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I need a new car for work but I can’t afford to buy a new one so I’ve been looking at second-hand options. I’ve heard so many horror stories about people buying cars that turn out to be faulty. I’m worried that I won’t know what to check, especially as I know very little about cars. How can I make sure I don’t buy a dud car? 



For many people, buying a car is a major purchase and whether it’s new or second-hand, the process can seem daunting and complicated. But don’t worry, there’s lots of information on the steps to take when buying a car and what you can do afterwards if something goes wrong on the Citizens Advice website: – search “buying a used car”.

First of all, where are you going to buy the car? If you’re buying from a trader, choose a trustworthy one with an established name with a good reputation. Ideally, they will be part of a trade association or follow the industry’s code of practice.  If you’re buying via an auction, this is much riskier as you’ll have fewer legal protections like the right to returns or refunds so read the terms and conditions carefully before you bid.

If you buy from a private seller, there’s a few extra steps to take. For instance, try to inspect the car at their home address so if something goes wrong later, you have a record of that. 

Make sure the car’s details are correct by using the DVLA’s free online vehicle information checker at  You’ll need the registration number, MOT test number, mileage and make/model of the car to do this check.  You can also check the car’s MOT history on this website.

Keep a copy of both these results (take a screenshot or download the information) as well as the original advert or description of the car. You might also consider getting a private history check to see if the car’s been reported stolen, still has money owing on it, or has been in a serious crash. This will cost about £20. 

Before buying a car, it’s good to check if it meets emissions standards as it could mean paying extra charges when driving through London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) or clean air zones across the UK.

Inspecting the car is crucial before buying. Ideally, do this during the day when it’s not raining (scratches are harder to see on a wet car) and take it for a test drive for at least 15 minutes and on different types of roads, if possible. Check you have the appropriate insurance for a test drive (either your own or the seller’s policy might cover you).

Once you’ve decided on a car, don’t be afraid to negotiate on the price. If you take out a loan or finance to buy it, make sure you can afford the repayments over the lifetime of the contract. If you pay with cash, you will have fewer protections than other options like debit.

Often, despite doing all these checks, you might find something wrong with the car after you’ve bought it. You may have a legal right to a repair, the cost of a repair or some money back but it’s on a case-by-case basis: some examples might be the car’s mileage is wrong or the car keeps breaking down.

For more information, check out the Citizens Advice website or call its consumer helpline on 0808 223 1133.

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