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Where to buy a used car

There are so many ways to get your hands on a used car these days. For those who want the least risk, whilst also having a good level of legal protection, a car dealership is pretty much your best bet.

Many people though prefer to buy from a private seller, and this will in most cases save you money. Buying in such a way does not afford you the same level of legal protection however, so you have to be more aware of any possible problems with the vehicle you're buying. More homework and question asking is needed when dealing with private sellers, as well as using services such as HPI to get the real picture on a vehicle.

Buying online is also a popular option, and growing in the marketplace all the time. Your legal rights when buying online depend on the contract involved in the sale. This contract should always be read thoroughly, especially if you are buying from a different country.

Auctions are also a popular source for used vehicles, although they are more suited for the seasoned car buyer. Buying from auction affords you a low level of legal protection, as cars are pretty much sold as seen. Any faults with a vehicle you buy can only be claimed against if you are certain that the auction house or auctioneer purposely deceived you.

Buying from a private seller

A 'For Sale' sign in a car windscreenBuying private can be a great cost and time saver, but there are many things to be wary about. A number of dishonest dealers will masquerade themselves as private sellers and attempt to sell their lower quality stock through less regulated channels. This means they can sell off their less desirable vehicles whilst also avoiding the legal responsibility they have when selling through their dealership. If you consider that the 'private seller' who is selling you their vehicle could be a dealer, you should turn around and walk away.

One method of spotting a dealer passing themselves off as a private seller is to inquire about the car in question over the phone, and mention you are interested in their car for sale, without mentioning any other details of the vehicle. Should the seller then ask you which car you are inquiring about, this is often a giveaway that they are in fact a car dealer. Keeping an eye out for the same mobile phone number being used on multiple used car advertisements is another way of spotting suspect sellers.

You should always insist on viewing any car you're interested in at the seller's home, and also within daylight hours. It's best to take a friend or family member with you too. If the seller wants to meet you at a petrol station, industrial estate, lay by or any other similar location, this can mean that they're not all they seem.

There are a number of ways to check whether the person selling you a car is the rightful owner. Firstly, check the V5C certificate, and see whether the seller's name is listed as the current owner. The address where you are viewing the car should also match. The real owner should also be familiar with the workings of the car and how it drives. If they appear lost when performing basic functions on the vehicle, this is a giveaway that they are probably not the owner. Of course, the vehicle could be being sold by a friend or third party, but you should ask why this is so in this case.

Buying from a dealership

A dealership's forecourt selectionGetting your car from a dealer gives you the most legal cover on your purchase, but choosing the right dealership is still a good idea. Ask around for recommendations from your friends, or you can do some research on search engines for nearby dealers; add the word 'review' when searching for a dealership name and you'll be able to read about other people's experiences with them. If you're looking for a specific make or model, then there may be specific web forums around that you can ask some questions on, or the websites of owner's clubs may have links to respected dealerships.

Car dealers will often try and add extras to any sale, including used car warranties and other guarantees, for a fee. You can quite often get a better deal if you sort that out for yourself; there are many companies offering used car warranties for example, and thus you can pick and choose the best rate and deal for you.

The same advice goes if you need finance in order to buy the used car. Most dealerships will have their own finance packages, but these are often less economical than searching for your own loan. Do your homework beforehand and get prices and quotes through one of the many comparison websites or services. Finding out what level of loan you can get will also allow you to set a realistic price that you can afford for a car.

With any warranties or loans offered by a dealership, remember to check the small print. Some warranties may not cover everything you need, and you may find yourself forking out for a better deal further down the road.

Buying from an auction

Buying a car at an auction is not for the faint-hearted. You should already have a few used car sales under your belt, know what to look for in an engine, and have an idea of market prices for used vehicles before even thinking of visiting one. Your level of legal coverage is next to none when buying from an auction, with most vehicles being sold as seen, which means any problems with the car after the sale are down to you to fix.

On your first visit to a car auction, I'd recommend you don't go with buying in mind. Instead, keep your eyes open and take in the spectacle. You'll soon learn how the auction process works, and by spectating you may catch a few tricks that buyers use, or an idea of what sells and what doesn't. If possible you should tag along with someone who has experience with car auctions, or who knows the ins and outs of a motor.

Always read the terms of any sale thoroughly, so you know what the legal conditions are. You should also always have a budget in mind, and never get carried away with your bidding. Be sure to take a laptop, smartphone or tablet along to the auction. If you're really interested in a vehicle at the auction, you can perform a background check on it online using the HPI website or another online service.

Buying online

Buying a car online gives you great freedom of choice, with marketplaces like AutoTrader offering tens of thousands of used vehicles to search through. By refining your search details and price bands, you can quickly find local cars for sale, or even further afield if you fancy a wider range. The drawbacks to searching online for your car is that you might not get to see your car physically until you go through with the purchase. It can also be difficult to find out the true identity of the dealership or seller you're buying the car from.

Buying from a dealership online grants you exactly the same rights that you would have when pulling up to their forecourt and buying in the conventional way. You'll also benefit from a cooling off period if you happen to change your mind shortly after the purchase. Buying online from a private seller will give you the same rights as buying conventionally, but with no cooling off period.

Online advertisements can be crafted to tempt the unwary buyer, and it is best not to rush into anything. Doing your homework may save you a lot of time and money. Don't expect miracles, and always do a 180 if the deal looks too good to be true.

When buying online, you need to be sure who you are actually buying from. You can check the firm's website to see if they look above board, but that is not a foolproof method. Searching for the company name plus the keyword 'reviews' will probably yield some experiences from prior customers. You also need to check the small print of any contracts or terms and conditions. Reputable sites should have some sort of customer satisfaction guarantee.

If you're interested in a vehicle online and want to buy, you should first make a copy of all the pertinent details. These include the details of the car from the advertisement, the details of the seller (name, address, email and phone number if possible), the terms and conditions of the sale, and any other information you feel you may need. After the sale you should also be presented with a form of order confirmation, with a reference number, the specifications of the car, the price to pay, and also details about the delivery of the car.

There are many sources for used cars, some more trustworthy than others. The key point here is not to rush into anything. Forget any marketing saying that you've got to act fast and buy now - you don't. There are thousands of used motors out there, and taking your time over your research is the best way to buy a sound motor.

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