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Your complete car-buying guide - the used car buying process

This is a full comprehensive guide showing you how to go about choosing your next car

A family are smiling and laughing as they unpack their car

Buying a car is the second largest purchase anyone will make in their lives, after a house, so it isn't something to take lightly. Like a journey to Mordor, there are lots of pitfalls if you’re not prepared – so this comprehensive car buyers guide covers every aspect of the process.

What car should I buy?

You know what car you want, right?

Actually, chances are you have a good idea of what you want, but don’t know exactly.

And, as you’re about to drop a large chunk of change on that car – and you’ll be living with it for a few years – you need to be sure that you’ve bought the right car to suit your needs.

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

Is it going to be a practical family car? Or are you just looking for an around-town runabout, something for your active lifestyle, 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 it at home.

But if you’re not ready to take that plunge yet, a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) could ease you into electrified motoring.

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

Questions to ask:

  • What’s my annual mileage?

  • How far do I drive each day?

  • Are my journeys mostly long or short?

  • Do I want a petrol, diesel, hybrid or electric car?

  • How many seats do I need?

  • How big should the boot be?

  • How much can I afford to spend?

  • Do I need a car that can tow?

A woman lying down and smiling while on her phone

Do your research

So now you know what you want from a car, it’s time to do the research. 

The internet is your friend here, as it offers lots of sources of information about even the most intricate of car details and features. 

For example, our site has a wide variety of guides, car reviews and detailed information pages on many models of cars we sell – so this would be a great place to start.

We also have plenty of video reviews on our YouTube channel.

Alternatively, there are established specialist car websites with huge collections of in-depth car reviews, stretching back years, if not decades.

These are rigorous, extensive tests by experienced testers, so they're worth reading if you want to take the next best step.

It should be noted, however, that these tend to concentrate more on how a car handles than the safety, practicality or technology.

Spend a few hours reading reviews and you should end up with a shortlist of three or four cars to look at. 

Which car can I afford?

When you have whittled down your choices, it's time to work out what they will actually cost.

Whether you’re buying the car with cash, the sums are simple: your new car has to be within this budget.

But if you’re using some form of Hire Purchase (HP) or PCP car finance, you’ll need to look at your household budget and work out how much you can put down as a deposit and then realistically afford to pay back every month.

Plus, there are all the other associated costs of motoring that you’ll have to factor in.

Questions to ask:

  • How much will I have to put down as an initial payment?

  • What are the monthly repayments after that – and for how long?

  • What will it cost to insure?

  • How much is the car tax?

  • What will my monthly fuel bills be?

  • How much can I expect to spend on servicing costs?

  • What about MOT costs?

  • How much are things like replacement tyres?

  • Will I have to pay for a parking permit or any parking fees?

Car finance

Read more about car finance:

Get the car checked out

This is a must for any used car buy. You’re investing money in a car, so you want to guarantee (as far as possible) that you’re not buying a dud. 

Here at cinch, our used cars go through an in-depth inspection process before being listed on our site, and models are reconditioned to meet our high standards.

There's also a 14-day money-back guarantee in case you decide the car isn't for you.

Negotiating the car price

When it comes to buying a new car, securing the best possible price is at the top of most people’s to-do list.

While it’s still possible to visit a dealership and negotiate a price, many motorists are choosing the stress-free and simple process of buying a car online.

At cinch, our used cars are priced fairly and competitively, so we don’t offer negotiation on the listed price.

We regularly have offers running on our site as well, so it’s a good idea to sign up to receive our marketing via email so you can try and get your dream model at a reduced price.

You can do this by creating a cinch account.

You can use our filters to find cars that suit your budget – when you’re browsing our vehicle stock page, choose the ‘low to high’ option from the drop-down ‘sort by’ menu to see the cheapest cars first.

If you have a specific budget in mind, we also have filters that allow you to show models that sit within a price range.

Just choose your price range from under the ‘Price’ drop-down menu.

You can also choose to filter by discounted models to make the most of our sales.

Read more about buying a car: