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Buying a used car? Dial these elements into your budget

Thinking of buying a used car? Here are six things that we think you should include in your used car buying process and financial plan.

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If you’re thinking of buying a used car right now, you’re not alone. Supply issues for new cars, plus a post-pandemic kick-start of the second-hand market means that thousands of drivers are looking for quality used models.

It’s pushing the price up of previously-owned vehicles, but that doesn’t seem to be stopping prospective buyers. Only 18% of car transactions currently going ahead are for brand new examples, which means that around four out of every five cars bought in the UK at the moment are used.

Buying used can be a good idea, but purchasing any car is not just a one-off payment – it’s a long-term investment. Just buying the vehicle itself is a hefty expense, but there are several other costs that will have to be factored in.

Getting a well-maintained two- or three-year old model can save you thousands of pounds compared with the equivalent new car. But it can be risky if you don’t carry out the correct checks first to ensure you know exactly what you are buying and are therefore not taking the chance and ending up with a ‘dodgy motor’ that can turn into a money-trap.

So, before you set yourself a budget for your new, used car, dial in some extras that will cost a few pounds now but could, in some cases, save you a fortune in the long run.

Here are six things that we at The Car Expert think you should include in your used car buying process and financial plan.

1. Car history check

Industry reports, including one from the RAC motoring organisation, show that half of all cars available for sale second hand, have some form of “hidden history”. Usually this is as simple as a number plate change, but it may mean that the car was previously written off in an accident, had the mileage illegally rolled back or still has outstanding debt to a finance company.

A car history check will scan through all of these features and more for the car you’re thinking of buying. All you need is the registration number or VIN (vehicle identification number). If the seller seems reluctant to give you either of these, be suspicious.

Many companies and motoring organisations offer car history checks; some even for free, although these would be a very basic process. Prices vary but expect to pay anything from £6 to £15, depending on the level of investigation you require.

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2. Used car warranty

Many used cars will come with some sort of warranty to cover parts for a short period of time, especially if you’re buying from a dealer or specialist sales company. But if you’ve spent hard-saved cash on a decent car you should be thinking about buying a used car warranty once any guarantee has run out.

A used warranty covers you for parts and labour repair costs if your car fails dramatically. Policies vary greatly and each has its own ‘small print’ limits on vehicle age, mileage and the total amount of payout, so it’s worth looking carefully at what’s on offer before signing up to anything.

Deciding whether to buy a warranty is a valid consideration for any used car buyer. Not everyone will need one: some drivers have mechanical knowledge and an adequate toolbox, while others might have ready access to parts.

But for most people the question is: do I want some financial support behind me if my car suddenly needs an expensive fix? Allowing for a few years of warranty cover in your used car budget is certainly worth considering, given the peace of mind it brings. Cover can start from £10, but each case is different and you can build a policy to suit your circumstances.

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3. Breakdown recovery

New cars usually come with at least a year’s roadside assistance and recovery as part of the manufacturer’s offer. Used cars do not. Additionally, they will have covered several thousand miles and might have parts that are starting to wear out and so are more likely to break down at the roadside than a brand new model.

So recovery is another service that is worth considering and adding into your used car buying budget. If you travel far from your home or are likely to be on the road a lot in your new, used car, assistance of this kind can be vital. Nobody wants to end up stranded on a hard shoulder, country road layby or at the side of the road in an unfamiliar town.

There are plenty of roadside rescue companies to choose from, as we have highlighted here at The Car Expert. Most providers charge an annual subscription for cover and almost all offers a full range of options, from basic roadside repairs right up to rescue throughout Europe.

You can include recovery of your vehicle to your home, and there are even home-start options if your car has issues before you even set off. Prices start from £30 for basic assistance and you’re likely to be looking at £50-£60 for a more comprehensive ‘recovery to home’ policy.

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4. Regular servicing

You’re going to be paying good money for your imminent used car so why not look after your investment as much as you can by giving it regular servicing and maintenance? Most modern cars will only need a service once a year, so it should be straightforward to budget for that.

Having your car regularly professionally checked and keeping the service record book up to date and fully stamped by a garage or dealership will not only reduce the chances of something failing on the car, it also increases your safety with important components being checked, and maintains its value too – a car with an FSH (full service history) is more attractive to buyers when you come to sell on.

It’s possible to sign up to a service plan. Many franchised dealers will be happy to offer you one to buy while you’re sorting out a deal for your car. Alternatively you can go back and arrange a service plan later. With prices in the £20 to £30 a month region, it’s a good way to budget for your pride and a joy’s future maintenance and well-being.

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5. Parts and accessories

Keeping your car in good condition for the road is not just a good idea, it’s the law. You’re not allowed to drive around with a badly cracked windscreen or worn out tyres.

You have to get those things fixed, so a maintenance budget in place as soon as you get your new car, is a good idea. And make sure the car you’re buying is in good condition in the first place, with plenty of miles left in the tyres, exhaust and battery.

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6. Tax and insurance

The higher the CO2 emissions a car produces, the higher its vehicle road tax will be, so opting for a low emissions car will help your budget. Work out what you can afford before falling in love with a 5.0-litre V8 gas-guzzler.

Likewise, insurance costs vary greatly. Everyone’s insurance premium is different because they are worked out according to the car being insured, the driver’s age and experience and other factors such as where you live and your driving record.

An expensive high performance car is going to cost a lot more to insure than a sensible town runabout, so bear this in mind before agreeing to buy any vehicle.

* The Car Expert has commercial partnerships with ALA Iinsurance, Car Guide, CarVertical, Motoreasy, Warranty Direct and Warrantywise. Should you decide to use their services, or if you sign an agreement with any of these companies, we may receive a small commission.

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Tom Johnston
Tom Johnstonhttp://johnstonmedia.com/
Tom Johnston was the first-ever reporter on national motoring magazine Auto Express. He went on to become that magazine’s News Editor and Assistant Editor, and has also been Motoring Correspondent for the Daily Star and contributor to the Daily and Sunday Express. Today, as a freelance writer, content creator and copy editor, Tom works with exciting and interesting websites and magazines on varied projects.