know how to get the best deal. One way to slash costs is to buy at the right time. Dealers have targets to meet, with bonuses up for grabs. Typically, these are based on quarterly sales, making the end of March, June, September, and December a good time to buy. They need to shift cars, so will be more willing to negotiate and offer attractive finance packages.

For a quiet time, try to avoid weekends, or the start of the month, just after payday. A dealership crammed with wannabe buyers isn’t a good place to bargain hard.

4. What car do I need from this car?:

What are my essential requirements? Enough room for the family? A cheap car to run? A sporty number? Think about what you need...
Do I need the car to do anything specific? This could include towing a trailer or fitting into a small space.
Is it for short city drives or longer motorway journeys? Does it need to be able to cruise at motorway speeds without straining?
What's better, petrol or diesel? The fuel you want to use can make a big difference in the model you might choose.
Do I need a massive boot? Consider whether you need room for things such as sports equipment or a pushchair – or if you need to fit friendly Fido or your meddling mother-in-law.
Do I want to consider an eco-friendly car? If so, a hybrid or electric car could be an option. The cost more to start with but some come with Government grants, eg, the BMW i3 has a £5,000 grant.

5. How much will it cost you?

Any upfront costs: Once you've decided to buy a car, you will of course have to pay for it. You can either pay the whole cost upfront or take out a finance deal. Whichever way you choose, expect to at least pay some kind of down payment before you drive off.
Finance repayments: If you've taken a personal loan, or dealer finance, you'll need to factor in repayments - read more on your finance options.
Fuel: To work out the rough cost of running a new car, the website has a fuel consumption search tool. Motoring website Honest John also has a handy 'real MPG' section where drivers have reported how many miles per gallon they actually get. See our Cheap Petrol Guide for how to cut costs.
Tax: You can check out how much road tax you'll need to pay on the website. You can also search for cars in a particular tax band (A-M depending on the car’s CO2 emissions). The cost of tax range from £0 to over £1,000 in year one. Standard rates then apply, at up to £500/year.
Car insurance: The cost of insurance is based on how much of a risk insurers perceive you to be. Eg, if you are a youngster who's just passed your test, you will pay more for your cover. Plus, taking breakdown cover will bump up the cost. New cars often come with a year’s worth of breakdown cover. See our Cheap Car insurance and Breakdown Cover guides for tips on how to cut costs.
MOTs: Once the car's three years old, you’ll have to pay for an MOT every year, which costs £54.85 (for the test). Use our MOT guide for MoneySaving tips, including getting the test at local council centres, which could save you £100.
Servicing: You'll need to get your car serviced regularly, typically once a year, though it varies by model. Servicing ensures it’s safe to drive and keeps the manufacturer’s warranty valid. A routine service typically starts around £120.

6. Check as many dealerships as possible and compare them: 

Ask all the dealers in your area for their best deal on your second-hand car of choice. If you’re prepared to travel far and wide to find a rock-bottom price, expand your radius. Make a note of the best price, and ask others to beat it. Knowing what you want and exactly how much it is costing you is a huge advantage when negotiating with salesmen. You can always go back to your local dealer to ask if they’ll match the best offer. They might be keen for your cash, and happy to offer the same deal. 

7. Always haggle!

Haggling isn't reserved just for backstreet bazaars, it's a dealer's classic skill – and it’s expected of you, too – so bargain hard, and play Arthur Daley at his own game. The first rule is that you should NEVER pay the list price of the car - you'd be a fool to hand over the full cost (unless buying online, hard to haggle then...). But haggling can be daunting, even for hardened MoneySavers, yet there's nothing to be scared of. 

The beginner's haggle: Get them to chuck something in for free. Dealers often say they're not allowed to give discounts but if you're new to haggling, an easy start point is asking them to throw something in on top. Whether it's free sat-nav or floor mats, if you need an add-on, try not to pay extra for it.

Look for already-discounted cars: If the price is already reduced, there's often more flexibility. The boundaries have already been flexed and the psychological loss for the salesperson is reduced as they've already given up on the idea of getting the full price.

Walk away: Get them to call you back. Psychologically, if they have to chase you, rather than you being super keen, is more likely to lead to a better deal. 

Flaws mean discounts: Look for the tiniest of dents or scratches. This makes them more difficult to flog, but still perfectly nice to drive. Keeerching!

8. What to look for?

Overall condition: Cast a beady eye over the car’s condition, crouching down to look for scratches and dents.
Check repairs: See if there are any signs of poor repairs, such as gaps between body panels after crash damage.
Check the oil: Do this by lifting out the dipstick to see if the level's correct.
The engine: Look at the engine for signs of oil or water leaks, as well as the surrounding parts – and look under the car for any signs of leaks too.
Test the radio: Plus all other gadgets to make sure they work.
Turn on the lights!: Check these work, and that you can open and close the windows easily.
Is it safe?: Vitally, does the car seem in safe condition to drive. Trust your gut – if the seats are sagging and the car looks like it’s ready for the scrap heap, continue your search elsewhere.
What about the tyres?: Check for tread and inflation.

9. Petrol vs Diesel:


  • More economical – higher mpg
  • Engines typically more robust – last longer
  • Ideal for long journeys
  • Cars cost more to buy
  • Vehicle excise duty is cheaper on diesel cars
  • Pricier parts if repair needed
  • Commands higher resale values than equivalent petrol models
  • Fuel is often more expensive in the UK



  • Petrol is usually cheaper in the UK
  • Good for short journeys
  • Engines are more responsive – suit ‘performance’ cars
  • Often less reliable than diesel cars
  • Vehicle excise duty is more expensive
  • Cars lose value slightly faster
  • Engines less efficient and use more fuel


10. Test drive checklist:

  • Is your driving position at the wheel comfortable? Can the seat slide, rise and tilt? Can you adjust the steering wheel position? Can you see all the mirrors and through the windows? Can you reach the pedals, gear stick and handbrake?
  • If you’ll be fitting a child car seat, will this go in easily? Or if you need to carry large items such as golf clubs, will they fit?
  • Try different routes. Include the motorway if you’ll be driving on this.
    Check that the brakes and clutch function smoothly and effectively. Plus do a three-point turn to check for play in the steering.
  • Does it veer? Is the car veering to one side, or does it feel balanced?
  • Bonnet, doors and boot. Are the bonnet, doors and boot easy to open?
  • What's the passenger space like? Will people be comfortable on a long journey?
  • Boot space. If you’re likely to be carrying heavy or bulky items, will it be easy to lift them into the boot?
  • What's the power like? Is it powerful enough to pull away from traffic lights and to keep going up hills without requiring endless gear changes?
  • What’s the engine noise (or any other noise) like? Are there any irritating rattles or buzzes?
  • Check the suspension. How well does it soak up bumps and take corners?



Posted 14/04/2021 Back to Blog

Get started with the most
transparent way to
apply for Car Finance
anywhere online.

Quick Calculator

Let's cut to the car chase

  • 1. About the loan

    Got a particular kind of car in mind? If so, how much would you like to borrow? And for how long?

  • 2. About you

    We'd like to know a little more about you. Nothing too personal, though. Any horrors in your music collection can remain your little secret.

  • 3. About ready

    By doing some extensive detective work at incredible speed, we'll soon hunt out the best and cheapest lenders for you.