How To Buy Used And Sell A car - Magazine

How To Buy Used And Sell A car - Magazine

How to buy

and sell a



Where to buy

Get the best deal

How to haggle

Buyers’ checklist



04 How to sell

How to get the best price for your car

06 Where to buy

The pros and cons of buying from

different sources

07 Rejecting a faulty car

Your rights under the law

08 Viewing and inspection

The right questions to ask, and a useful

buyers’ checklist

10 Doing the deal

How to pay, and haggling tips and tricks

Insider information

Why 2009 is going to be the year of the used car

If you’re thinking of changing your car this

year, you’re probably thinking about buying

second-hand. More people than ever will

look to save money during the downturn by

buying a ‘pre-loved’ car, instead of a factoryfresh


The changes that swept through the car

industry in late 2008 were unprecedented,

as high fuel prices, the credit crunch and

falling consumer confidence conspired to

hit new-car sales very hard, very quickly.

A previously healthy market for 4x4s

virtually collapsed within six months, and

the talk on everyone’s lips was ‘downsizing’

– trading larger cars in for smaller, more

fuel-efficient models. And, with diesel

remaining much costlier at the pumps than

petrol, buyers also started looking at petrol

models with renewed affection.

In many ways these trends point to a

greener future and cheaper motoring. Even

if you don’t welcome them, it pays to be

aware of the way the market is moving. One

day, you’ll need to sell the car you buy, and

used-car buyers are becoming more

particular than ever…

Letter from

the editor

Welcome to the

Which? guide to

buying and selling a

used car. Buying or

selling a used car can be

fraught with difficulties,

and haggling isn’t

something many of us

find easy. But there are ways to reduce the

risk and get the right price. We’ve put

together a comprehensive guide to your

rights, the things to look out for when

buying and how to haggle with confidence;

there’s also a buyers’ checklist that you

can cut out, copy and take with you when

buying. And last but not least, there’s

advice on sorting out the paperwork.

Martyn Hocking

Editor, Which?

© Which? Ltd 2009 This guide has been produced for

general information and interest only. Which? makes

every effort to ensure that the information in the guide

is correct but we cannot guarantee that it is 100% free

of inaccuracies, errors and omissions. The guide may

not be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system,

transmitted in any form or otherwise made available

to third parties without the written permission of the

Editor, Martyn Hocking. Commercial use of the guide is

not permitted.

How to sell your car

Selling your car can be

a daunting and tricky

business. But it needn’t

be; armed with the right

know-how, even first-time

sellers should be able to

sell quickly and easily

Because most of us don’t get to sell a car

very often, you just need to put in a bit of

time, energy and attention to detail to

reach a successful outcome.

The big question is, what’s the best

way of selling your car? Do you place a

small ad, try to sell it to a dealer, get it

listed on eBay or enter it into an auction?

Each option has its pros and cons,

depending on whether your priority is

convenience, price, safety or speed. Here’s

how to avoid potential pitfalls and secure

the best price for your car.

Checklist – before you sell

Six tips to help you sell your car quickly and safely

Know your price

Check online price guides

(such as

carbuyingguide), classified

ads, completed eBay sales

and local forecourts to get an

idea of prices.

Clean up

First impressions count, so

clean your car well – a £50

valet is usually money well

spent. A minor service is a

good idea, too, but there’s no

point getting involved in costly

major repairs.

Describe your car

It’s important to get the facts

right about your car. Make

sure you include the make,

exact model, engine size,

transmission type, mileage,

year and number-plate suffix,

added extras, service history,

condition and price.

Sort the paperwork

As well as the V5C registration

certificate, MoT certificate and

service book, track down as

many receipts as possible.

Safety first

Never meet strangers in a

deserted car park and always

let other people know your

whereabouts at all times.

Don’t let the keys out of your

sight, either. Accept a cheque

only if you can clear it before

handing the car keys over. If a

banker’s draft or cash is

involved, go to the bank with

the seller to pay the money in.

How to haggle

Be firm but fair, and know the

minimum price you’re prepared

to sell for – but don’t let on

what the figure is.

The options explained

Part-exchange for a newer car

Most dealers will take your old car if you’re buying another that’s

newer and more expensive. This is one of the most simple and

hassle-free ways to sell your car,

and it’s a reasonable compromise,

as long as you know what price

you want when haggling. However,

it’s unlikely to net you the best

return. Remember, it’s the overall

‘cost to change’ that you need to

consider – the difference between

the price of your new car and the

value given for your old one.

