Where to buy a car from

When buying a car, you have many more options than just main or franchised dealers. Each has its advantages - and disadvantages

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These days, when buying a car, you have many more options than just your main franchised dealers. Each has its advantages - and disadvantages - so which is right?

There isn’t a correct answer but we’ll help explain the pros and cons of each to help you make the right decision. If it’s choice you are after, perhaps the main dealer or car supermarket is best.

For those looking to negotiate hard, a private sale could be the right path. Whether you want to try your hand at a car auction or prefer to trawl the private ads, we’ll list common sense advice and remember that My Car Check can give you all the details you need to know about any used car’s history.

Private Car Sellers

Buying from a private seller rather than a car dealer might appear daunting at first but there are many advantages too. Unlike a car sold from a forecourt, you can often see the environment in which it has been kept and meet the person who has owned it to discuss its history or condition. They may well be more open to negotiation on price, too. Nor will you be encouraged to take up any complicated finance deal on the spot either.

There are of course some downsides. You will have to arrange any finance yourself ahead of the purchase. And arranging a test drive might be more difficult: the car still belongs to the seller so he or she may be wary of a stranger driving the car, even if you are prepared to arrange specific insurance to do this.

The biggest worry is the provenance of the car: with a dealer, there is greater legal protection. This is why we would recommend an independent inspection of any vehicle, even one which is fairly new. And of course My Car Check can provide the reassurance that the car's history matches what the seller says, such as confirming there is no finance outstanding and that the car isn't stolen.

Don't be afraid to get down and dirty with the car either. Look under the bonnet to check the condition of hoses and fluid levels. And look underneath to check for damage and the condition of suspension components and the exhaust.

Even wear and tear items such as tyres and brakes will cost money to replace so ensure they are in good order - or negotiate on price. Most importantly, ensure all the paperwork is present and correct.

My Car Check top tips

  • Do your homework by understanding the various engine options and trim levels, and by checking prices of similar cars.
  • Try to meet at the seller's house and get a feel for how the car has been looked after.
  • Ask why it is being sold.
  • Ask to see all the paperwork: the V5C logbook shows the numberplate and VIN (chassis number) which must match up to those on the vehicle. (The car's VIN plate is usually visible at the base of the windscreen.) The MOT certificate can be checked on-line.
  • Look over all aspects of the car and check everything works, from electric windows to air conditioning.
  • Spend time looking at the bodywork for damage or repaired panels and ask about them.
  • Don't forget to look over all of the interior for damage and marks.
  • If you are uncomfortable inspecting a car, use a reputable firm such as the XXXXXXXXX
  • Ensure you do a history check
  • If you have ANY doubts about the car or the validity of the seller, walk away.

Independent Car Dealers

Buying a car through an independent dealership certainly comes with a number of advantages but this doesn't mean you shouldn't do your homework or check out the car properly. However, it does mean you have stronger consumer rights than when buying from a private seller and there are other benefits too.

A dealer might consider taking your old car as part exchange. It might be able to offer a finance deal on the new car too, although it is always sensible to make enquiries ahead of the visit so as not to feel pressured into what may not be the best terms for you. Any good independent dealer keen on maintaining a good reputation will have ensured the car has had any necessary repair work carried out too.

The downside is that the car may carry a slightly higher price than that of a private seller, to allow the dealer to cover costs of premises and services. The dealer is also more likely to be a skilled negotiator, so don't be afraid to haggle on price.

Things to ask of an independent dealer before agreeing to purchase a car:

  • Is it due a service (and will they do it for free - or at cost - before handover)
  • Is the MOT nearly due, in which case ask them to put the car through a fresh MOT test
  • Will they extend the warranty?
  • Ask for a reasonable test drive, with varied road types and speeds
  • What evidence of history check will they provide?

Remember, it is easy to run your own history validation with My Car Check to ensure the car has the desirable past the dealer says it has

Car Auctions

Perhaps the route to a used car most clothed in myth and secrecy is the car auction, but a steady number of private buyers use this method and with some care, it can save a good chunk of money over dealership prices. Remember, dealers often buy their cars from auction and add a profit margin before it sits on the forecourt. You will need to be confident, disciplined and have a good knowledge of cars (or a useful friend) to evaluate the condition of the stock.

Ahead of the auction, you will be able to review the catalogue and narrow down your selection to a sensible few cars. Do ensure you do your homework, and research properly the car's values. The inspection time is key too - and often it is only a small window of time so don't try and look at too many cars. Pick a small number but assess them properly. Some auctions will provide history checks but use My Car Check to provide a fast check on a car's background if you are in any doubt.

Remember, you will be mixing with professional traders, so it is important to stick to the price you have in mind and not get carried away in the bidding. If you are successful on a bid, you will have to pay the buyer's fee in addition to the purchase price. And don't forget you will need to ensure it is insured and taxed before it can be driven home.

If you haven't been to a car auction before, we'd recommend attending a few to understand the process before actually bidding on a car.

Franchise Dealership

Franchised dealerships usually have the more glamorous showrooms carrying bold manufacturers' logos. They are often the most appealing places to buy a new or used car but like any other route to your next car, there are both advantages and disadvantages.
The main advantage is that the dealer must work to a certain standard to maintain the manufacturer's franchise, and this means the services they offer and the standard of the showroom must be maintained to a good level.

It does mean that the customer is often helping to pay for a prime location and usually a smart building. It is however, likely to be able to offer a good range of cars - and have access to others at alternative sites (most main dealers are owned by larger companies).

Main dealer premises usually have a comprehensive workshop, so should be able to rectify any issues they find on your car before you take the keys. The car is likely to come with a warranty too, and the dealer should be able to offer you a wide choice of finance options.

Remember, dealer staff are trained in the art of selling so don't feel pushed into a contract and consider walking away for a while to consider if the car and finance package is exactly what you want. On the up side, dealers are measured on targets, so month ends and quarter ends are often good times to secure the best deals.

Find a Car Dealer

One of the key considerations when buying a new or used car is where the nearest dealership is. Finding one nearby is handy not only to view the car but for any subsequent visits - and might influence your choice of brand if there isn’t a dealer conveniently close.
There is little to beat an internet search and most manufacturer web sites have a dealer locator feature to allow you put in your post code and they will list the nearest dealer locations.

For other outlets and services, the internet is also the easiest place to start and remember to look for comments and feedback to seek efficient, cost-effective and friendly service.