Personal Contract Purchase: the PCP explained

What is PCP car finance? Read our comprehensive guide to the Personal Contract Purchase

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The PCP (personal contract purchase, sometimes called a personal contract plan) is by far the most popular car finance product on the UK market for both new and used cars. 

Most car manufacturers and car dealerships push this type of finance pretty hard. In fact, car sales executives tend to be more interested in your monthly budget than which car you want.

But what exactly is a PCP? How does it work, why is it so popular and what should you be looking out for? This guide will help you understand everything you need to know about PCP car finance. We will cover the following:

About 90% of all private new car buyers finance their purchase at the dealership, and the vast majority of those finance agreements are PCPs – in some cases, it’s basically 100%. PCP car finance is also becoming more and more popular for used car finance, especially ‘approved used car’ offerings from big dealerships.

Discussing car finance, like a hire purchase or PCP, in a car showroom
“Don’t worry about the car, what we really want is to sell you a PCP.”

PCP car finance can seem very confusing

Despite its enormous popularity in recent years, research from 2015 found that a staggering 88% of men and 75% of women could not explain what a PCP was. A more recent study found that nothing has changed, with about 90% of people not understanding the fine print in their finance contracts.


Even the media regularly get tripped up trying to explain how PCPs work when they report on car finance issues, confusing a PCP with a lease or other forms of finance, which certainly doesn’t help consumers understand what’s really going on.

We have millions of car buyers in the UK are unsure how a PCP actually works, despite the fact that they are taking out a PCP agreement for thousands of pounds to buy a car. So the good news is that if this applies to you, you’re certainly not alone!

If you want to brush up on your car finance jargon, we’ve produced this most excellent glossary that explains all the terminology you will come across in a finance quote or contract:

At most new car dealerships, car finance is usually offered by the manufacturer’s own finance company. The offers tend to be much better on new cars than on used cars. That’s because car manufacturers are far more interested in selling you a new car than one they built a few years ago. They also have various different names for their PCP offerings, which can be confusing,

There are other lenders who also offer PCPs, but they are usually aimed at used car finance and are not normally competitive with manufacturer finance on new cars. PCP car finance has become much more popular on used cars in recent years, and the rates are becoming more competitive.

What exactly is a Personal Contract Purchase?

A personal contract purchase (PCP) is a specific type of hire purchase (HP) finance agreement, and it will often be shown on a finance contract as a hire purchase. It’s often incorrectly referred to as a personal contract plan (rather than purchase).

Like a traditional hire purchase or a mortgage on your house, a PCP is a secured finance agreement. That means that the finance company ultimately remains the owner of the vehicle until the last penny has been paid off, which is important.

In comparing a PCP and a traditional HP, you are usually borrowing the same amount of money and paying a similar amount of interest (usually slightly more on a PCP). The fees for both finance products are usually about the same as well. The main difference is how the monthly payments are structured.

In a traditional hire purchase agreement, you pay off your entire borrowing in equal monthly instalments. A PCP is different in that you have much lower monthly instalments followed by a very large final payment at the end. This final payment is often known as the balloon (also known as the Guaranteed Future Value, but that’s actually a slightly different thing).

For example*, If you borrow £20,000 on a hire purchase over four years, you would have 48 monthly payments of about £420. If you borrowed the same amount on a PCP over the same period, your monthly payments would be about £250 but you’d then have a final payment of about £8,000.
*(example for comparison purposes only, excludes interest and fees, etc.)

You have several options as to how to deal with this final amount, depending on whether you want to keep your car or change it.

What is the attraction of a PCP?

If you compare financing the same car on a PCP against an HP, you are generally borrowing the same amount of money. The big difference, as shown in the example above, is that you are paying off a much smaller amount of your debt via your monthly repayments and deferring a large amount (the balloon) to the end of the agreement.

This means:

  • Your monthly payments will be much lower, and/or
  • Your initial deposit will be much lower, and/or
  • Your repayment term will be shorter

Most people tend to change their cars about every three to four years. Most buyers also have a reasonably small amount of cash available to put down as a deposit. For this sort of situation, a PCP gives you a much lower monthly payment than an HP.

Alternatively, you can buy a more expensive car for the same monthly payment (which is what has generally happened over the last decade).

However, there is a large caveat – at the end of the agreement, you have to take action of some sort to settle the outstanding debt (the balloon). If you don’t, you will be stung hard.

For a car dealer or car manufacturer, the personal contract purchase has two main benefits:

  1. Lower monthly payments on a PCP mean more customers can afford more of their cars
  2. Customers can’t usually afford to pay off the balloon amount, so they are effectively forced to buy another car on another PCP. As a result, the dealer/manufacturer has a good opportunity of securing repeat business.

Continued on next page: How a PCP works
Keep reading: What are the disadvantages of a PCP?

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Stuart Masson
Stuart Masson
Stuart is the Editorial Director of our suite of sites: The Car Expert, The Van Expert and The Truck Expert. Originally from Australia, Stuart has had a passion for cars and the automotive industry for over thirty years. He spent a decade in automotive retail, and now works tirelessly to help car buyers by providing independent and impartial advice.

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  1. Hello, I had a car its PCP but at the end of the contract the finance company want me to pay the total balance of £11,000 but the current market value of the car is £7,000 I dont have money to pay off the negative equity as such I cant swap it for another. No finance compay accept to finance the £11,000 without me buying another car but i want to keep this car. Now the finance company said they will reclim the vehicle so what do i do.

    • Hi Tonio. If you want to keep the car then you have to pay the balloon figure – regardless of what the market value of the car is.

      If the settlement is £11,000 but the market value is only £7,000, you may want to consider handing the car back and buying a similar car for £7,000.

  2. Hi there, we collected a new car on pcp in march, had problems with it regarding it not being the same experience as the test drive from the 2nd week onwards has been taken back twice to dealership and they said theres nothing wrong with it but also not getting the correct mpg which was the deciding factor in getting a diesel over a petrol i now have lost faith in the car and want to stay with the same brand but move to a petrol what options do i have? also i have contacted the finance company and they have opened a investigation i have no idea what this entails any thoughts? many thanks

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