Churchill magazine

Top tips when buying a new car

Updated on: 28 September 2020

buying a new car

Buying a new car can be a bit daunting, but we've put together some top tips to make the process a bit simpler.

Do your research

The Internet offers an unrivalled resource for researching cars.

Check reputable sites like for generic reviews to find out how manufacturers and models compare for reliability, running costs and depreciation.

Once you have drawn up a shortlist of the makes and models you like, research in-depth reviews to learn the specific pros and cons of each car.

Do enough research and not only are you more likely to end up with the right car for you, you’ll also find the dealers, classified ads and auction websites easier to understand.

Where can you buy your car from?

There are different types of car sellers – from expert main dealers to private sellers who know little about cars. Who you buy from could affect the type of car you buy, the price you pay and the level of service you get.

The prices displayed in the windscreens by main dealers are usually pretty high. The dealers will tell you that this is because you’ll benefit from their expert service, but remember, you should be able to negotiate a good discount.

Brokers can find you competitive prices for new cars, but you might have to travel to pick up the car, which will cost you time and money. Make sure the saving isn’t cancelled out by the travel costs.

Online dealers sometimes offer great prices, but don’t assume that an advertised car is actually in stock. Contact them to check before assuming you’ve found your new car. 

Independent car supermarkets offer a huge number of nearly new cars from popular manufacturers. For more unusual models, you’ll normally need to look elsewhere.

Depending on exchange rates, importers can offer competitive prices and avoid long UK waiting lists. Just ensure you pay extra attention to the specification to make sure you get what you need and that it can be insured in the UK.

Smaller independent dealers will normally offer a wide range of models but limited choice in terms of specification and colour and their prices will usually be higher than private sales.

Private sellers are increasingly using auction websites like eBay. You could find a real bargain, or you could end up with an expensive mistake. To reduce the risk of the latter, arrange for an expert to check the car out before making your bid.

Make sure you’ve read the contract

So, you’ve found the right car and you’re at the point where you want to pay a deposit. Ensure that you get a contract, or if buying privately, a receipt that details exactly what you have committed to buying, what you’ve already paid and how the rest of the transaction will proceed.

Make sure that both the car and personal details are correct on the contract.

The full price and any deposit paid should also be clearly identified.

If you are buying from a garage, always read the terms and conditions in full… then read them again!

Make sure that both parties sign the contract.

If you’re buying privately then there may not be a contract but you should always ask the seller for a receipt detailing the above.

What paperwork do you need?

Never overlook the sundry bits of paper that come, or rather should come, with a used car. Don’t be distracted by shiny paintwork or a loud stereo, ask to see the paperwork if any and start reading. If the seller makes excuses, don’t listen and look for another car.

A car without any official documentation could cause you problems when it comes to registering it in your name, while a lack of service history could be hiding some awful truth.

The documents you need are...

Service history

Ideally what you want to see is a folder or a file, full of the car’s service history, which is a good indication that the previous owner was caring and meticulous.

There should be receipts even for the most mundane items like tyres, exhausts and windscreen wipers in some sort of date order.

Look for the car’s registration number or owner’s details on the receipts for confirmation that they relate to the car. Read these because one bill might also say that the car has been completely rebuilt, or that the speedometer was changed rendering the mileage reading inaccurate.

Look closely at the stamps. Did the same garage do all the work? Is there a phone number of the garage or garages? Call them and ask them if they remember the car, most have computer records and are happy to help. Do the stamps look as though they were done at the same time? If so, this could be a forgery.

MOT certificate

A vehicle over three years old will require an MOT certificate.

The certificate is a printed document with one signature on it and will have no hand written alterations. There will be a peel off section on the bottom left hand side.

You can check the authenticity and also the recent MOT history online, but you'll need the registration number and the MOT test number. One way of confirming that the mileage is correct is to look through a succession of MOT slips and cross checking it with the reading in the car.

V5C document

Ask to see the vehicle registration document, known as the V5C.

If the seller doesn't have it, be suspicious. It means that you cannot check the car’s ownership and identity details.

Are there any spelling mistakes or alterations to the V5C? If so, it may be a forgery. Hold it up to the light as legitimate V5Cs have watermarks that read DVL.

