Second hand car buying guide


In the last few years I’ve spent time helping people buy cars. Occasionally this has meant looking at brand new cars. A lot of the time this has been spent on second hand cars and trawling few adverts. So with this in mind I’m going to share a few bits I have learnt and a couple of stories of when its gone wrong…

When looking at buying a car there are a few key areas to look into. Most people have usually got some sort of requirements, sometimes it can take a bit of time to eek them out.  Pretty much everyone has some idea of what sort of money they want to spend. I’d put these into three main areas based on experience:

  1. Student Budget/ bargain basement

£400- £999

At this point you have limited on choice apart from hatchbacks and usually some cars needing maintenance or TLC.  Having said that there are some good cars in this range you just need to dig a bit to find them.

Example: my second car was a Perodua Kelisa bought for £400, used it for 10 months for pizza delivery after that it was passed onto friends who had it for a year. It only required a battery and new window in that time.

2. Ground floor/ bit of spare money £1000- £1500

At this point you are looking at a bigger range of cars available. Some are still going to be spares and repairs, but there are some good ones to find in this range. If you buy from a dealer you may even get a service thrown in as well.  The problem at this point of the market is you may have to travel a bit further to find a good car that fits what you want.

3. £2000- £3500 First floor going places

This sort of budget opens you up to a good deal of options, at this point you should be looking at something worthwhile that’s a longer term investment. My experience beyond this budget is limited as it usually leads to new cars or finance based deals.

When looking second hand there is one website that is really helpful:

With just a number plate you can pull through the MOT history of a car. This makes looking for cars easier.  A couple of hints when using this, check the mileage over the last 2/3 MOT’s as this gives you an idea of the mileage the car normally does. Things that are normal wear and tear i.e. tyres brakes wipers. Anything that’s been on there a few years such as suspension or corrosion, that’s usually a warning sign, it’s not been looked after as well.

My first car pictured below was bought for me and lasted two months, I’ve learnt a lot since then.

Where to buy

When looking I have a particular favourite website; Auto trader. I am aware that other people use Gumtree or eBay or Facebook. My issue is if you wanted to sell your house you wouldn’t do this on Instagram so why would you sell a car via Facebook? eBay is more of project car website than a serious place to buy. That said I’m sure there are some genuine sellers on eBay and other sites, so I wouldn’t rule them out completely.

When buying I have usually ended up with speaking with dealers, usually I find the family run dealers with part exchanges.  I have chanced a couple of places that have large stock of cars. Of the three l I’ve been to it’s never got to the test drive part of looking because there has been too many issues.

The best example of this was one garage in the Reading area. The car we came to see was not as shown in pictures so we looked at a different one. The owner said “you won’t find anything wrong with this one, it’s perfect”. That was a lie! Under the bonnet there was crash damage. There was paperwork regarding an oil leak. Having looked under the car there was still oil coming out. At this point I gave him the keys back and left.

The dealer and test drive

When looking at a car you want to buy, I find it’s best to give the car a good look around, before picking up the keys for a test drive. Firstly you want to make sure there is no damage/ concerns with the car overall.  Secondly, you are going to be spending a lot of time in the car so you want to make sure you like it and it suits well. My Perodua for example had no adjustability in the seat height or mirrors. For me this worked fine as it seemed set up ok, but for my girlfriend at the time, this proved almost undriveable.

When looking it’s good to go with someone. This means one of you can check with the dealer regarding service history, maintenance, car history etc.  If all is going well you can focus on the next part : the test drive. I go on the basis that you want one of you to drive the car, on a mix of roads if possible. Most good dealers will know of a 20 minute/ longer route for you to get a feel for the car. Make sure you work through the gears, brakes and acceleration. If you have a passenger get them to play with the vents, air con and radio etc.

If after this you like the car and want to purchase, talk to the dealer, what is he offering with the car? In my experience usually a service and MOT is included if not done recently. How much fuel will be in the car the car, bear in mind a full tank can be £45 and up depending on the fuel tank.


Final thoughts

There is a lot to consider when buying secondhand cars, overall my main guidance would be; aim to look at a minimum of 3 cars, use reputable dealers, check the cars history (both the model and service history) have a budget and stick to it, don’t go alone and finally, trust your instinct. I can’t guarantee you won’t find a lemon but this should give you a good start.

If you are wondering what a Perodua Kelisa looks like see below (it’s not the van)

Trust your instinct do your homework and go with someone. Buying a secondhand car is not as hard as you thinkClick To Tweet