Top tips if you’re buying a car

Buying a car is an expensive business and there’s a lot to consider, whether it’s fresh off the production line or simply new to you.

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Because the new registration plates launch on March 1, it’s one of the most popular times of year for car purchases. So how do you make sure you get the best deal?

We’ve compiled our top tips to help you through the car-buying process and if you’re also wondering about the best way of paying for your new vehicle, read our article ‘How best to pay for a car’.

Is a new car for me?

Deciding whether or not you want a new car can be hard and it comes down to what your priorities are.

With a new car, you have a wide choice of model and spec, as well as a manufacturer’s warranty that means you’re protected if anything goes wrong.

Many second-hand dealerships do offer warranties with their vehicles, although if you buy from a private seller, you’ll have no such protection.

Your new car will often come with free accessories and, of course, lots of people take pride in driving a new vehicle.

There are downsides. Your car will depreciate the second it rolls off the dealer’s forecourt and becomes a used car, whereas if you buy a second hand car then someone else has already accepted that loss of value.

You could pay higher car insurance premiums as your vehicle is worth more – although you are likely to save on repair costs, which are more likely with an older car.

Buying a new car

If you’ve decided to go ahead and buy a new car, what should you consider?

Obviously the model and make you’ll choose will depend on how you use the car – are you nipping around town or travelling up and down the country; will you be filling it with kayaks or kids? Once you’ve picked the right car for you, what next?

The best time to buy

It’s understandable that some people want the newest licence plate for their brand new car.

However, if you’re less bothered by that, you may well get a better deal by purchasing a car just before the new plates are launched, so in February or August.

Dealers will be anxious to rid themselves of stock before the new vehicles come in and that could mean a better price for you.

Be a haggle hero

Don’t be afraid to haggle to try and drive down the price. Research by Sainsbury’s Finance in 2009 found that British motorists could collectively save an incredible £229million in half a year alone if they were prepared to haggle.

If you can’t get the car for less, you might still be able to get some great freebies thrown in. Maybe you’d like metallic paint or a protective coating on the upholstery?

You might even succeed in negotiating free insurance for a year, it depends on the dealer.

Watch out for warranties

New cars are sold with a basic manufacturer’s warranty. Often, the manufacturer’s warranty will cover you for one to three years and you are then given, or can buy, additional protection from the dealership.

Make sure you understand what the warranty covers and what its limitations are. Sometimes a dealer-based warranty will only be valid within a certain mileage, for example, or you may have to pay a certain amount of any repair costs.

Remember, if your new car develops a fault in the first six months, it will normally be accepted that the problem was there when you bought it.

If that’s the case, the Office of Fair Trading recommends asking the dealer for a free repair or replacement.

Pick up all the paperwork

Make sure you receive all the right paperwork with your new car. You’ll need its log book, vehicle handbook and any paperwork covering the warranty.

Double check your new car’s registration number is the same as that in the log book – it’s a small check that could save you a great deal of hassle later on.

Take it for a test

Before you buy any car, request a test drive. You need to know if you’re comfortable driving that particular model.

If you can barely tell one end of the car from the other, then ask a more informed friend to tag along and offer their opinion.

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Buying a second hand car

Perhaps you’ve decided a new car isn’t for you. Often, you can get more motor for your money by choosing a second hand vehicle, where someone else has already been stung by the first few years’ devaluation.

According to Sainsbury’s Finance, in the six months to the end of February last year, around 3.7million people bought a second hand car, each spending an average of £5,323 each.

So what should these millions of motorists be considering?

Get an HPI check

This is one of the most important things you can do when buying a second hand car.

An HPI check will give you real peace of mind by showing:

  • Whether or not the car has any outstanding finance agreements on it (which could result in it being seized!)
  • Whether it’s been reported stolen
  • If it’s been declared a write-off
  • Whether or not its mileage has been fraudulently changed
  • If the log book has been stolen (if it has, the vehicle is almost certainly not legitimate)
  • What its CO2 rating is
  • Its rough market value

This is essential information if you want to protect yourself from a dodgy deal.

Double check the documents

A second hand car is more of a gamble than a brand new one, so make sure you see all the relevant documents. Check its log book, MOT and full service history.

You have to be very careful with an older car that you’re not buying a stolen vehicle, so the paperwork being in order is extra important. Also, check the vehicle ID number, on a plate under the bonnet to make sure it's the same as in the log book and hasn't been tampered with.

Who’s selling it?

If you buy from a dealer, then you have someone to complain to if there are any problems with the car.

However, if you buy it from a private seller there are no such guarantees.

When buying a car from an individual, make sure you meet at the vehicle’s registered address. Don’t agree to view it in a car park or at the roadside – that might indicate it’s been stolen. When you arrange to view a car, make sure it's broad daylight. Dusk can hide potential issues or blemishes.

Check, check and check again

According to the Office of Fair Trading, 19% of people who buy a second hand car experience problems with it afterwards.

Your dealer may resolve any issues for you if you complain, but it’s better to know exactly what condition your potential car is in before you drive it off.

It is often worth asking an independent mechanic to survey the car and give you a report on its condition. There are also things you can watch out for, including:

  • Whether the bumpers, lights or trim are misaligned, as this might mean the car’s been damaged
  • Check all the gadgets work, down to the windows and horn
  • Look at the tyres. If the tread has been worn away on one side more than the other, this can indicate the steering has been knocked and damaged
  • Start the engine from cold and listen for any unexpected noises or blue smoke – these can show the engine’s in trouble
  • What does the inside of the car smell like? If it’s damp, there may have been a leak
  • Go for a test drive and be careful to check the brakes, steering and gears
  • Check the oil and it's colour

Affordable insurance

Before you agree to buy a new or a second hand car, check the insurance is affordable. You can compare car insurance before you buy the car using the moneysupermarket.com tool. That way, you’ll know in advance if it’s affordable or if you ought to settle for a smaller model.

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