How To Get a Bargain When Buying a Used Car

By Leeds Credit Union
21/02/2022

In Great Britain, more than 75% of households have a car and, according to automotive data analysts CAP HPI, on average, people in the UK change their cars every two years.

This adds up to a whole lot of cars being bought and sold every year and, with the cost of living continuing to rise, more and more people are opting to pick up a used car, rather than a brand new one.

With new car number plates due for release, now is the ideal time to pick up a quality used car for less, so we've compiled some advice on getting maximum value for money when delving into the second-hand market.

Timing is everything

Although most adults in the UK are aware that there is a logic to the seemingly random selection of letters and numbers on car number plates, many don't know what it actually is. As a result, the fact that new number plates are scheduled for release on March 1st is unlikely to be of much interest to anyone but dedicated petrolheads.

However, if you're in the market for a new car, then you absolutely should be interested in this development because the periods immediately before and after the release of new number plates are the best times to buy a used car, for two reasons:

  1. As soon as new plates are available, people rush to part-exchange their old cars in order to get their hands on one, leaving dealers with a surplus of used cars they can't wait to sell on, and…
  2. in the run-up to the new plates' release, dealers start clearing out their old cars to make room for the new ones, meaning they're more likely to accept a lower price in order to free up room on their forecourts.

If you're not in a hurry to grab a new set of wheels, you could potentially save even more money by waiting until the end of car dealers' sales quarters in March, June, September and December. In order to hit their sales targets and earn bonuses, dealers are often happier to negotiate, allowing you to pick up a quality ride for less. 

It's also a good idea to go to dealerships during the week as they tend to be much busier at weekends. This enables the dealers to focus their attention on you, increasing your chances of getting a better deal.

Know your trim levels

Although you may think that buying a used car simply requires you to settle on a make and model you like the look of, there's actually a lot more to it than that, such as choosing a car with the right trim level for your needs. 

Trim levels are essentially different variants of the same car - for example, if you decide to buy a Mini Cooper, you will then have to choose between the Classic, Signature or Iconic versions. While the names vary from car to car, what this basically means is how many optional extras do you want/need your car to have. The more you want, the higher the cost.

So if you just want to jump in and drive off, go for the cheapest version; if you need built-in sat-nav, leather seats and a sports mode option, go for the most expensive.

Only you know what's right for your needs but it's vital to find out about the different options before making a purchase. There's no point paying more than you can afford for a model packed with features you're never going to use.

MOT, tax and service history

When buying a used car, the only way to know for sure that it's reliable and not going to cost you a fortune in repairs further down the line is to get your hands on its service book and go through the stamps that are in it - these will tell you the dates when the car was serviced and how many miles it had done between each service.

To be extra sure the car's as good as it seems, you can also use the DVLA's free Online Enquiry Service to check its current tax and MOT status by entering the registration number and vehicle make. Don't be alarmed if the tax has been cancelled - that's normal when a car is sold to a dealer - but remember to make a note of the date when it was cancelled or it expired.

Every car more than three years old must have its MOT renewed every year so you ideally want a car that has recently passed its MOT as this means you won't have to pay to have it tested again for several months.

If the MOT isn't current and/or the tax expired a long time ago, there's a chance the car has been off the road for a significant period of time and, if so, it's important to find out why. If the dealer can't give you a good reason, it's often a sign that the car's not up to scratch and should be avoided at all costs.

Getting it cleaned - or not!

When you buy a used car, the dealer will almost certainly ask you if you want the car detailing, which is just a fancy way of saying 'cleaning'. While it's natural to want your car to look as bright and shiny as possible, you should be wary about letting them do anything more than giving it a quick wash and hoovering the interior.

This is because there's no guarantee that the people detailing your car are actually trained detailers - they're often just the dealer's colleagues. Now, we're not saying that they're incapable of cleaning a car but professional car detailers know the nuances of washing a car and use very specific equipment and techniques to ensure the paintwork doesn't get damaged, whereas some dealerships will simply hose your car down and clean it with the first towel that comes to hand. 

Furthermore, if they don't use wash buckets with grit guards to prevent dirt and grime getting onto their sponges - and therefore your new car - your paintwork could easily end up damaged, leaving you with an unnecessary bill before you've even driven it.

Again, we're not suggesting car dealerships can be trusted to detail your car, we're just saying that, if you really want it detailing, taking it to a professional will probably save you money in the long run.

Get help with one of our Car Loans

At Leeds Credit Union, you can borrow between £250 and £20,000 to help you buy the car of your dreams with one of our affordable car loans. To find out more, click here.

If you'd like even more advice on buying a used car, check out another of our blogs packed with top-tips here.