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Used car special: How to find the best pre-owned motors

Thinking about buying a second-hand car? Our guide will help you find the best way to a used bargain

Buying a new car - either brand new or pre-owned - is one of life's greatest moments.

However, setting out to buy a car is one of the largest spends you'll make so it's always best to come armed with knowledge about makes, uses and prices.

The best thing about a used car is value for money. That's because the first stage of depreciation is already over with.

There are of course different ways to buy a used car but the safest bet is to purchase one from a reputable dealer.

This may not always be as cheap as buying from an owner, but it's the safest and least complicated. A good rule of thumb is if you're not completely certain about what you're doing: stay mainstream.

In the trade, used cars are usually priced 'nearly new' or 'used'. Nearly new cars are up to one year old, with many looking virtually brand new.

Older used cars are often segmented into two categories - one to three years old, and over three.

Nearly new and used cars often have very low mileages and have thousands of pounds off the new list price, so are often outstanding value.

Approved networks and dealers

One of the best surest ways is the manufacturers' approved networks, like Ford Approved, Audi Approved Used, etc. All car makers have their own products, and again, whilst often not the cheapest, they have the decided advantage of the sheer scale of their operations and the detailed knowledge their mechanics have of their own vehicles.

You can rest assured with approved dealers - as you can with mainstream garages - that the car's service history and mileage is genuine.

You'll also have peace of mind that their after-sales processes, mechanical breakdown guarantees, hire-purchase facilities, insurance, etc. are all above board.

Independent garages usually have models that span wider ages, but also they will have a wider choice of models from a range of manufacturers. You'll often find them less expensive an option, too.

Here, you'll find bargains including savings on the purchase price, and some keenly priced insurance deals as well. Many garages in Northern Ireland will also provide added value through servicing and repair deals.

Before buying a used car

Faults will soon be revealed with a test drive - and don't be afraid to insist on more than just a trip around the block.

Check the documentation (log book, etc. see below) and if appropriate, check it has a current MOT certificate. If buying from a proper dealer, check if he or she will stand over any issues and for how long.

Watch out for a proper service history and check the mileage. A range of companies including HPI will check the car's background, sometimes for free, for issues like mileage, insurance history and more.

When you buy from a reputable dealer, the car's financial history will have been checked to show there are no outstanding hire purchase agreements on it and that it is neither an insurance total loss nor been stolen.

Make sure to check all documentation before entering into any finance agreement or warranty regarding a used car. Always read the small print!

What about reliability?

Customers often ask about reliability of pre-owned cars. Registered dealers by law have to stand over their cars for a minimum of three months.

According to a survey for What Car? this year, these are the ten most reliable used models:

  • Toyota Yaris (2011 -present)
  • Lexus CT (2011 - present)
  • Audi Q3 diesel (2011 - 2018)
  • Mitsubishi ASX (2010 - present)
  • Seat Leon (2013 - present)
  • Lexus RX (2009 - 2016)
  • Honda Civic diesel (2012 - 2017)
  • Honda CR-V (2012 - 2018)
  • Honda Jazz (2008 - 2015)
  • Volkswagen Touareg (2010 - 2018)
  • Our top used car buying tips

Northern Ireland's Driver & Vehicle Agency (DVA) strongly recommends that anyone considering purchasing a used car privately should take following practical steps to limit the chances of being sold a stolen vehicle:

• Always have sight of the registration document V5 prior to purchase

• Check the vehicle identification number (VIN) - sometimes called the chassis number - corresponds with the number on the registration document. This number can usually be found on a metal plate under the bonnet or is visible at the bottom of the windscreen on newer vehicles.

• If you have limited knowledge take an experienced person with you. Be very wary of handing over cash to someone who has been contacted through a mobile number.

• If necessary, use the likes of HPI or Experian to check if the vehicle has been seriously damaged, notified as stolen or is subject to outstanding finance.

There's a world of deals out there. The safest will be with approved schemes and reputable dealers.

After you've bought there remains the most important tip of all - sit back and enjoy your purchase.

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