Your guide to buying the best used car bargains in Northern Ireland
Are you pondering a decision about buying a pre-owned car? Before you take the plunge, check out our used car guide
Choices, choices, choices. New cars get most of the headlines because, well, they're shiny, innovative and new.
But most cars sold are used cars. And the truth is they're increasingly reliable, easy to purchase and a good investment.
True, it's hard to beat the smell and feel of a new car, but that said, it's hard to beat the price of a pre-owned car.
But just remember previously-owned cars need to have been well looked after - and have a proven service record - if they are to provide you with months and years of happy motoring.
There are of course different ways to buy a used car but the safest bet is to purchase one from a reputable outlet or dealer.
This may not always be the cheapest, 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.
The Used Car Trade
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.
One of the best surest ways is the manufacturers' approved networks. 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
It's critically important to test-drive your target car on the actual road. How does it feel? Are the brakes effective and reassuring? Are there rattles, smells or leaks?
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. Get a few miles up on the clock.
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 that 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. It's good practice to ask for proof of all checks.
Make sure to double-check all documentation before entering into any finance agreement or warranty regarding a used car.
What to buy?
It's actually pretty difficult to buy a bad car these days, such is the standard of cars and the competition between manufacturers. There are some cars that have lower safety ratings than others, but you can check things like this out outline with groups like Which? (linked to the Consumer Association).
Even used cars dating back a number of years are usually reliable. You can also purchase extended warranties from the likes of Warranty Direct and Warranty Wise.
If concerned, before buying go online and look up reliability surveys and data on the cost of spare parts. You'll be amazed at the amount of reliable data that's out there.
Good used cars regularly cited by Which? include the Ford Fiesta, Honda Jazz, Nissan Micra and Vauxhall Corsa.
Other award-winners this year include the Hyundai i20 (Used Car of the Year 2019 at the FirstCar Awards) and the Mercedes-Benz E-Class Estate (winner of the What Car? Used Car of the Year 2019).
Our top used car buying tips:
The DVLA 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:
Reg book: Always have sight of the registration document V5 prior to purchase
Car ID number: 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.
Bring a friend: If you have limited knowledge of vehicles take an experienced person with you.
Mobile phone numbers: Be very wary of handing over cash to someone who has been contacted through a mobile number.
Use online checks: It's usually a very good idea to 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. Legit dealers are very likely to have already done this and can show you the paperwork.
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.