What do I need to know before buying a used car?

Helping you make the right choice


THERE WAS a time when buying a used car struck fear into the heart of drivers across the country. Images of Arthur Daley types in camel hair coats rubbing their hands at the thought of “A nice little earner” would flash across car buyers’ minds. Now, the used-car buying experience can be no different from that of buying a new car.

Search for and buy your next car on driving.co.uk

But be warned: the salesman is still out to turn a profit. And with almost 7m used cars sold each year, compared with under 2m new models, used car buyers need to do their homework and buy with their eyes wide open if they’re to strike the best deal.

Here, the internet is the used car buyer’s greatest asset. Like never before, would-be buyers can research models, compare stock and prices, check specifications, carry out vehicle history checks and know their consumer rights — all without having to leave their keyboard. Woe betide the salesman who tries to pull a fast one.

However, having so many cars for sale means there’s a mind-boggling amount of choice. This free buying guide has been compiled by the expert team behind The Sunday Times Driving, to help you buy the perfect used car.

You’ll find Driving’s expert car testers have named the top five cars in the eight most important market sectors. We’ve also turned to CAP, the used car valuation experts, to help you budget for buying any of Driving’s recommended cars, and forecast how much they’ll be worth in another three years.

There is useful general consumer advice, such as who to buy from or understanding the different types of finance available. And how could we forget Driving’s star-studded line-up of car reviewers, including Jeremy Clarkson and Dom Joly. Their verdicts are shared for every Best Buy used car selected by the Driving team.

Used car buying advice

Depreciation: How we predicted the value of used cars

One of the most important considerations when buying a used car is depreciation. To help you decide which cars offer the best value for money we turned to CAP,  the used car valuer that provides data to car dealers and manufacturers. We asked the company to provide prices for our Best Buy cars when they were new, when they are three years old (where applicable) and to forecast the trade-in valuation for when the car is six-years old.

CAP considers three core factors: a car’s age, its mileage and its position in the model’s life cycle (has it just been launched; is it due for a midlife facelift; is it about to be replaced?). Each of those factors is fed into a mathematical formula that also includes variables such as demographic influences (for example, who is a typical user, how old they are and how the car is used) and economic influences such as future new-car supply.

The top five used cars in each category