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For anyone that wants to buy a new car, there are many reasons why the used market is an excellent place to start looking. There's a huge amount of variation on offer, you will be able to get great value for money, and if you buy from a reputable dealer, you'll be covered legally, too.
The used car market is a large one in the UK -- around seven million used cars are sold every year -- so you can be guaranteed to find a great deal of choice on offer. But buying a used car isn't just about choice, it offers excellent value for money, too.
New cars typically lose around 40% of their value in their first two years, which for those selling is a sore point. However, for buyers on the used market it means you do get far more value for money than you would when buying new. And with the introduction of longer factory warranties from manufacturers, many used cars are still covered if things go wrong.
Buyers might be concerned over a car's history or of niggling, hidden problems, but if you're careful about what you want and check the car thoroughly you can be certain of picking up a real bargain on the used car market.
With so much choice on the used car market you might wonder where to begin. Taking the step to start looking is a good first step, but you'll need to ask a few questions in order to really get the car that's best for you.
The best place is to start is by thinking about what you'll need your car for. Will you need it for transporting your family on a daily basis? Do you need it for moving your tools and equipment? Or do you just need an efficient little run-around for yourself?
Next, you will need to set yourself a budget. When doing this, don't just think about the money you have to spend on buying a car, but how much you will be able to spend on running it, too. If you want something that is affordable on a day-to-day basis then it's best to look for a small car with a small engine -- ideally with low emissions, as this could mean you qualify for lower road tax. You should also decide whether you want a petrol or diesel powered car. Diesels are more expensive to buy outright but typically offer lower running costs, so they are a good option for drivers that will be covering big distances on a regular basis. Unless you are covering lots of miles every day, however, petrol engines are often more cost efficient.
When it comes to making the purchase you can buy from either a dealer or a private seller. Private sellers can be more competitive on price, but from a dealer you will have legal protection. If you have an old car that you are replacing, you might be able to use this as a part exchange for a used car when buying through a dealership, which could lower your costs further.
Finally, remember to thoroughly check any used car in person before buying. Never buy without taking a test drive so you can check whether it is in good shape and comfortable. You'll also need to make sure that it comes with all the necessary paperwork. Have a look at our checklist of things to look for to find out what you should be keeping an eye out for.
With so many different used cars on the market, it can be difficult to decide on which one is right for you. Here we look at the different car classes and which is best for what sort of driver.
Microcars are best for use in cities and for drivers only making short journeys in urban settings. Typically, microcars are very fuel efficient, relatively low emitters and compact in size. While this means that they don't offer much in the way of storage space or sometimes even passenger capacity, it does make them a very economic option. With this in mind, microcars are an ideal choice for first time drivers, city folk or anyone that needs a car for short runs.
Just a slight step up from the microcar, superminis offer many of the same benefits that microcars do: they're relatively affordable to run, good for short journeys and not too expensive to buy. But where microcars feature only entry level spec, superminis offer that little bit extra. For example, they have good amounts of storage and passenger space and are just that little bit more comfortable at speed and over longer distances. Superminis also offer a bit more power under the bonnet and a bit more excitement on the road. Ideal for the city, superminis are best suited to drivers that spend a lot of time in the car on short runs but also make a great second car for a busy family.
As the name suggests, family cars are designed with the collective in mind. The best family cars are those that offer plenty of space and flexibility, which means they're as comfortable carrying one passenger and two sets of golf clubs as they are carrying a family of five. But while practicality is normally the primary feature of family cars, it doesn't mean they are dull to drive. A family car will never contend with a sports car, but many offer good power and an exciting drive. Family cars are best for parents with growing children, but they could also could be considered for people that need to transport people or goods on a regular basis.
Luxury cars aren't the most affordable on the market, but they do turn heads, provide comfort and make a splash on the road. The best luxury cars take everything you might ever want in a home and put it on four wheels -- great equipment, comfortable seats and fittings, and the best in entertainment systems are all features of the best. An engine and drive that will make you sit up straight are also par for the course on luxury cars, however, this does mean that they aren't the most affordable to buy or run. Luxury cars are best suited to those with a healthy budget and who want that extra bit of comfort on the roads.
For drivers that spend much of their day on the roads, travelling up and down the country, few cars are as suited as the executive class. Executive cars are often quite large, very comfortable and especially refined at cruising speeds on the motorway. This means that they're normally well equipped and comfortable inside, with most offering sizeable boots and cabins. They're not the cheapest to run, but competent modern diesels are improving their runs costs all the time. Executive cars are best suited to people that spend many hours a day on the roads -- often as part of their jobs -- or for family drivers that want a bit of extra comfort for their commute.
