Decide what you want and how much you can afford. Include the cost of insurance, MOT, road tax, petrol, repairs and servicing. If you are taking out a loan, add up the repayments.
Don't rush into a decision. Shop around. Look at car magazines and price guides to see what is available for the price you want to pay.
If you don't know much about cars, it's a good idea to take someone with you who does. Or you could pay for an independent inspection by a professional mechanic or one of the motoring organisations. It costs between £100 and £300, but could save you money in the long run.
Buying from a dealer is the safest way of buying as you get the maximum protection of the law. But there are dodgy dealers, so look for an established firm with a good reputation. Ask the advice of friends and look for a trade association sign which should mean the dealer follows a code of practice.
The Retail Motor Industry Federation or the Scottish Motor Trade Association can give you a list of dealers that are trade association members and who follow a code of practice. Look for a dealer whose cars have been inspected by an independent engineer or one of the motoring organisations. Ask to see the 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 Vauxhall's Network Q.
When buying from a dealer, the law says a car must be:
These rights are not affected by any mechanical breakdown insurance (which is often sold by dealers if the manufacturer's warranty has run out), guarantee or warranty giving additional protection.
If you inspect the car, or someone does so for you, the dealer may not be liable for any faults which should have been uncovered by the inspection. It's a good idea to get a description of the vehicle's condition from the dealer; ask whether there is a pre-sale inspection checklist.
Buying privately should be cheaper than buying from a dealer. But it is also riskier: the car may be stolen, or it may have been used as security for a loan or hire agreement and actually belong to a finance company. If you are the one selling a car privately, there are also some risks. The purchaser of your car may try to claim compensation for faults which you were not aware from, costing you money. To protect yourself against this, draw up a receipt which the seller can sign.
You have fewer legal rights if you buy privately. The car must be as described, but the other rules don't 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 advertise in local newspapers and shop windows. If the seller is really a dealer, then your full legal rights apply. Warning signs to look out for include:
You can pick up a bargain at an auction, but auctions are probably the riskiest way of buying a used car. You need to know what you are doing. You might wish to go as a spectator first and see what happens. If you don't 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 windscreen will give you an idea of the car's history.
Your usual legal rights 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.
When buying a used car from a business over the internet, your rights are the same as the rights you would have buying a car in person from a business. In many circumstances, you may also have additional rights under the Distance Selling Regulations, which cover online purchases.
If you are buying a used car from an individual over the internet, your rights are the same as those for buying a used car from an individual.
If you find a car you would like to buy, take steps to protect yourself. We strongly advise that you go and see the car in person, in daylight if possible.
As you surf the internet, make notes of what is on offer. Make comparisons. If a picture of a car is shown, check that it matches the car for sale. Some sellers may use representative pictures as opposed to 'real' ones.
Once you have found the car you want, try to discover as much as you can about the seller:
Read the small print before deciding to go ahead. If an online seller cannot provide satisfactory responses to questions on warranty terms, delivery or product quality, it would be safer to shop elsewhere.
Before concluding the deal, you would be well advised to have the car inspected by an expert and a vehicle data check carried out which will give you details of the car's history. The results of the inspection and/or the vehicle check can help you to decide whether you want to proceed, or negotiate a better deal.
It is rare that you will be asked to send cash before you receive goods. Be very cautious if you are. Using a credit card may have some advantages; e.g. you're protected against home shopping fraud, and if your card used fraudulently, you'll get a refund from the card issuer. You may also have rights if the trader ceases trading before you get your car.
If you are planning to pay either a deposit or the full amount by credit card over the internet, it is advisable to ensure it is a secure site. Ring them to check if you are unsure.
Always get confirmation of your order by post, fax or email. As a minimum, your confirmation should give you an order number, the main specifications of the vehicle ordered including the price agreed, and the expected date of delivery.
Assess the car in daylight. Take it for a test drive.
If a car has been in an accident, it may be unsafe. Sometimes, two damaged cars are welded together to create a new one. These are known as 'cut and shuts' and are almost certainly unsafe.
There are companies that can tell you whether a car is an insurance company write-off. You can usually find details of these companies in motoring magazines.
If you buy a stolen car, the police can take it from you to return it to the original owner or the insurance company. You will not get any compensation even though you bought the car in good faith. You can sue the seller for your losses, but this might be difficult if you bought privately and the seller has disappeared.
Also, if you bought the car on credit, you may still have to pay off the loan; it depends on the type of agreement you have.
It can be hard to tell whether a car is stolen. Its identity may have been changed. For example, the identity number and number plate of a legitimate car may be transferred to a stolen one. Vehicle registration documents can be forged or obtained by fraud.
But there are tell-tale warning signs to look out for:
A car bought on hire purchase or conditional sale belongs to the finance company until the payments have been completed. If you buy such a car, the lender can take it back. You can sue whoever sold you the car, but only if you can find them.
There are only a few exceptions to this. If you were not aware the car was subject to an outstanding hire purchase agreement and bought it in good faith, you may be allowed to keep it. This does not apply to stolen cars or cars which are subject to a hire agreement.
There are companies that can tell you if a car is clear of any outstanding finance deals. You can usually find details of such companies in motoring magazines. If you are buying from a dealer, ask whether this check has already been carried out.
Low mileage can be a selling point, but the clock can be turned back to reduce the number of miles shown. Sellers sometimes protect themselves by covering up the milometer or issuing a disclaimer saying that the mileage may be wrong. To be valid, such a disclaimer must be at least as noticeable as the mileage reading and as effectively brought to your attention.
If the mileage is low but wear and tear on the car looks heavy, the car could have been 'clocked'. Clockers sometimes change pedal rubbers, steering wheels and gear knobs to hide this. Another sign is that the milometer numbers don't line up correctly.
There are companies that can tell you whether a car is an insurance company write-off or belongs to a finance company. They may also have mileage information. They charge for this service. Check car magazines for details.
There are several ways you can find out about the history of the car:
If something goes wrong and you have purchased your car from a dealer, then go back to the dealer straight away, explain the problem and say what you want done. If the dealer led you to believe the used car was in good condition when he or she sold it to you, you may be entitled to a refund if the car turns out to be faulty. If you wish to pursue a refund due to a fault in the car, then you can obtain our document, demand a refund from a car dealer. If the dealer has sold you the car under the impression that there are no faults, it will be their responsibility to remedy the situation. Should a dealer attempt to pass off his or her responsibility, then you can obtain our document, refuse a car dealer's denial of liability. The dealer is not, however, responsible for fair wear and tear on the car, nor is the dealer responsible for any faults which they informed the customer about before making their purchase.
As stated previously, there are more risks involved in buying a car privately than buying from a car dealer. You will not have the same rights available to you if you were to buy from the dealer. The car must be described, but the other rules do not apply. If the seller lies about the condition of the car, you can attempt to sue although this will be difficult to do. Best to have the car inspected before making your purchase as the general rule of caveat emptor applies here.
When selling your used car, a buyer could try to sue you for losses caused by a fault that you did not point out to them at the time of its purchase. Before selling your car, you may want to take some steps to protect yourself against this happening to you. To do this you could obtain our document, sale of a motor vehicle document.