How to buy
and sell a
Where to buy
Get the best deal
How to haggle
INDEPENDENT EXPERT ADVICE YOU CAN TRUST
04 How to sell
How to get the best price for your car
06 Where to buy
The pros and cons of buying from
07 Rejecting a faulty car
Your rights under the law
08 Viewing and inspection
The right questions to ask, and a useful
10 Doing the deal
How to pay, and haggling tips and tricks
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…
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.
© 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
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 www.which.co.uk/
ads, completed eBay sales
and local forecourts to get an
idea of prices.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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 dealer with a firm
value in mind for your old car,
backed by evidence from
sources such as which.co.uk/
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
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,
GOOD FOR Newer,
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
it’s likely to be at or below
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?
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
which.co.uk l 7
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
WHAT IT MEANS
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).
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
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
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.