GOOD FOR Cars that the

dealer will find easy to

resell – so good-quality, newer

cars. Can be quick, simple and


BAD FOR If you order a

new car and it takes

longer than expected to arrive,

the dealer could reduce what

they’ll pay for your old car.

Private sale


Selling an older,

cheaper car. Often gets

the best price. You must

describe the car truthfully –

then the buyer has little

legal comeback if it breaks

down later.

BAD FOR Nerves.

You need to spend

time showing the car to

buyers (who may well fail

to turn up). Haggling is

considered part of the

process and can be

uncomfortable for many

people. Crooked buyers

may try to pay with forged

bank notes or counterfeit

cheques/banker’s drafts,

so beware.


Never let a potential

buyer take the keys alone

– they could be a thief.

Don’t expect much interest

if your car is old, scruffy or has

more than 100,000 miles on

the clock.


the dealer with a firm

value in mind for your old car,

backed by evidence from

sources such as


You’re likely to get the best price

by selling privately, but it’s not

necessarily the easiest way to sell

a car: you need to be available for

viewings and on the lookout for

crooked buyers. Advertise in

places such as Auto Trader, a local

paper or your local newsagent, or

put a notice in your car window.

Many people buy and sell cars

on internet auctions site such as

eBay, on which you can set a

reserve price – but be wary of

buyers who have only just

registered, or for whom there is

negative feedback.

Trade it in to a dealer (nopart-exchange)

Dealers rarely purchase cars outright for cash. However, if

you’re selling a newish model for which there’s a wide demand,

the dealer might be interested. It’s hassle-free but the price

you’ll be offered will reflect the fact that the dealer has to make

a profit by selling it on. You can also swap an expensive car for

something older and cheaper.


Thousands of used cars

are sold every week at

auction (as opposed to

internet auctions). You

enter your car for sale, pay

a fee, set a reserve price

and bring it along to the

auction site on the day.

The winning bidder

takes the car away

immediately and you get

your money from the

auction house within a few

days, minus a commission.

Auctions promise a quick

sale, but there are no

guarantees and prices

tend to be low.

GOOD FOR A quick sale.

Best if your car is a popular

model, is in good condition and

has a service history.

BAD FOR No guarantee

of a sale and, if it is sold,


well-kept cars with service

records. If you need to sell

quickly and with no hassle,

this could be an option.

BAD FOR Your wallet –

the price you’ll be offered

will be well under market value.

Also dealers will be turned

off by older scruffy highmileage



If you’ve got an in-demand

newish car, why not sell it

privately instead?

it’s likely to be at or below

trade price.


Don’t be tempted to bid for

your own car in an attempt to drive

up the price – it could backfire.

Where to buy

There was a time when buying a used car meant

looking around your area for something suitable;

now, you have more options than ever

Your priorities dictate whether you

buy from a private seller, at a main

dealer or through an independent

source: do you want the keenest

price or do you prefer good back-up and

peace of mind?

Your options

Main dealer

CHOICE The potential choice of used

cars via franchised dealers is huge,

especially if they participate in national

networks that source cars from dealers

across the country. This is great news if

you want a particular colour or

specification. However, you’ll typically

have only a choice of cars that are nearlynew

or, at most, a few years old.

PRICE You pay for the security and peace

of mind of a main dealer – prices are

usually at the top end of the used-car

range, but bear in mind there is still some

room for haggling.

COMEBACKA main dealer is normally

the best option for comeback.

Manufacturer-backed ‘approved used’

schemes usually offer enhanced

protection, with many including ‘noquibble’

returns within a specified period

(normally 30 days). They often offer

independent inspections, too.

VERDICTA popular route for buying

used cars because of safety and choice,

but prices reflect the benefits.

Independent dealer

CHOICE Independent dealers tend to

stock cars that are older than those at

main dealers, making them a potentially

good source of cheaper used cars.

Independents often specialise in specific

makes and models, but you may need to

travel to find the right car.

PRICE Typically, prices will be lower than

main dealers but more expensive than

buying privately. There’s always room to

haggle, though.

COMEBACK Older stock will usually be

out of manufacturer warranty, so you’ll be

relying on whatever warranty the dealer

offers. These vary widely and you need to

check the terms carefully to see what is –

and what is not – covered.

VERDICT Safer than buying privately and

best for slightly older cars.

Car supermarket

CHOICE Independent car supermarkets

have mushroomed in the last decade,

offering high numbers of nearly-new and

low-mileage used cars on massive lots.

These are often sourced in bulk from the

fleet industry, and there’s usually a good

choice of models, although you’re limited

to what’s on site at any one time.