When the first 4x4s came onto the market they were rugged, not very comfortable and had no place in urban life, but they've come a long way since. Today there is more variation on the market than ever before and this means that 4x4s are fast becoming a good alternative to the traditional family car. They're practical, offer large amounts of space and are becoming more economic every year. This doesn't mean they're as affordable as a supermini, but they aren't as pricey as they once were. This makes them good option for family drivers -- especially those that live in or near the countryside and may have some use for the rugged, practical abilities 4x4s still offer.
At the turn of the millennium, the people carrier was one of the most popular car classes on the market. But with more variety entering into the 4x4 and crossover market, the people carrier is quickly losing out to some of its more attractive peers. However, many excellent options still exist. The best people carriers offer plenty of space -- for passengers and luggage -- and are relatively affordable to run. They're not the most exciting to drive, but they're well suited to large families and anyone that needs to transport people on a regular basis.
A sports car will never be an everyday-use car, but that's not what they're made for. Fast, exciting and stylish, they're made as an indulgence. As you might imagine, they're not particularly affordable to run or buy (although there are bargains to be found on the used market), but if you have the budget and think you deserve a treat, a sports car is perfect for someone that loves driving.
Sitting at the very top of the car class food chain is the supercar. Reserved for the very privileged, supercars are expensive, but they're often worth it. Featuring supremely powerful engines and the equipment, luxury and leather you might expect to see in yacht, supercars are a once-in-a-lifetime car. They're ideal for those that have everything else they need in life.
Buying a used car can be a stressful thing to do if you're not sure what you're looking out for. But it doesn't have to be. If you're clear about what you're looking for and what you don't want to find you can put yourself in a good position to pick up a bargain. On any used car you visit, make sure you keep an eye out for these things:
Do your research on the model you're going to see before you go to see it. There are plenty of excellent resources and forums online covering all the possible pitfalls you could find in a used car. Try searching "common faults on a ...." and you'll find a wealth of useful model-specific information to help you with your search.
If you can, try and view the car in clear weather, during the day. Dents, scratches and any minor body issues are all harder to spot in the dark or in bad weather. Make sure to inspect it thoroughly in good light.
Inspect the area around the car for any signs of leaks. If there are any brown stains around the car it'll mean the engine has been leaking oil. Water patches or chalky marks near the car could mean it has been leaking water. Both are signs of an issue you should raise with the seller.
One of the most common faults on used cars are the electrics. Check these are working by seeing that the headlights, the air conditioning, the electric windows and any radios or gadgets in the cabin are all working as they should.
Unfortunately, the practice of 'clocking' still exists and is a concern for used car buyers. This is the process of winding back the odometer and falsely reducing a cars mileage. It isn't as common as it once was, but do make sure to check that car's mileage corresponds to the visual age of the car. Are the pedals worn? Is the steering wheel as fresh as the mileage suggests?
Take the car for a test drive and check whether you're comfortable with how it feels to drive. After all, this could be a vehicle you'll be spending a lot of time in. You need to make sure that you're happy with how it feels and whether you can spend time in it regularly.
Listen for any rattles or noises when you take it out on the road. Any persistent problems you hear while driving could mean mechanical problems that could be expensive to repair.
When braking, gently take your hands off the wheel to see if the car pulls to one side. If it does, this is a problem with the wheel alignment and will need to be rectified.
Test the steering by doing a three-point turn. Does it manoeuvre easily? Are you happy with the effort that you'll be required to make it turn?
Check that the gearbox is smooth and that the clutch works properly. If either stick or aren't easy to use it could spell trouble. You should be able to put the car into every gear easily, and the clutch should be smooth and not stick when depressed.
When buying you'll need to see and receive a VC5 registration form that shows who the legal owner of the car is. On this form you can check that the details on the form correspond to the actual car (car's colour, engine size, etc.) Never buy a car without a VC5 form.
All cars on the road more than three years old will need to have a valid MOT, which certifies that a car is fit for the road. There should be an MOT for every year the car has been on the road longer than three years, so make sure that there is a record of this having been done on the car you're seeing. If the seller can't provide physical copies of the certificates, you will be able to look up the car online (if you have the registration) here: www.gov.uk/check-mot-history
All cars require some repair work from time to time. When buying a used car, it should come with a good history of all the work that has been done to it in the past. Check that the car you are looking at has this. When reviewing it see that there are no major issues that could come back to haunt you, and that there are no nasty recurring problems.
Every car comes with a handbook that includes vital information on important aspects of the car. Without this you could be at a loss as to what a certain dashboard light means. They can be expensive to replace, so check that it comes with the car.