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What to look for when buying a second hand car

Buying a second hand car can be an affordable way to get on the road. You can even grab a bargain, but there are also pitfalls to be aware of.

Here are some things to consider when buying a second hand car, including what to look for and what to avoid. 

What's your budget?

It’s worth sitting down and working out what you can afford and how you’ll pay for the vehicle. Keep in mind – you’ll need some spare money, to cover things like petrol and repairs.

Explore more: How to create a budget

How to buy a second hand car

There are lots of ways you can buy a second hand car and which option you take will depend on your financial situation. You may want to consider:

Saving up first

If you don’t need your car straight away, you may want to build up some savings. Even if it’s not the full amount, having some money saved up can help reduce how much you need to borrow.  

Looking into financing options

There may be a few different financing options you could look into to pay for the car, such as a personal loan, hire purchase or leasing. 

If you’re looking to apply for finance to pay for a second hand car, it’s important that you consider the costs and can afford the repayments. 

Explore more: Car financing options

Which car will work for you?

Once you know how much you can afford to spend, look at what type of second hand car will suit your lifestyle. Questions to ask include:

  • what do you want to use the car for?
  • how much space do you need in the car?
  • do you prefer manual or automatic?

You can use advertisements or vehicle listing sites to find the going rate for the car of your choice.

Who can you buy from?

You can buy a second hand car from a few places, including:

  • a manufacturer's dealer
  • a private seller
  • an auction

If you buy from a used car dealership, the car may come with a warranty that it’s fit for purpose. Make sure you read the fine print so you know what it covers.

How does the car look and drive?

If you can, go and see the car in daylight, on a dry day – good light will help you spot any scratches or bumps. 

It’s also good to take the car out for a test drive. You’ll be able to see if the car's comfortable, handles well and it gives you the chance to spot any faults. Make sure you're insured to drive it before you take the wheel.

Several companies run car check services which may be worth investigating. Some check the vehicle, others the outstanding finance, write-off status and more. Always check that the owner of the car has paid off any finance agreement. If they haven't, the finance provider could take the car.

Does the car have the right documents?

When buying the car, the seller should be able to provide you with:

  • the original V5C document, also called the log book (it should have a DVLA watermark)
  • the service history (check that the mileage matches up with the service record)
  • MOT certificates
  • a record of any repairs the car may have had
  • the handbook

You can use the DVLA's free online vehicle information tool to check the car's registration, MOT and tax expiry dates. 

It can also be a good idea to check the chassis number – known as a vehicle identification number (VIN) – under the car bonnet. Make sure it matches the number shown in the log book and check that any registration numbers engraved on the windows match the vehicle's number plate.

Paying for your car

Before you hand over any money:

  • confirm exactly what's included in the price
  • get the original log book and a valid MOT certificate (if these aren't available, don't buy the car)
  • ideally, don't pay cash for a vehicle. Always use a traceable method such as a banker's draft and ask the seller to sign a receipt

Disclaimer: please remember...

We're a bank, not a garage. We provide this information as a helpful guide. However, if you're thinking of buying a second hand car, please carry out your own searches and don't rely on the details on this page being 100% accurate or up to date.