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Used cars for sale

Buying a used car has probably never been so simple. Decades ago you had to pick up a magazine, leaf through the pages and try and decide whether the car in the tiny photo with abbreviated jargon below was worth going to look at.

Now, you can fire up your computer and find the exact make and model you’re after in just a few minutes - complete with detailed photos, more information, online history checkers, finance tools, and more, with sellers from much further afield all competing for your attention.

Buying used can also save you thousands of pounds (especially now prices have softened a little after a few years of pandemic-induced increases), and means getting a car in much shorter order than waiting for an order to be fulfilled. The last few years have seen a huge increase in the quality and availability of affordable used electric cars too, if you’re considering making the move into an EV.

Why buy a used car?

There are several reasons you might choose to buy a used car. The biggest is likely to be budget: going for something pre-owned almost always means paying less, and sometimes by quite a margin, compared to a brand new vehicle. Unlike property, cars almost always depreciate, making older cars generally much cheaper than new ones - with the tradeoff being that you’re not in the shiniest and newest vehicle on offer.

A less common but sometimes useful reason for buying a used car is to save time. Whether it’s a pre-registered new car on a dealership forecourt or a second- or third-hand model from a dealer or private seller, you can generally buy it, and even drive away in it, pretty much there and then, rather than waiting for a carmaker to build your vehicle to order - which in recent years, has taken months or even years for some vehicles, thanks to supply chain issues.

How do I choose the ideal used car?

This depends very much upon what you’re looking for in a car. The first thing to do is narrow down your choice to a category of vehicle, be that a particular body style or engine type, and then create a shortlist of possible vehicles in that category. If you want a simple family hatchback then you might want to look at a Volkswagen Golf or Ford Focus for instance, while if you like rugged looks and a prestige badge, an SUV like a BMW X5 or Audi Q5 may be on your list.

Should I buy a petrol, diesel, hybrid, or electric used car?

Over the past couple of decades, the old choice between petrol and diesel cars has been greatly expanded to include hybrid, plug-in hybrid, electric, and even hydrogen vehicles in some cases. The extra choice is great, but can be a little confusing if you’re new to the car-buying game.

Petrol and diesel have been around for many decades. Diesel has been falling out of favour in recent years so you won’t find as many used diesel cars as you might have ten or fifteen years ago, but petrol models are still popular. They may not be as fuel-efficient as a hybrid or as silent and easy to drive as an electric car, but are likely to be cheapest to buy and insure for a given size of vehicle.

Hybrid technology appeared around 25 years ago and is commonplace today, typically using an electric motor and small battery pack to assist a petrol engine, improving both performance and economy, without the need to plug your car in. Unless it’s a plug-in hybrid, which uses a larger battery and can travel further on electric power alone, but will only get its best economy figures if you can regularly recharge it.

Electric vehicles are increasingly popular and are solely powered from a battery pack and driven by an electric motor (or sometimes, more than one). Steep depreciation recently means a used EV (electric vehicle) can be surprisingly affordable, and while insurance can be expensive, they can be very cheap to run - provided you’re able to recharge on low home tariffs, as fast-charging in public can sometimes be more expensive than filling a petrol car. While early EVs had low and impractical range figures, more recent ones may be easily enough to cover almost all your journeys.

Where can I find used cars for sale?

Once you’ve settled on the right body style and engine type for your next car, it’s then time to go shopping. Generally speaking you’ll find the most used cars for sale in bigger towns and cities, where you’ll find the largest number of dealerships and private sellers, and the RAC’s search tool can help you narrow down the search to cars within a certain distance of you, to as little as a mile away.

Depending on your search criteria you may find only one or two models for sale, but open up your search window on a popular car like a Ford Fiesta or a BMW 3 Series and there may be tens or even hundreds. Setting a minimum and maximum price can then narrow things down further, as can setting a maximum mileage, age, and a preferred colour.

It’s good to give yourself a few options, perhaps calling the dealer or private seller, or asking for a call or email back via an online contact form, to discuss the car in question and see if it’s right for you. Online finance tools can help you calculate what your monthly payments might be (unless you prefer to buy outright), while buying guides can suggest areas to look for when you eventually view a car.

Basic used car checks

When viewing a car, it’s useful to do basic checks, however new the vehicle might be. If it’s over three years old then you can check its MOT history online, but you’ll also want to see evidence of a full service history from the seller, and ensure the car is in generally good condition - including plenty of tyre tread (and ideally a matching set from a reputable brand), no obvious bodywork imperfections, and a clean and tidy interior.

It’s also worth searching online for insurance quotes on your prospective purchase, to ensure you won’t be hit by a surprisingly high premium after you’ve bought a car. And while low mileage isn’t necessarily a guarantee of better condition, bear in mind that some newer and lower-mileage cars may still have the balance of their factory warranty left - Kia, for instance, offers a seven-year or 100,000-mile warranty, so a car well within these limits may give you more peace of mind.

Where can I find a used car for sale near me?
Finding the best car deal
Cities offer the best choice

When considering the best locations in the UK to buy a used car, cities like London, Birmingham, Manchester, and Glasgow offer a wide range of used car dealerships and private sellers, providing diverse options to choose from.

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