Geographical coverage can be patchy –

you may have to travel miles to your

nearest car supermarket.

PRICE Car supermarkets thrive on the

‘pile ’em high, sell ’em cheap’ philosophy

and they work with very tight profit

margins. Prices therefore tend to be

attractive, although there is usually little

or no room for haggling.


check a



COMEBACKAlways check a car’s

history: some supermarkets source cars

from rental fleets, which is fine as long as

they have been serviced correctly. And

always check specifications: some exrental

cars can be old-spec or the car may

be a non-UK-spec import. If it’s young

enough, the car may still be under

manufacturer warranty; if it’s older, check

the terms of any warranty you’re offered.

VERDICT A no-hassle, attractively priced

choice as long as you have a car

supermarket near you.

Private seller

CHOICE Check out the pages of

magazines and websites such as Auto

Trader and you’ll find thousands of used

cars for sale privately. However, you may

have to travel to get the car you want.

PRICE Expect to get a keen price from a

private seller. Do your research and see

what people are paying for the car you’re

after. If you’re lucky, you may find a

desperate seller who is happy to offload

for a bargain price. That said, be very

wary of a deal that’s too good to be true.

COMEBACK It really is ‘buyer beware’

with a private sale: as long as it has been

accurately described, you have no

comeback if there are faults with the car.

That’s why it pays to have an independent

inspection and history check before you

buy. Beware that the car may be for sale

because it has problems.

VERDICT There’s inherently more risk

involved in a private sale, and more

hassle, too – but a fantastic deal could be

waiting for you.


CHOICEAt traditional auctions,

hundreds of cars go under the hammer at

each sale. There’s no guarantee you’ll find

the car you’re looking for – it just depends

what’s there on the day, so you may have

to keep coming back. The benefit of

It really

is ‘buyer


with a



online auctions is that you can browse at

your leisure at home.

PRICE Usually this is the cheapest way to

buy a car; many dealers pick up their

stock at auction. Bear in mind, though,

you’ll normally have to pay a buyer’s

premium on top of your bid. There’s one

cardinal rule: set a maximum bid limit

and don’t get carried away and go beyond

that limit.

COMEBACK You have very limited legal

rights when buying at auction, and many

auction sites impose conditions on

comeback. What rights you do have

through the Sale of Goods Act are against

the seller, not the auction house. Online

auction site eBay has its own rules, but it’s

still very much a case of buyer beware.

Make sure you inspect the car at the auction

house before bidding gets under way.

VERDICT Auctions are really only for the

knowledgeable or brave, but you can pick

up some fantastic bargains this way.


a faulty car

There’s a difference in the

law depending on from

whom you buy your car

If you buy from a private seller, the

car must simply be ‘as described’,

and you have comeback only if

you can prove you have been

deliberately misled. However, if

you buy from a dealer, the car

must be of ‘satisfactory quality’,

‘as described’, and ‘fit for purpose’.

If there’s a problem soon after

you’ve bought your car – for

example, the car develops a

problem you wouldn’t expect for

the car’s age and mileage, or it

turns out to be not what you’d

been led to expect – you may

have the right to ‘reject’ the car

and get your money back.

However, you have only a

‘reasonable’ time to reject it.

There’s no clear definition of what

a reasonable time is – probably

within three or four weeks of

buying it. If the fault is very

obvious, you may have less time.

If you decide to reject a car, you

must stop using it.

Some motoring trade

associations have complaints

schemes that can sort out

problems between dealers and

customers. Check whether the

dealer is a member of a trade

association such as the Retail

Motor Industry Federation.

You can find more advice at


can also download sample

letters here. l 7

Buyers’ checklist






Is there any evidence of rippling, uneven panel gaps or paint overspray? Potential accident damage

Can you see any rust? Possible MoT failure

Does the windscreen have cracks? Possible MoT failure

Under the bonnet

Is there a shiny film of oil on top of the water in the radiator? Damaged cylinder head or block or head gasket

Is the engine oil milky brown or grey? Possible cracked engine block

Are any fluid levels – oil, power steering, brake, clutch – low? Possible leakage in system

When you start the engine, is there a large plume of smoke from the exhaust? Engine wear

Is there any pinking (a crackling sound) as you accelerate? Engine adjustment or overhaul is needed

Are there any loud noises from the engine?


Piston slap or worn tappets

When pressing the brake pedal, does the pressure soften and the

pedal sink lower?

Possible leak in the system

Do the brake discs look scored or unusually thin? Discs need to be replaced

Under hard braking, does the car dip forward excessively or pull to one side? Brake or suspension wear

Gearbox & clutch

When you let the clutch out with the handbrake on (manual gearbox),

does the car fail to move forward?

