If you already have a car, do some research to find out how much you can sell it for, or whether you can you use it for part exchange? Will you need additional finance to buy a new car?
Take into account running costs - how much you'll need to spend on fuel, road tax and insurance (smaller and /or eco cars may be cheaper to tax). If you’re considering buying a new car, remember it will quickly depreciate in value.
Ask friends and family about their cars, and read reviews about different models. Focus on a few types of car - think about what you'll use it for, how many passengers or items will be transported, whether you'll use it for long or short journeys, who else will be driving it, is it easy to park, does it fit in your garage or/ drive. These factors at should give you an idea of the size of car you'll need.
4. Where to look
If you'd like a warranty, or want to know who to contact if something goes wrong, try a used car dealership. You could also buy from a private seller. Browse Autotrader, Parkers and Exchange and Mart to get an idea of prices, or look in your local newspaper.
5. What to ask the seller
Ask as many questions as you can when you first contact the seller - find out why they’re selling, how long they’ve had the car, if they’ve had it serviced regularly and what the condition’s really like.
If you’re still interested, arrange to meet at their house or garage if they’re a trader – and make sure it’s in daylight so you can spot any issues more easily.
6. Assessing the car
Walk around the car - check for rust, mismatched paint, ripples, any uneven gaps between body panels or/ doors – this could indicate badly done crash repairs. Then take a look inside and check for water stains in the boot, around windows, on carpets and around the sunroof – these could indicate leaks.
7. Check the documents
Ask to see the car’s logbook, MOT and service history, and check the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) - which you’ll find at the bottom of the windscreen - to make sure it matches the documents. It’s also worth getting a Vehicle Identity Check to make sure the seller isn’t trying to pass on a stolen car.
8. Take it for a test drive
Don’t buy a car unless you’ve driven it, but make sure you’re covered by insurance before you set off. Is it easy to get in and out of? How much space is there in the boot? Is it easy to park?
Try to drive on different types of road to see how it fares in traffic as well as on the open road. Check that everything works – from essentials such as gears, brakes, steering and suspension to heaters, demisters and air conditioning. Be suspicious of any rattles or strange noises.
9. Check the mileage
If you’re looking for something reliable and good value, look at a car that’s less than three years old with an annual mileage of around 10,000 to 15,000. Of course, most older cars will have done more miles so weigh that up against cost. Mileage isn’t everything though – if a car’s been left to stand on the drive for long periods of time, it could have problems with the engine. A good compromise is a car that’s been regularly used and serviced.
10. Seal the deal
Don’t be afraid to haggle - make sure you know what the going rate is for similar models, and if you don’t get a price you like, move on to another car.
Before you hand over any money, check the seller is the person named on the registration document. If they’re not, get written confirmation from the owner that they’ve given their permission to sell. Check the MOT and if you have any doubts about it being genuine, contact the garage that issued it. Get a receipt for any payment – and don’t be pressured into paying by cash if you don’t want to.
Before you leave, check that you have the correct parts of the logbook and if you still have concerns, ask if the seller minds you bringing in a mechanic to inspect the car too.
Get the most out of your car so that it goes the distance.
John Lewis plc is an appointed representative (Financial Conduct Authority number 416011) of Ageas Retail Limited. John Lewis Car Insurance is provided by Ageas Retail Limited (No1324965). Registered office: Ageas House, Hampshire Corporate Park, Templars Way, Eastleigh, Hampshire, SO53 3YA. Ageas Retail Limited is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (number 312468). Ageas Retail Limited is a sister company of Ageas Insurance Limited.
John Lewis Finance and John Lewis Insurance are trading names of John Lewis plc. Registered office: 171 Victoria Street, London SW1E 5NN. Registered in England (Registered Company Number 233462). John Lewis plc is an appointed representative of a panel of carefully chosen partners to offer a full range of insurance products and services via John Lewis Finance (Financial Conduct Authority number 416011).