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Car travelling down road.

Car Buying Tips

Buying a new or used car demands a significant financial outlay. Therefore it's important to make your car buying decisions carefully to ensure you buy a vehicle that's fit for purpose and represents good value for money. The following tips are designed to help you through the process.

What kind of car do you need?

Before you buy any car, it's worth spending five minutes listing the features you're going to need. That way, you're less likely to be swayed by sales patter and find yourself leaving the car showroom with a big 4x4 when you really needed a little run around.

Think about where you'll be parking the car at home and at work; who will be driving it; what kind of journeys will you be making; what leisure or business interests you need the car to accommodate. Answers to questions like these will help you determine whether you're looking for a small economical car that gets you from A to B or a model that can carry you, the kids and the kitchen sink in comfort, on long journeys or short hops.

How much will your new or used car cost to run?

Remember, no matter how big a bargain a new or used car appears to be, think about the running costs and whether you can afford the car week on week, year on year.

  • How much will you pay for car insurance?
  • What road tax band does it fall into?
  • How many miles per gallon will it do?
  • How much will it cost for servicing and repairs?
  • How safe is the car you're thinking of buying?

Safety's really important, especially if children will be riding in the car. Euro NCAP provides motorists with an independent assessment of the safety performance of popular cars sold in Europe. You can check out the safety rating for the model you're thinking of buying at www.euroncap.com.

Is the car value for money?

In the current economic climate, dealerships are keen to move cars out of the showroom or off the forecourt so you can often negotiate some great deals. You may be able to knock down the price of the car or negotiate extras to be included free - it's always worth a try.

If you're buying a used car, make sure you do your research first. Check online car sales sites and in your local paper to get a feeling for the average price you might need to pay for the make, model and age of car you're thinking of buying. Remember, most sellers will add a little extra onto the price because they'll expect you to haggle so you can probably knock them down a little.

Tips for buying used cars

You can get some great deals on used cars but you also need to be aware of potential problems if you want to save yourself money and heartache.

  • Make sure you view the car at the owner's home. Dodgy dealers will tend to avoid doing this!
  • Always insist on seeing the V5 registration document to ensure that the current owner is genuine and the car is theirs to sell.
  • Check for a valid MOT and ask to see the service history so you can make sure the car has been maintained properly.
  • Look for evidence of a crash - typical signs of repair work might include misaligned or different shaded panels; rough or pitted paintwork, fresh paint or poor repairs hidden under the boot carpet and spare wheel. Also, uneven wear on tyres could point to problems with the suspension.
  • Check that all the buttons, knobs and levers in the car work - including lights, windscreen wipers, electric windows, car heater etc.
  • Pay for a vehicle check - available from motoring organisations such as the AA and RAC or at www.hpicheck.com - to find out if the car has been stolen, clocked, written off or has outstanding finance recorded against it.
  • A vehicle inspection is often a good investment since it will point out problems that could change your mind or help you negotiate money off the price. Again, the AA and RAC offer these.

Take your new or used car for a test drive

Test drives are very important. Even if it's a brand new car, you need to know if you're going to find it comfortable to drive on long journeys. For used cars, a test drive will also indicate whether the car may have mechanical problems. However, before you drive it, make sure the car has a valid MOT and that you have appropriate car insurance.

If the owner is reluctant to let you drive the car, you can offer to leave some ID - such as your driving licence - as security. If they're still unhappy, get the owner to take you for a test drive. Make sure they turn the radio off and that they drive for half an hour or more on roads that can really put the car through its paces. Listen for unusual engine noises or sounds that might indicate worn brakes and, when you get back from the test drive, open the bonnet and look for signs of oil or radiator leaks (but take care not to burn yourself on hot engine parts!).

Paying for your car

Think in advance how you intend to pay for your new car. The dealership may offer you money in part exchange for your old car. They may also offer you a finance package but, if you do need to take out a loan, shop around to ensure you get the best deal.

If you are buying a used car, it's best to take the asking price, in cash, when you go to the viewing if you can. That way, if the car should be great value for money you can snap it up before another buyer comes along.

If you don't fancy carrying around too much cash, you may want to pay by cheque or bank transfer, but you will need to let this clear before you pick up the car from the current owner so ensure they give you a receipt.

Before you drive your new car away

You should check that the car has a valid MOT and that you have appropriate car insurance before you drive it away.

Don't forget to take the New Keeper section of the V5 logbook with you and complete your details and mileage of the car in the main section of the logbook. The seller of the car will then send this back to the DVLA who will send you a new copy of the V5 logbook that confirms you are the new owner.