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Buying a second hand car

A reliable used car can be a treasure, but finding a good one can be a minefield. If you’re not sure what to look for when it comes to buying second hand, or taking a look under the bonnet, you’re not alone.

But before you part with your cash (or cheque, but more on that later) here's ten tips on what to look for:

1. Work out your budget

If you already have a car, think about how much you can sell it for. Then decide whether you’ll need finance and take into account running costs, too. So work out how much you’ll need to spend on fuel, road tax and insurance.

2. How much will it cost to insure?

If you see a model you like, John Lewis Car Insurance can give you a quote or advice. Getting a quote via the website is easy or if you’d rather speak to someone, call 0800 916 6815.

3. Choose wisely

Narrow your search down to a couple of types of car by thinking about what you’ll use it for, how many passengers or items will be transported, whether you’ll use it for long or short journeys and who else will be driving it. That should give you an idea of the size of car you’ll need.

4. Where to look

There are a number of options when you’re looking for a second hand car. If you’d like a warranty, or want to know who to contact if something goes wrong, try a used car dealership. You could also buy from a private seller. Browse, and to get an idea of prices, or look in your local newspaper.

5. Replying to an advert: What to ask the seller

Ask as many thorough questions as you can when you first make contact with the seller, as it can tell you a lot about how genuine they are. Find out why they’re selling, how long they’ve had the car, if they’ve had it serviced regularly and what the condition’s really like. If you’re still interested, arrange to meet at their house or garage if they’re a trader – and make sure it’s in daylight.

6. Looking at the car: First impressions

Check for rust, mismatched paint, ripples and any uneven gaps between body panels. Walk around the car and look along the doors and wings to see if there’s anything uneven that could indicate crash repairs will show up if they have not been well done. Then take a look inside and check for water stains in the boot, around windows, on carpets and around the sunroof – these could indicate leaks.

7. Check the documents

Ask to see the car’s logbook, MOT and service history, and check the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) which you’ll find at the bottom of the windscreen to make sure it matches the documents. It’s also worth getting a Vehicle Identity Check to make sure the seller isn’t trying to pass on a stolen car. You can find more information on how to do that at the Directgov website.

8. Take it for a test drive

Don’t buy a car unless you’ve driven it, but make sure you’re covered by insurance before you set off. Try to drive on different types of road, to see how it fares in traffic as well as on the open road. Check that everything works – from essentials such as gears, brakes, steering and suspension to heaters, demisters and air conditioning. Be suspicious of any rattles or strange noises.

9. Check the mileage

If you’re looking for something reliable and good value, look at a car that’s less than three years old with an annual mileage of around 10,000 to 15,000. Of course, most older cars will have done more miles so weigh that up against cost. Mileage isn’t everything though – if a car’s been left to stand on the drive for long periods of time, it could have problems with the engine. A good compromise is a car that’s been regularly used and serviced.

10. Seal the deal

Don’t be afraid to haggle, and if you don’t get a price you like move on to another car. Before you hand over any money, check the seller is the person named on the registration document. If they’re not, get written confirmation from the owner that they’ve given their permission to sell. Check the MOT and if you have any doubts about it being genuine, contact the garage that issued it. Get a receipt for any payment – and don’t be pressured into paying by cash if you don’t want to. Before you leave, check that you have the correct parts of the logbook and if you still have concerns, ask if the seller minds you bringing in a mechanic to inspect the car too.

How John Lewis Car Insurance can help

Need tips, help, advice or a quote? John Lewis Car Insurance can point you in the right direction.

For further tips and advice, please see our quick guide (PDF).

John Lewis Car Insurance homepage

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