Buying a car Where to buy a used car
Start the search online
Once you've decided which car you're interested in buying using our reviews and Best Buy shortlists, the internet is a great place to start your search for the perfect used model. At a click, it can show you the details of hundreds of thousands of pre-owned cars, letting you narrow down your choices by comparing prices and specifications from the comfort of your home.
It’s important to note the differences between various types of used car websites though, as there can be a big difference in the level of reassurance they offer buyers.
Selective used car sites
Some websites offer cars for sale from selected sources only, to offer buyers peace of mind. Three of the biggest are AA Cars, RAC Cars and Trusted Dealers. These allow only dealers that meet set criteria to sell cars via their sites, and usually have more than 150,000 cars advertised for sale at any one time.
AA Cars and RAC Cars offer cars from both franchised and independent dealers, while Trusted Dealers is the web portal of the National Franchised Dealer Association and only advertises cars on sale at the franchises.
AA Cars and RAC Cars offer some added benefits, including a vehicle history check and free breakdown cover (AA 12 months, RAC six months). The AA will have inspected selected cars and provided a detailed report, or you can pay extra for a 128-point inspection on a car not already checked. The RAC, meanwhile, runs its RAC BuySure scheme; cars sold through RAC Approved Dealers will have had an 82-point check, and come with at least three months' RAC warranty and breakdown cover. However, note that non-approved dealers - and even private sellers - do also advertise on RAC Cars, so look for the BuySure certificate.
Used car supermarket chains
As well as advertising their cars on classified sites to reach the biggest audience, some big dealer chains and car supermarkets have their own websites. Cargiant and Motorpoint are two of the biggest, advertising (at the time of writing) around 7000 cars and 4000 cars respectively.
Reputable operators in this typically no-frills field will offer history checks and physical condition checks, though these may be extra-cost options in some cases. Motorpoint provides history checks and "comprehensive" pre-delivery inspections as standard, while Cargiant promises a "multi-point safety check", for example.
Traditional classified websites
The biggest of these is Autotrader, which regularly has listings for over 400,000 used cars. The sheer volume of cars on offer means you’ll have plenty to compare, and even buyers after rare models should be catered for. Motors.co.uk, which also aggregates ads for a number of other motoring websites, promises around 300,000 cars to choose from.
However, the listings are a free-for-all so you could find dodgy back-street dealer cars alongside ones for sale through franchised main dealers. This means you could bag a bargain or end up with a falsely described or even stolen car. With classified sites, remember that if a car’s price looks too good to be true, then it probably is.
You usually have to pay to sell your car privately through a classified site, but it’ll be displayed to the largest number of potential buyers. At the lower end of the market, private sellers often advertise through Gumtree Motors, which has nearly 135,000 used cars in its listings at the time of writing, or sell on eBay Motors (over 225,000 cars), either via its conventional auction process or 'Buy It Now' listings.
Your consumer rights
These will depend upon where you buy a second hand car. If you buy from a dealer, you have some protection under the Sale of Goods Act, which says that the car must be fit for purpose, be of satisfactory quality considering its age and mileage, and meet any descriptions in its ad or as told to you by the dealer.
If you paid for the car by credit card, you can claim against the credit company if you decide to reject the vehicle, or if you bought by debit card, you may be able to claim on the chargeback scheme. If you have financed the car by hire purchase, you could reject it via the finance company.
You have fewer rights when buying privately - there is not even any legal requirement for the car to be fit for purpose. However, the seller must, by law, describe the car accurately and not misrepresent it. If you buy at auction, you need to check the auction house's conditions; you have very limited legal rights.
Valuations are vital
Getting a valuation for both your trade-in and your potential purchase is vital so you know you’re getting a good deal. Some sites offer a basic expert valuation (not taking into optional extras, car condition etc), but they often want your email address in return for this.
Other websites team up with car buying sites and provide valuations. Previous Which? research showed the prices offered by online buying sites were often lower than the car’s trade-in value, so we’d recommend getting more than one valuation if you’re taking the free route.