Buying a used car can be one of the most difficult purchases you can make. If you don’t have a lot of experience with the used car market and aren’t a mechanic, or at least have a lot of experience with working with cars this makes the process potentially more confusing. Buying a used car may result in the best bargain you’ve ever had if the car goes on to work with no faults for the next few years. Or you may get unlucky and the used car decides a months after you buy it to break down. Some of this is pure luck, but there are some precautions and tests you can do to try to minimise the chance of you getting a bad deal. 

Buying used cars in general can save you a huge amount of money. Cars depreciate at one of the fastest rates of any purchase, and if the car is expensive this rate of loss is even higher. Buying a car that is just a year old will be significantly cheaper than one that is brand new. At the other end of the spectrum you may be looking for a first car for yourself or a family member that has just passed their test. In this case it is often a good idea to buy a car for as cheap as possible with the assumption that it won’t be on the road in a year or two. This is often a better use of money that buying a brand new car only to have it written of within 6 months. 

Where is the best place to buy a used car from?
There are a few options available to you when buying a used car, with positives and negatives for both. 
Buying from a car dealership or independent garage

In general the bigger the company that you are buying off, the more expensive the car will be. But with this extra cost comes more services and safety nets. The spectrum is from a private seller, which is where you can probably find the cheapest cars, but with very few if any options if there is an issue after the sale. This moves up to smaller car dealerships and independent garages to large car dealerships. If you have less personal knowledge about cars and buying cars then a dealership is probably the better option for you. 

A car dealership can range all the way from brand owned companies that sell nearly new versions of their most recent models to some older models that have been traded in. These will appear to be the most professional, with full warranties on used car purchases often being the norm and lots of after sell care. If there is an issue with your car you will be able to get it looked at quickly and there may even be courtesy cars available for you while yours is in the shop. In addition, a franchised dealership will often have specific processes for inspection to make sure that the cars all meet the minimum requirements for resell. These additional services will come at a cost though. Buying though a franchised dealer will be sometime significantly more expensive than buying though a smaller dealer or privately.

If you decide to go with a smaller dealer or a privately owned garage with a dozen or so cars for sale you get some of the benefits of choosing a large dealership but with the more reasonable costs of a private sale. The dealer will often be a mechanic and make sure the car is in full working order and ready for sale that a private seller often will not. 

All traders also have to comply with the Consumer Rights Act, which means that if there is a clear fault with the car then you will be entitled to a refund or replacement. This only lasts 30 days though so any issues after this time will be left to you. The choice often comes down to the purpose of the car and how you will use it. If this will be your family car and you want to make sure that it is reliable for the next 5-10 years then buying from a franchised dealer and taking out any warranties available would be a good idea. If you are looking for a very cheap car though and don’t care if the car is on the scrap heap in a year then a small dealer is potentially a better option. The advantage to small dealers compared to private sales is that they have a reputation to maintain. A few bad reviews on line could be the difference between good business and no business, so there is more reason to make sure that you are happy with the sale and that the product is up to scratch. 

Buying a used car from a private seller
The alternative to choosing a dealership is to buy off someone privately. The main advantage here is that the price of the car will likely by cheaper than buying from a dealer. 

The benefits of buying a used car privately:

As mentioned, buying a used car is often the lest expensive way of buying. This may be because the seller is trying to sell quickly, and they are also less interested in making a profit unlike a dealer who will put a mark-up on all the cars that they sell. 

You are able to meet the current owner of the car and ask them questions about it that a dealer wouldn’t know. This may be how many miles to the gallon it gets and what work they have done to it. If there is a turbo charger on it whey will be able to show you where they got it from, such as at

You will also be able to get a better idea as to why they are selling the car. It may just be that they are upgrading to a newer model, but you may also get the feeling that it is a car with issues that they are trying to get rid of. 

For all of these positives, the more experience you have with buying used cars and the more you know about car mechanics will help a lot. If you don’t know much about cars then it can be more difficult to get the information that you need. 

The negatives of buying a used car privately:
If the person selling their car is very attached to it you may find that the car is overvalued, and that you could find a car at a dealership for the same price. You may be able to negotiate the price down here but there will be more effort involved than when buying from a dealer.

The main negative to consider when buying a car privately is that it will not have been though the testing necessary when a dealer must sell. This means that you will have to be aware of what to look for yourself. There is also a chance that someone is trying to get a faulty car off their hands and it is only just running. If you feel like you have the experience you need to see any potential problems though you may be able to negotiate hard on the price and fix it up later. 

Finally, you won’t get any of the added-value benefits that comes with buying from a dealer. This means no warranty or cover if there is an issue with the car. 

Buying a used car from an auction
This is an option that fewer people consider when buying a used car, but it could be the best way to get a bargain if you know what you are doing and have a bit of luck. Cars being sold through an auction will have no warranty, and you’ll have to be mindful that most sellers are looking for a quick sale. For this same reason though you may get a car for far cheaper than if you were to buy from either a dealership or privately. For the pros and cons of buying a used car at an auction check out this guide

The best thing to do if you are buying a house through auction is to get there early and take advantage of the time you have to check all the cars thoroughly. Doing research before is a good idea and while you are checking the cars check online for what similar cars are selling for privately and what they have sold for in other auctions.  

Once you have a good idea of that cars that you want to bid on, give yourself a budget and stick to it. This should be at least 10% under the private selling cost of similar cars to make sure that you are covering yourself. Also make sure that you know what the auction fees are as this will add to your bill.