Buying a car is one of the most significant purchases someone can make in their lifetime.
The car you choose will (hopefully) be a major part of your life for years to come. It’ll be there for holidays with your family, road trips with your friends, moving house, commuting to your dream job, and many more big moments.
Do you want these memories plagued by squeaking fan belts, dodgy filters and oil leaks? Not likely. So, understanding what you’re investing money in is an absolute necessity.
Read on for a guide to buying a reliable car that you know is worth the money you paid.
Research the trader before anything else
Nowadays, there are many ways you can find a car to buy: websites, auctions, car dealerships, magazines. But the first move is always to establish whether you can trust the seller.
When buying a car you have to be ready to walk away. You could find the ideal motor on paper, but find a ton of complaints about the trader. This raises a major red flag and you should back off without a second thought.
Some traders will be happy to wave you off in a car riddled with mechanical issues. To avoid such a scenario, always look for an established firm which boasts a good reputation. Also lookout for a trade association sign. This means if something goes wrong you can take action through an official body.
However, you can never guarantee a car’s condition — there will always be an element of risk involved. The trick is reducing the threat to a bare minimum.
The best course of action is to find sellers who will agree on a period of warranty. That way, if the gearbox disintegrates on your way home (unlikely, but you never know), the seller will refund you in full.
Check the car’s history before even thinking about buying
Performing some quick online checks will display important information about the car.
First off, get information about the vehicle from DVLA using the free search system. This will fill you on vehicle tax, when the MOT expires and the latest logbook. Cross-check everything with what the seller has told you. If something doesn’t add up and raises suspicion, we advise going with your gut and walking away.
Secondly, check the MOT history with this handy government tool. All vehicles need regular safety tests to confirm they are road legal. Ideally, you should see a page full of regular pass notifications.
If there are a few fails now and then don’t worry too much; establish the severity of the issue and whether it has been reliably rectified. Issues like rust tend to recur, so it’ll likely be a problem for you too.
Inspect the car and take it for a test drive
Before buying any car you should arrange to see it in person. There is only so much you can tell with online checks and a few pictures on your phone. By seeing it first hand, you get to see any hidden damage like scratches, worn tyres, surface dents, and interior cigarette burns.
Satisfied with the condition? Now time for the fun part — taking it for a test drive. Ultimately the test drive allows you some hands-on experience with the vehicle. All vehicle checks aside, this is an opportunity to decide if you like how it drives, and whether you can see yourself driving it in the years to come.
How does the gearbox feel? Are you comfortable in the driver’s seat? And most importantly, is this car for you? Make sure your prospective car ticks all the right boxes for you — after all, it’s you who’s going to have to drive it.
How to get the very best price
Car prices are almost always flexible. As with any deal, the universal practice is to haggle. Many dealerships will expect buyers to do so and will probably factor that into the showroom price.
The art of haggling is built on confidence, something which might not come naturally to everyone. But the key is to act assured (even if you don’t necessarily feel it on the inside) and go into the process with a ton of research under your belt.
The more information you collect about the make and model, the better position you’ll be in to make a reasonable offer. For example, a good condition ‘06 Ford Fiesta — the quintessential first car — you can expect to pay somewhere in the region of £1,500 to £2,000. Looking for something a bit more substantial? Your average VW Polo from the last five years will cost between £7,000-£10,000, depending on mileage, condition and a few other factors.
If you find a dealer advertising at the top-end estimate, you know there will be a little wiggle room for you to manoeuvre a better deal.
Alternatively, find out if your dealer is receptive to trade-in agreements. If you can afford to part ways with your old car, trading it in could cut a chunk out of the price tag. Even if they offer a few hundred for the old rust bucket, it’s better than nothing at all.
Our top tip: Use reliable online marketplaces like AutoTrader to find average car prices before going window shopping. This will give you a ballpark figure of what you should expect to pay. But don’t purchase online straight away, always go see the car in person.
Buying a car is not a light-hearted decision that should be rushed into. There are lots of pitfalls to be found and red flags to be raised before you hand over any cash. The trick is to do your research.
When it comes to mechanics, ignorance is certainly not bliss. Use these tips as a template for your search process, and they should protect you against any nasty surprises along the road.