If it's a private sale, ask for proof of the seller’s identity and address such as a driving licence, passport or electricity bill. Check that the same name and address is the same as given on the V5C.

Make a note of the previous owner’s address, as it is a good idea to contact them to ask about the car – they may tell you that it was damaged, unreliable, etc.

Check the V5C against the car. Look at the vehicle registration mark (the number plate) and the vehicle identification number (VIN) – this can be found on a metal plate in the engine compartment, usually where the bonnet closes at the front, and stamped into the bodywork under the bonnet and the driver’s seat.

Some cars even have the VIN etched on their windows, headlamps or mounted behind the windscreen at the passenger side of the dashboard. Make sure they haven’t been tampered with.

Getting your car delivered

Delivery times vary depending on whether you’re buying a new or used car and where you buy it.

New cars may have to be manufactured to order and can take up to six weeks for delivery and you can expect even longer if the car is being manufactured abroad.

Pre-reg and used cars should be ready for collection within two weeks of signing the deal.

When buying privately, things tend to move a bit faster so the handover can be affected as soon as funds have cleared.

If any work is required, either servicing or agreed modifications then be realistic and make sure a timescale for the work is agreed between all parties involved. 

Check your car when it’s delivered

Checking a new car
You might not think that very much needs checking on a brand new car, however plenty can happen between it leaving the factory and being put on a transporter and off again.

Usually most problems are dealt with during the Pre Delivery Inspection (PDI), whether it's body damage or a mechanical issue. Sometimes though, items can be overlooked or damage could happen minutes before you arrive.

Look at the invoice and ensure that the specification is the same as has been ordered. Occasionally an order code can be typed incorrectly and a buyer will get the incorrect option, so tick everything that you’ve ordered against the original order form that you signed.

Examine bodywork and interior
Look closely at the bodywork for any damage or what seems like fresh paint. If you have any doubts at all ask politely to see the PDI forms which should record what was checked and if any remedial work was carried out.

New cars traditionally have what is called a ‘delivery mileage’ amounting usually to less than 100 miles. There may be circumstances though where it may have been transferred between dealers by road. If the mileage seems very high to you then ask.

However, disappointed you may be at not collecting your new car, if there is a problem, you must reject the car until the issue is resolved. If the car is not what you ordered then there is a breach of contract.

Professional inspection
If you don’t think you are up to checking over a new car, especially if it is a very expensive one, then getting a qualified engineer to look at it would not be unreasonable.

Checking a used car
The important thing here is what you agreed with the car dealer. A year’s MOT, repainting a dodgy door, replacing an iffy battery? Ideally you should have written this into the original contract that you signed.

Make sure you get as much history with the car as possible, such as the service records and old bills, any MOT certificates, instruction manuals and things like that. This will make your car easier to resell in the future. Don’t accept any excuses, such as the dealer will post them on, because they probably won’t!

Examine bodywork and interior
Remember this is a used car, and you may well have missed the odd scratch or minor dent. It is perfectly possible that it could have been dented while cars are moved around on the forecourt. If you believe that there is fresh damage then refuse to take the car until you are happy with the standard of repair.

Never pay the balance of the price you have agreed with the dealer until you have inspected the car and are completely happy.

Checking a private car
All the same rules apply to buying privately, with one very important exception, you have virtually no legal comeback. Unless the seller has misrepresented or lied, the car is sold as seen, so be extra careful.

What if something goes wrong after you’ve bought your car?

If there’s something wrong with a car you’ve just bought, you need to act quickly. To avoid being stuck with a bad car just follow these simple tips...

Always keep all records and paperwork – you may need to refer to it.

If you think that the car is not as advertised, then let the seller know before you accept ownership of the car. If you’re buying privately then it might be more difficult to negotiate an agreement, so it’s all the more important to check the car out thoroughly before making an offer.

Private sales aren’t covered by the Sale of Goods Act, but you can still take legal action against the seller if their description of the car was misleading.

To reject the car formally, you should do it writing within two weeks. This will give you the best chance of a full refund, or of success in court should the case go that far. Send a letter to the seller informing them of your intention.

A garage may offer free extras or discounts as compensation. Make sure you think any offer is fair before accepting.

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