As part of our 'Ask an Expert' video series, we spoke to industry experts – leading vehicle retailers Simon Palmer (Hendy Group), Jonathan Allbones (The Car People) and Jason Pritchard (Wessex Garages). We gave them your most frequently asked questions about buying a used car. Hear their top tips on everything from the best time of year to secure a deal to when to walk away, in the video above – or read below for the full interview.
What are your best tips for buying a car?
Jason: The best advice I could give anybody who was buying a new or used vehicle would just be do plenty of research.
The Internet's a fabulous place to find out things like models, variants, pricing structures, values for part exchanges. So research, research, research!
Jonathan: The two big things I would say are do your research, and make sure you're clear on your parameters as well -know what you're looking for in your next car.
Simon: The best tips for buying a car – research. I think nowadays it's so easy for a buyer to research what they're looking for. Get your shortlist down to maybe two or three cars, and then obviously visit the dealerships to look at those particular cars.
Which areas of the vehicle should I inspect before buying?
Jason: I would take a good look of the exterior of the vehicle, look at the body panels and look for things like the lines between the panels to see if any are wide at the edge, which might indicate accident damage.
Look at colour variants around the bodywork because again they may indicate that the car's had some kind of accident damage.
Spend a lot of time looking at the interior, making sure there's no rips, burn marks, tears – because they could be costly to have put right.
What documentation do I need to see before purchasing a car?
Simon: Any reputable dealer should have all the paperwork relating to that car available, so the V5 or what some people refer to as the registration document, MOT certificates, handbooks, service history. All those sort of things are important relating to the car.
But provenance checks as well, so dealers should carry out certain provenance checks and be able to demonstrate to you as the buyer that the car's not on finance or hasn't been involved in any major insurance claims.
Are there any tips for getting the best deal?
Jonathan: Make sure you know how much the car should be, credibility of the dealer, is the finance package right for you, is it the right type of finance for how you're going to use the car, is the rate competitive, is there backup, is there warranty there, is the dealer trustworthy? Those sorts of things. Once you're happy you’ve ticked all the boxes, that's the time when it's right to buy.
Simon: The best deal is the one you're happy to pay, but generally I believe if you're happy with the deal that you're being offered, then that's the best deal. But if you're not too sure, then again, research. It's made very transparent and easy for you check what sort of deal you should be paying on a car nowadays.
How can I be sure that I’m paying the right price for the car on sale?
Jonathan: A lot of the dealers today – because the internet is so prevalent in people's research journey – any good dealer will be researching the market and understanding the right price for that car. However for your own peace of mind, again, use good websites so like Motors.co.uk – you've got hundreds of thousands of cars on there. As well as the car you're looking for, it gives you an idea that your price is right because you can compare it to other cars (even if that comparative car isn't in your area). The only thing you have to be careful with these days, is there are so many differences in specification and options and colours and obviously mileage as well, and they're all going to affect the value of that car. So it's making sure it's got all the bits that you want and you're happy the price you're paying is representative of that.
Simon: The right price is the price that you're willing to pay. Yes, of course dealers have a margin in vehicles and with some of those cars (if they've had them slightly longer), they'll be looking to give some of that margin away, to encourage you to buy that particular car. But again, it's all about this; you can test values, you can check values online, it's very easy nowadays to find out what a car is worth – but I must stress, it's really what you want to pay for that car.
What’s the best car you ever bought and why?
Simon: The best car I ever bought – goes back a bit – it was a 1968 Cortina 1600e. My father had one as a company car and I always pined and said I'd set my stall out to own one of those. That was my favourite car I've ever bought.
Is there a good or bad time of the week/ month/ year to buy a car?
Simon: Traditionally dealers have objectives to hit, be it new car sales or used car sales. If they haven't had a particularly good month those objectives become under pressure towards the end of the month.
People used to think 'I'll go at the end of the month to buy a car'. That can still be the case if a dealer's not performed particularly well.
In terms of times of week, there isn't really. We've noticed a shift – weekends are still busy but we've noticed the shift to a lot of business being conducted during the week, because so much of what a customer can do now is in their own front room. They can turn up on any day to test drive that car to prove it in action, so there's not really a busier time or a better time during the week, but sometimes during the end of the month can be the time when dealers might be looking to sell a few more used cars.
What discount on the advertised price is reasonable to expect?
Jonathan: Within the marketplace you'll have dealers who will price optically, so priced to the internet, and their price will be pretty transparent and that'll be very close to your transactional price – I would expect maybe a gesture or a small amount of discount.
Simon: People still come to us and expect discount off a motor car, it's not like a retail environment where they're happy to go in and pay the retail price. Having said that, the discounts have changed wildly over the last 10/ 15 years. Many years ago, dealers would have lots of mark-up across the car and then they would in some instances give 50-60% of that away to move the car.
I think good dealers now price their cars in line with market values. So discounts are a little bit smaller, but that's not to say that you shouldn't ask – because if you don't ask, you don't get.
When should I walk away from a deal?
Jason: If it's simply because you're unhappy with the part exchange value or you're not quite happy with the monthly payment for example, be open and honest with the salesperson that you're dealing with because there might well be something they can do to create a happy medium.
How easy is it to take a car for a test drive?
Simon: I believe it's our job as dealers to allow you as a customer to test drive as many cars as you want. If you go to Marks and Spencer to buy a shirt o