How To Buy A New (Used) Car

By: John Evans

Used cars are popular. Despite inflation, interest rates and mortgage costs, in 2024 almost 7.25 million are expected to change hands, slightly more than in 2023. Will you be buying one? It could be a good time to do so. Experts reckon that, after all the turbulence of recent years when used car prices actually increased before falling as 2023 drew to a close, things are set to be calmer and more predictable as business returns to a near pre-covid normality. When buying a big-ticket item such as a car, it's good to know where you stand. Here's how to get the new, used car of your dreams in 2024.
 

Where do I start?

Since it's your most valuable asset, start with your present car. Find out what it's worth by having it valued by an online car buying service such as Carwow, which you can find via MotorEasy. Describe your car accurately to get a fair valuation.

Which cars have increased most in value?

Because fewer new cars were sold in the covid years, three to four-year-old cars are in relatively short supply and so worth more money. Cost-of living pressures mean cars worth less than £5000 (so worth around £6000-£6500 on the forecourt) but in good condition are also desirable and worth more. Your old diesel car could be worth more than you think, too. The world may be moving to electric but used car buyers still appreciate diesel cars' impressive fuel economy, effortless pulling power and ability to do well over 100,000 miles.

Should I sell my old car privately or part-exchange it?

Part-exchanging your car with a dealer who can sell you its replacement is undeniably convenient. If they intend to retail your old car, rather than sell it to the trade, they may offer you a higher price for it, too. Make sure you know the market value of your car and be careful not to lose sight of what it will cost you to change from it to the new one.

Selling privately should get you a better price for your old car but it can be a lot of hassle. If you're tempted, aim to price your car between its market value and the price dealers are asking for the same model. Alternatively, sell your car through MotorEasy, which has teamed up with Carwow to give sellers fair prices for their cars.

What car should I buy?

Be clear what you want and need from your next car but accept you may have to compromise. For example, SUVs are popular with people seeking a roomy interior, good visibility and a heightened sense of security but a hatchback may be cheaper, more economical and only slightly less practical. City cars are nippy and great in town but can struggle on longer journeys with a full load. Electric cars are becoming cheaper and their driving range is increasing but unless you have a driveway, you'll have to charge it at public chargers which can be expensive and unreliable.

Whatever car you plan to buy, consider its running costs and, given how much premiums have increased recently, find out what it will cost to insure. Also, think of the future. By this, we mean choose a car you'll be able to resell easily and for a good price when you've finished with it. Examples include a VW Golf, a BMW 2 series coupé and a Range Rover Evoque.

What will the best used car buys be in 2024?

As the car market returns to normal and new cars become more plentiful, nearly new cars are expected to become cheaper, making them top-value buys. At the same time, as car makers come under pressure to ensure 20% of their new car sales are zero-emission vehicles, expect new EVs to be heavily discounted, so forcing down the prices of nearly new ones and making them good buys, too.  

The same discounts are likely to encourage company fleets to replace their cars with new EVs, meaning high numbers of ex-company petrol and diesel cars are likely to enter the market at low prices. The mileages of these cars may be higher than usual but with solid service histories, they'll also be good buys.

Used hybrid cars that combine an engine with an electric motor have fallen out of favour in recent months, mainly because of their high prices. We expect these prices to fall in 2024, making bargains of models including the MG HS Hybrid, Seat Leon Hybrid, Citroën C5 Aircross Hybrid, Cupra Formentor Hybrid and Renault Megane Hybrid.  

Where should I buy my car?

Here are your options –

Privately: Good for a bargain and a chance to meet the seller since you can tell a lot about a car from the person who owns it. Although you have little consumer protection, the seller must have the right to sell the car, it must be as described and it must be safe to drive. Once purchased, put a mechanical warranty on it from MotorEasy.
 
Dealers: Main dealers offer approved used cars but they can be oversold, with the cars often being expensive and not always well prepared, so be wary. A good alternative is a well-run or long-established independent dealer with a reputation to protect.
 
Car supermarkets: These have lots of vehicles and plenty of choice, while the switched-on ones change their prices almost daily to reflect market trends. However, their preparation standards can be hit and miss, some cars are ex-rental and sales people often seem more interested in selling paint protection and other expensive add-ons.
 
Online sellers: Distance selling laws mean you actually enjoy greater consumer protection buying online. If you're comfortable buying without seeing the car in the metal, it's very convenient but you won't be able to test drive it and the part-exchange offer is likely to be low because your car hasn't been properly inspected and is just one of hundreds of trade-ins. The upside is that the best ones describe their cars in detail complete with supporting evidence.

How should I inspect the car?

Take an uninterested but expert friend with you; someone who sees the car for what it is rather than what they hope it to be. Regardless of who is selling it, assume it has a problem – you've just not found it yet. Using a magnet, check for bodyfiller and, with your most dispassionate head firmly in place, pore over every millimetre of the car scrutinising panel gaps, paint finish and interior trim before checking that every last feature works and that all warning lights go on before going off.

Carefully go through the service history and supporting workshop invoices before either seeing proof of a fresh vehicle history check or buying your own. Ideally, for the test drive, take the car along a mix of familiar roads checking the brakes, the action of the gearbox and listening for unusual noises. Don't make conversation but remain focused.

 
Now you're ready to buy your dream, used car!
 

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