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Top tips when buying a used car

Compared to purchasing a brand new car, opting for a second-hand vehicle can help to save you a lot of cash. Our previous article outlines why you should avoid buying a brand new car, with the higher tax banding introduced in April 2017 being a key reason for this.

Buying a second-hand car will always be much cheaper than buying the same car brand new. A new car can lose up to 40% of its value in its first year (The AA), so a second-hand car will have already depreciated in value. This makes buying a used car a much more affordable option and if you choose to take out a finance agreement, this will be reflected in your monthly car finance payments.

Here we suggest some top tips for buying a used car:

1. Consider what you will use the car for

To help you choose the right car you should really consider what you will use the car for and how often you will use it. Some of the questions you might ask yourself include:

  • Do I frequently make long journeys?
  • How many passengers will I regularly have?
  • Do I need extra space such as a large boot?
  • Do I need it to be fuel efficient and cheap to run?
  • Will I share the car with a partner or relative?
  • How much parking or garage space do I have?

Answering these questions will help you to work out what used car is right for you. Our car buying guide can also help you through the process of buying a car.

2. Check the car yourself

There are a number of things you should check on the car before you purchase it. Don’t be afraid to get inside the car, underneath the bonnet and even underneath the car if you need to!

In particular, you should check the following:

Overall appearance

Check carefully over the car for any scratches or dents. Most importantly, you should check for any signs that the car has previously been in an accident. You might need to crouch down and get close to the car in order to fully check the condition of the vehicle. Some signs of previous accidents include:

  • Uneven paint finish
  • Inconsistent gaps between panels or mismatched colours
  • Traces of spray paint on areas such as handles or plastic mouldings
  • Unusual looking weldings


You will want to make sure that the number of miles the car has done is right for its age. The average miles covered in a year is around 10,000, so you can use this as a baseline to work out if the mileage shown on the odometer is accurate or whether you think it could have been tampered with. You can also check to see if the odometer reading matches up with the recorded mileage on service records, MOT certificates and other documents. If the mileage seems incorrect you should query it with the seller.

Other things you should look out for include:

Oil level

Lift out the dipstick to see if the levels correct.


Look for any signs of oil or water leaks from the engine and any surrounding parts as well as underneath the car.


Check the tread and inflation. Also, check that the spare wheel is in the car and that it’s in good condition.

Lights and windows

Make sure these work and can be opened and closed properly.


The most important thing to check whether the car is safe or not. It’s important to trust your gut in this situation and if you think the car isn’t safe to drive then you should continue your car search elsewhere.

3. Test drive the car

Test driving the car that you’re looking to purchase should be an essential requirement for you. As well as making sure that you like how the car drives, you should also check that there are no serious faults. Things you should check at this point are the brakes and clutch, whether the car veers, the power and the suspension. You should note whether there are any rattles or buzzes that you wouldn’t expect as this might be an indication there is a more serious problem.

4. Buy from a dealer for extra protection

Although it can cost more than buying privately, there are many benefits to buying a car from a dealer. Most car dealers, including Red Potato, only sell used and approved cars which means that all cars have been checked over before selling them. Going through a dealer helps to protect your consumer rights, which isn’t possible through private sellers. This can help to give you peace of mind about the car and makes it easier to make a complaint if there is anything faulty.

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This website is operated by Premium Plan Limited. Red Potato is a trading name of Premium Plan Limited, which is registered in England with Company No 05977118. Registered office: Kempton House, Kempton Way, PO Box 9562, Grantham, Lincolnshire, NG31 0EA. Premium Plan Limited is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FRN: 742272). The Red Potato name and logo are trademarks of Totemic Limited. Premium Plan Limited is a member of the Finance & Leasing Association (FLA).