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What to know when buying a used car: things to check, documents, and costs

There are a few things you'll need to consider before buying a car to ensure it suits your lifestyle

Car finance

What to look for when buying a car

Second only to buying a house, a car purchase could be the largest purchase you ever make, so picking the right one is critical not only to your bank balance but your lifestyle.

It’s going to require quite a bit of research, so we’ve gathered our top tips to help you make the right choice.

Work out a realistic budget

Overextending yourself with your budget could leave you struggling later if something unexpected happens. 

But fear not – you can use the filters on our site to make sure you find vehicles within your price range.

Consider the total cost of motoring

Fuel and insurance are two of the biggest costs, but depreciation (the difference between a car’s value when bought and sold) is the biggest. Some new cars depreciate by as much as 50% over their first three years.

If you’re using finance, such as Personal Contract Purchase (PCP) Hire Purchase (HP) to buy your car, remember to budget for those monthly payments.

You should also check the claimed fuel economy and CO2 emissions, which affect your fuel bills and your road tax (electric cars and plug-in hybrids are tax exempt). 

Put safety first

Whether you're going to be driving solo or transporting your whole family, it's important to know how safe your car is and if it's reliable.

You can look up Euro NCAP crash safety test ratings – bear in mind that five stars are best. 

Check the car’s insurance group

Car insurance groups decide just how much you'll need to pay, with group one being the cheapest and 50 being the most expensive.

If you're trying to stick to a budget, choose a car with a lower insurance group and try some other hacks to get a better insurance deal. Thinking about where you park your car and how many miles you cover can help cut costs.

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Choosing your next car

Now for the fun bit – it's time to find your next car!

Start off working out exactly what you want from the car you’re about to buy.

Are you looking for a practical family car, an around-town runabout, something for your active kids, a car to tow a trailer, caravan or horsebox, or just a weekend ‘toy’?

Whatever it is you want, you need to think about all the eventualities of its use. One of the most important, especially these days, is what your usual daily and annual mileage is.

Diesel cars have always only been worth owning if you cover more than 10,000 every year, and that’s still true – if you want to get the most out of it, that is.

If you only make short journeys, the best option might even be an electric car (EV) – especially if you have a driveway, carport or garage and can charge at home. But if you’re not ready to take that plunge yet, a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) could ease you into electrified motoring.

Before making your final decision, try not to let your heart rule your head – stick to your budget.

Once you’ve got your head around all of this, a good place to start is our own Help me Choose tool.

Our site also has a wide variety of guides, car reviews and detailed information pages on many models of car we sell.

Documentation and essential checks

Here’s all the paperwork you need to check when buying a car:

  • Service history details: The more details, the better. The less there is and it will have a negative impact on the car’s value.

  • A valid MOT certificate: This is proof that the car is roadworthy. Section 75 of the Road Traffic Act makes it an offence for anyone to sell a vehicle that is not roadworthy. Our cars come with a minimum of six months on the MOT.

  • Owner's manual: This isn't a legal requirement, but it really helps when you're getting to know a car. Handbooks are an easy way to find tyre pressures and recommended engine oil, for example.

Pet owners

Checking if a car has outstanding finance

You can check if a car has outstanding finance by using an online service. These search tools will check if there’s any finance left to pay on the car, but some can also check insurance write-off status (to see if your car has previously been classed as a write off and is still road-safe) and can recall the number of previous owners and MOT history.

Usually, you can find these services for free or for relatively cheap, though more in-depth checks cost more.

What to do when you get your new car

Before you drive off with your new car, walk around it carefully, checking all the body panels fit properly and for any signs of damage – and don’t forget the interior.

At cinch, all of our cars are given thorough checks and services before going on our site, and any advisories are sorted before a car is sold.

We also offer a 90-day free warranty and a 14-day money-back guarantee.

There’s also the option to add a cinchCare warranty, servicing and breakdown package.

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