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Buying a second hand car

There are a number of ways to buy a second hand car, with private sellers, showrooms and auction houses generally the most common options. It pays to do your homework, though, as Citizens Advice claims to receive more complaints about buying a second hand car than anything else. You want to be sure you are getting a good deal, and that your second hand car will serve you well for many years to come.

Setting a budget

Working out how much to spend also means taking into account the running costs, maintenance, MOT, tax and insurance, as these will vary for different cars. If you need finance to help you buy the vehicle, make sure you've read and understood the terms and conditions, and have shopped around for the best deal. Look at online buying guides, such as Parkers, to see how much a particular used car might cost.

Where to look

Auction houses, dealerships and adverts placed by private sellers in newspapers or online can all be good places to start. It's generally a good idea to ask lots of questions about the car, such as how many owners it has had and what work has been done to it. Check that the MOT history is up to date, and that it is being supplied with all of the relevant paperwork - the vehicle registration document (V5C) is the most important, as if the car doesn't have one it could be an indication it is a stolen vehicle. The DVLA offers a vehicle inquiry service that matches any information given with what it has on its records.

Inspecting a used car

When planning to view the vehicle, be sure to do it in daylight, as it will be easier to spot potential problems, such as dents, scratches, rust, mismatched paint or uneven panels. Test all of the basic features, such as the lights and electric windows, to make sure they work, and then look under the bonnet to check for oil and water leaks.

A test drive will give you a chance to make sure that the car accelerates and brakes properly, and that the gearbox and clutch are satisfactory. Listen for any unusual noises, and maybe take a friend along for a second opinion. If you are still unsure, a motoring organisation, such as the AA or RAC, can perform its own inspection for you.

If you're buying a second hand car through a private seller, always arrange to view the vehicle at their house, as then you know where they are if you find any faults later on. A purchase through a dealer might be more expensive, but will be protected by the Sales of Goods Act, meaning that the car must match the description given. They may offer finance packages to help with your payments, but always shop around and do not take the first one offered. Approach a dealer who you know has a good reputation - ask friends and family, and read online forums.

Sealing the deal

It is customary when buying a second hand car to haggle over the price. Decide a figure in your head, then go in with a lower amount, seeing if the seller will meet you halfway. If the MOT is short, or if the tyres look worn, then these could be used as a bargaining tool to help get the price you want.

If purchasing through a dealership, paying with cash may get you a discount, but using a credit card will mean added protection under the Consumer Credit Act. Some dealers may let you trade your old car in as part exchange, but you would not get as much for it as you would if you were to sell it privately.

What happens next?

Both the buyer and the seller now need to fill in the relevant sections of the V5C document, and pass those details on to the DVLA. Check that when you collect the car you have the latest MOT certificate, manuals, the spare wheel if one was promised, and a spare key.

Should anything go wrong with the car, depending on what the problem is, it can be hard to claim money back from a private seller or auction house. If it was bought from a dealership and they prove unhelpful, you can contact Citizens Advice.