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Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start when you’re buying a car. But whether you’re buying new or second-hand, the following car buying guide could well come in handy:

Choosing a car

  • If you want to buy new, go for it. You have the widest possible selection of cars to choose from. Manufacturers also offer all kinds of deals, including cashback or extended warranties
  • First things first – identify your needs. If you’ve got a growing family, then a two-door model is probably not for you. And weigh up factors like reliability, safety and how much mileage you’re likely to do too
  • One of the costs you’ll also have to factor in will be insurance. Will it just be you who’s driving the car? Will it be parked on the street or in a garage? With a new car, you’re unlikely to need breakdown assistance as most new cars usually come with something similar, but what about protecting your No Claims Discount?
  • Cars are a significant investment, so you’ll want to read up on them first. Visit www.autotrader.co.uk for their reviews of various models.
  • Decided on a car? Time to talk to a dealer. When you do, ask the important questions: Is the delivery price included? How long a wait before the car will be delivered? Is road tax included? And registration fees?
  • Go for a test drive. Never buy a car blind. Get to see and feel it before you commit to anything
  • If you like what you see, start haggling. Dealers generally expect this as part of the process, and it’s in their best interests to shift cars if there’s an interested prospective buyer. So, see if you can get some extras thrown in for free. Things like metallic paint, protective coatings for the paintwork and upholstery, a good deal on finance, floor mats, mudflaps, and – this is an important one – a full tank of fuel. You’d be surprised how many cars are sold with barely enough fuel to get them out of the showroom
  • Make sure the paperwork’s all up to scratch. The registration should tally up with the one in the logbook (V5C document), and also make sure you get all the correct manuals and codes for the radio. And don’t forget the car-keys!
  • Like all purchases, make sure you get a receipt
  • And if you’re not happy with any part of the process, let them know straight away. If there’s a delay, or if they’re trying to fob you off with a model which isn’t the one that you bought, kick up a fuss. It’s your car, you’ve paid a lot of money for it, make sure it’s exactly what you signed up for.

Buying a used car

  • It’s vital you do your research when you’re looking at second-hand cars. First of all check on www.autotrader.co.uk to see what the going rate is for the car you’re interested in. This will alert you if it looks like someone is asking too much, or indeed too little
  • Give yourself a budget and stick to it. Make sure your budget includes things like road tax, other running costs and, of course, insurance. Little things like where you park the car at night and the area you live in can affect your quote.
  • Time to talk to the seller. Bring a list of questions: How long have they owned the car? Has it had an MOT recently? Is it taxed? What condition is it in? Why are they selling it? Has it been involved in an accident? What extra features does it have? Is it in full working order?
  • Make sure you get a landline number from the seller, not just their mobile
  • One of the most important things you can do when buying a used car is to do a vehicle check to make sure it’s all legit. Go to www.vehiclecheck.co.uk and put in the car’s registration number. This will tell you if the car is stolen or has outstanding finance on it or has been written off. It will also tell you its full spec. and the kind of price you should be paying for it. And you can get the vehicle’s  identification number (VIN) too so you can match it against the car you’re buying
  • Always visit the seller at his home, never at a motorway service station or lay-by. Check the mileage and the tax. Does everything match up with what the seller told you over the phone? And always visit in daylight – all the better to spot scratches and dents
  • When you visit, follow these steps: Try to take a look at the car before you meet the seller and get distracted by what he’s saying. Start the car to see if the engine is fine. Crouch down in front of each front wheel and check that they’re fully aligned with the rear wheels. If they’re not, chances are the car’s chassis has been twisted in a crash. Are the gaps between the body panels all flush, or does it look like a bad patch-up job? Check that the tyres have a 1.6mm tread. Look all over the car for signs of rust. Inside, check that the seatbelts work, the steering wheel is sturdy, the front seats can be safely adjusted and that all the switches work. Look for signs of oil leakage under the bonnet and the car. If the oil level is low on the dipstick, it could be a sign that the driver hasn’t been looking after his car properly. And if you spot a white mayonnaise-like substance around the oil filler cap, this could signify that there’s something wrong with the head gasket – which can be very expensive to replace
  • Now go for your test drive. Listen out for unusual sounds, but also try to get the feel for the car
  • If you’re satisfied, it’s time to haggle with the seller. Ask him what he’s expecting and then undercut him. Factor in any qualms or niggles you might have about the car. He’ll either accept your lower offer or give you a revised figure
  • Once you’ve agreed on a price, make sure all the paperwork is in order. You’ll need the logbook (the V5C document), the car’s service history, MOT details, the registration number and vehicle identification number, and – if the seller has said that tax is included in the price – a valid tax disc. Don’t accept photocopies. Look in the logbook. The seller’s name should match; if not, he’s not legally entitled to sell you the car. Check the service history book. If you see lots of dealer stamps, it means that the car has been properly maintained
  • Finally, when you make your payment, always ensure that you get a receipt. Make sure the seller’s address and details are on them too

Armed with the right information, you can take a lot of the risk out of buying a car.

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