A brand new car is an expensive indulgence and it could lose a third of its value in the first year of ownership. That’s why so many drivers make the decision to buy used cars. It can be a huge money saving to buy a car even a couple of years old rather than buying brand new.

But of course, buying used cars comes with a risk. If you end up with something that doesn’t work, wasn’t as advertised or develops problems soon after the purchase, you could have an expensive mistake on your hands.

So we’ve pulled together some useful tips for buying a used car both privately and from a dealership. Here we go!

First: Your Rights when Buying a Used Car

Ok, before we get into checklists and under the hood observations, let’s get right back to the basics here. There’s two things you absolutely have to know:

If you buy a used car from a dealership you have rights under the Consumer Rights Act 2015


If you buy a used car from a private seller or individual, the Consumer Rights Act does not apply

Rights When Buying a Used Car from a Dealership

If you buy from a dealership now, you have a period of 30 days in which you can reject the car should it develop a fault that shouldn’t have been there or should it turn out that the car is not as was sold to you. At the point you make the decision to reject the vehicle, you need to stop using it right away and contact the dealership. If you reject the vehicle, the dealership has to accept it back and provide you with a full refund.

After the 30 day period has passed, you can no longer simply “reject” the vehicle for a full refund. However, you do still have rights. Within the first 6 months of purchase, should an issue arise with a used car, the onus is on the dealership to prove that any fault arising did not exist when you bought the car. In other words, it’s not your responsibility to prove the fault was there beforehand.

In this timeframe, the dealership is obliged, in the event that they cannot prove a fault wasn’t there, to provide a repair or replacement. In most cases, as you can imagine, this is going to take the form of a repair.

If a repair attempt fails and a replacement isn’t feasible, then you can request a refund minus any reasonable deductions made for “fair use.”

After the 6 month period, the tables turn a little and the onus is then on you, in the event a fault arises, to prove it was there before you bought the car. Realistically, that’s not particularly easy to do.

Rights When Buying a Used Car from a Private Seller

The Consumer Rights Act doesn’t apply when you make a purchase from a private individual. However, a private seller is obliged to describe anything they sell honestly and accurately.

Of course, it’s not always as straightforward to raise any concerns and have them resolved with a private seller once you’ve paid for the used car.

Bear this in mind.

Tips for Buying a Second Hand Car

So, this list is by no means exhaustive. But it’s a good starting point:

Basic Vehicle Status Checks

1. Ask for some basic information and verify with the DVLA

For any vehicle you are interested in, ask the seller for information like the registration number and MOT test number. But don’t simply take their word for it. You can verify some information with the DVLA here. If there are any discrepancies between what the seller tells you and the information available from the DVLA, this should be reported to the police.

2. MOT History Check

You can check the MOT history of any vehicle free of charge here.

3. A Private Vehicle History Check

You can pay for private vehicle checks from the AA, RAC and other similar sites. These checks will uncover things like whether the vehicle was previously written off or reported stolen, or whether it is still on finance etc.

4. V5C Registration Document

This is an essential document and you will need it to tax the vehicle. Check that:

5. Mileage

From the MOT history (see point 2) you can see mileage at the time of each MOT. This should give you a good indicator as to whether there might be discrepancies between the mileage on the clock and the actual mileage.

If, for example, a vehicle currently shows fewer miles on the clock than it showed at an earlier MOT, this has clearly been doctored and should be reported.

Used Car Test Drive Checks

In terms of what to look for when test driving a second hand car, here a few key ones:

6. Warning lights

Warning lights should typically come on to test and then go off again. If there are any warning lights that will not go away, then this could indicate a fault.

7. Braking

Check both the hand and foot brakes on the vehicle carefully while test driving. Brakes should work very effectively and be easy to apply. There should be no unusual noises when braking. Braking should also be even. The vehicle should not pull to one side while braking.

8. Noises While Driving

When you’re test driving a used car, keep your ears open for any noises that seem unusual or out of place.

9. Locks

Check that all central locking works including doors and windows

10. Lights

Before setting off on your test drive, check all the lights. A light not working could be as simple as a bulb being out – but personally, if a dealer were to try and sell me a vehicle without bulbs replaced, it would make me question what other corners had been cut

11. Are all the seat belts working?

A key safety and legal requirement. Don’t just check your seatbelt. Ask to check them all

Visual Checks

Don’t be too shy to ask to look under the bonnet when buying a used vehicle. You don’t need to be a trained mechanic to check the basics.

12. Spare wheels

Is the spare tyre present and in good condition?

13. Jacks and other tools

Are all the tools required to change the wheel present and in good nick?

14. Paintwork and Bodywork

Is the paintwork even? Are there any dents?You’re looking for any signs of touch ups that might indicate that the car has been involved in a scuff or accident

Check out the Dealer

If you’re buying from a dealer rather than a private seller, check the dealer out too.

15. Companies House Checks

Is the dealer a genuine registered business? You can check this on the Companies House website along with information like when the business was founded.

16. Read Online Reviews

I always advise people to take online reviews with a pinch of salt. Bear in mind that angry people are typically more likely to go online and write a review than happy ones. But if a dealer appears to have had a lot of angry reviewers, it might be a sign that they’re not handling problems particularly well.

Can you rope in a mechanic?

If you know a mechanic, or a friend of a friend who is one, see if you can rope them in to check out the car before you buy. A few extra checks from an experienced mechanic will be incredibly helpful.

Is Buying a Used Car Worth It?

You can save thousands by buying a car that’s even a year old compared with buying a brand new one. But of course, if you get a dodgy car you could end up with an expensive headache and a lot of hassle getting it sorted.

So yes, do buy used. But do invest the time and effort into checking out the dealer/seller and the car properly before handing over the money.

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