Every year around 6 million used cars change hands. Most of these sales run smoothly, going off without a hitch so both the seller and buyer end up happy with the transaction. However, sometimes problems can occur, so it pays to think carefully about the best place to go when looking for a second-hand car.

Private sellers

You’ve probably driven past parked cars with a ‘For Sale’ sign and price in the window. Some people list used cars in local newspapers and the internet is becoming increasingly popular. You can find private sellers everywhere but however you find them, you should always take care before completing a purchase.

Private sellers are only legally obliged to have the right to actually sell the vehicle, to make sure it is roadworthy (unless it is being sold specifically for spares or scrap) and to give an accurate description of the vehicle, which is usually ‘sold as seen’. It’s generally a good idea to have a vehicle checked out by an independent mechanic. As well as a thorough mechanical inspection, you should get a car history check to help rule out problems such as buying a car that has been stolen, or which still has debt attached.


Car auctions can be another great way to pick up bargains, but they’re not recommended for the inexperienced. The terms and conditions of an auction can vary but, as with a private seller, a vehicle will usually be sold as seen. Some auctions may also include guarantees or warranties for an extra fee, but these will usually be limited as to what they cover. You will have the opportunity to inspect the car before bidding so make sure you know exactly what to look for on the bodywork and under the bonnet, or take somebody who does.


Dealers and used car programmes can be a far safer solution when it comes to buying quality used cars. You might pay slightly more but there are several benefits. Firstly, there’s likely to be a larger choice, meaning you are more likely to find a specific car if that’s what you’re after. Dealers are also bound by the Sale of Goods Act and the requirements of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations. Dealers must prepare a vehicle before sale, which will mean checking the mileage has not been tampered with and running checks to ensure it has not been stolen. Many dealers will also offer their own range of guarantees, warranties and mechanical and other checks.