Do you hear any clonking or whining noises from the transmission? Gearbox wear

Slipping clutch – needs replacement

Are gears difficult to engage? Gearbox or clutch problems

Steering & suspension

Is there any ‘play’ in the steering wheel? Worn steering or misaligned wheels

Does the steering feel jerky or stiff? Possible bent track-control arm or worn rack

Does the car pull to one side? Steering alignment or suspension problems

Does the car suffer from a bouncy ride? Worn dampers

Is there a clonking sound from the suspension? Worn suspension/driveshafts

Wheels & tyres

Do the wheels show evidence of being ‘kerbed’? Possible suspension damage

Have the tyres worn unevenly?


Tracking problems, wear or damage

in steering or suspension

Are the seats and trim badly worn? Possibly used as a taxi

Do the carpets have stains? Possible leaks

Does the air conditioning fail to blow cold? Leaking or broken system

When you turn the key, do any of the warning lights not light up? Burned-out or disconnected bulb

When you start the engine, do any of the warning lights stay on? Problem in relevant area

If you have too many crosses, it’s probably not the right car for you; move on – there are always more to choose from

Doing the deal

How to pay, and how to pay less: four common ways to finance

your car purchase, and 10 top tips on how to get the price down –

put yourself in the driving seat

So you’ve found the right car foryou.

Now what? First you need to agree

a price with the seller, including any

part-exchange. That means knowing

how to haggle and knowing what to

look for when negotiating a price. Then you

need to decide how you’re going to pay –

do you use cash and try to get a keener

price, or are you going to arrange finance?

Finally, you need to make sure all the ‘t’s are

crossed and the ‘i’s dotted before you drive

away – hopefully with a car that’s going to

give you long and satisfying service.

How to pay

CASH This is the simplest option, and

the thought of a wad of notes may be

enough to persuade the seller to make

a quick deal that’s favourable to you.

However, there are obvious risks in

carrying around large sums of money,

and the seller will be concerned that the

notes are genuine and may well ask you

to accompany them to the bank to pay

the money in. If you’re buying from a

dealer, they will often be keener to sell you

a car on finance than accept cash.

BANKER’S DRAFT This is effectively a

safer way of paying than a cheque, which

can be bounced. But forgeries do exist, so

the seller might ask for your bank details

to verify that a banker’s draft has been

issued, or to check that there are

sufficient funds in your account –

however, we advise against giving

bank details to strangers.

PERSONAL LOAN If you don’t have

cash, or don’t want to dip into your

savings, arranging a personal loan is an

option. There are lots of deals available,

from high-street banks to specialist loan

companies, and in many cases you can

do what you wish with the money. You

can often borrow enough to buy a used

car without securing it against the value

of your home (you can borrow against

the value of your house, but you risk

losing it if you default on payments).


a rapport


you’ll be





can be

Personal loans can be cheaper than

using dealer finance, and in the seller’s

eyes you’re effectively paying cash, so

you can negotiate hard for a ‘cash deal’


DEALER FINANCE Dealers often earn

more money from selling finance than

from selling cars, and many will be keen

to push you towards a finance deal.

There are three golden rules when

choosing dealer finance. First, always ask

for the annual percentage rate (APR) and

the total amount repayable – never rely

on the ‘flat rate’ interest that is frequently

quoted. Second, it’s often possible to

haggle on the APR – the rate is usually

negotiable to a certain extent. Third,

always insist on a written finance quote to

mull over, as if you sign it in the

showroom, there’s no cooling-off period.

And remember, sorting out your own

finance can often be cheaper than going

through a dealer.

How to haggle

h Haggling is an art, but it’s not difficult.

The golden rule is to know the price you

want to pay and then be firm but fair in

achieving it.

h Do your homework on prices in

advance. Look at price guides (such as,

and check through motoring classified

ads and garage forecourts to find out

typical prices.

h Remember that dealers have to make a

profit so they will have a figure below

which they cannot go. That’s not always

the case with private sellers, who are

often just desperate to shift their car,

which means you can sometimes

negotiate a real bargain.

h If you know that the car has been on

sale for a long time, it’s likely the seller will

want to get rid of it quickly, so be bold

with your offer.

h Remain friendly. Establish a rapport

and you’ll be amazed how painless

haggling can be – and how sellers can go

the extra distance for a friendly buyer.

Keep cool, and stay polite. Some people

bargain aggressively, but if you keep your

tone even and your answers matter-offact,

you’ll retain the upper hand.

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