A guide to buying a used car

Covered mag, presented by Gocompare.com
  • | by Dave Jenkins

Brand-new cars notoriously lose value within minutes of driving them off the forecourt, so can you really justify showroom-fresh luxury and that new car smell? A used car might be a better option. But according to usedcarexpert.co.uk, one in three cars is hiding something, so it’s essential to get informed before you make your move.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be explaining the best ways to navigate the used car minefield. We start with a guide on who to buy your car from...

Franchised dealers

This has the potential to be the most expensive option, but it might also be the safest, as buying from franchised dealer affords you protection from the Sales Of Goods Act. A warranty is in force, and the dealer has to ensure the car is roadworthy. For example, if the tyres are at their lowest legal tread, they have to change them, saving you a the expense month or two down the line.

“Franchised dealers usually offer newer cars with less mileage,” explains Matt Sanger, used car editor at What Car? magazine. “Repairs will have been sorted out and it should come with a full service history as well as a spare set of keys. Many of them have better finance deals too.”

Car Supermarkets

The clue’s in the title. Supermarkets work on economies of scale so the cars are usually cheaper than a franchised dealer. Unlike the franchised dealer, they’re looking to make hundreds and not thousands per car.

There are potential benefits. If you need to see as many cars as possible, here’s where you can do it. You might not receive the same forecourt personal service and complimentary cups of coffee and you may find that many of the small repairs that a franchised dealer will attend to before they sell it won’t be made.


Purchasing a used car online is one of the last taboos when it comes to internet retail. But it’s not as a ridiculous as you’d assume. “A lot of people think it has potential to be the future for car sales,” states What Car’s Sanger. “There’s often a 7 or 14 day cooling off period, prices are generally good because there’s no forecourt or sales staff overheads and you have access to the vehicle’s previous reports and history.”

Independent dealers

The days of dodgy second hand salesmen are all but a distant memory, but they’re still out there. If the dealership is legitimate then your buyer’s rights will be valid. They also often have trade connections, and might just have that particular model you’re after. Just make sure they are a genuine independent dealer and registered with the Retail Motor Industry Federation before you visit them.

Private sellers

A riskier option, but one that could pay off. Always remember the seller will likely to be getting rid of the car quickly. But, you need to check if they’re not a two-bit dealer masquerading as a private seller. This is something that the Office of Fair Trading estimate makes up for approximately £41.4m of sales a year!

It’s easy to spot the shysters, explains Tim Shallcross, Head Of Technical Advice for the Institute Of Advanced Motoring. “Just ring them and ask about ‘the car’. If they ask which one hang up as it’s not a private sale.”

You can also tell if it’s a legitimate private sale by insisting on seeing the car at their house. If a new car is on the drive then you’re likely to have found a kosher seller. If they refuse, then something fishy could be afoot. Check that the contact number doesn’t appear on several adverts, and whether the name on the car’s log book is the seller’s. You’re checking the seller out as much you’re checking the car.

Your buyer’s rights are not as secure with a private sale, but you do have some protection. Consumer Direct states that while there is no legal requirement for the car to be of satisfactory quality or fit for purpose, “the car must be as described and must be roadworthy.” So if a private seller misleads you about the condition of a car, you can sue for your losses - that is if you can find the private seller after the sale…


This has the potential to be one of the riskiest ways of buying a car, but also a way to get a bargain if you’re savvy. Try and visit least two auctions without any money whatsoever to prepare yourself. Watch how the process works, as it’s easy to get carried away.

If you decide on visiting an auction, go with a friend who’s in the know, and read the auction house’s terms and conditions. Cars are usually sold ‘as seen’ at auctions, meaning minimal legal protection; you’ll only settle matters if you can show that the auction house misled you. Set a maximum price, and make sure you stick to it.

Above all, whoever you decide to buy your car from, your research and vehicle inspections are essential. Join us next time as we detail the many ways you check the car and its history out, the warning signs to watch out for... plus what to do if you do end up getting a dodgy deal.