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4th February 2020

What to consider when looking to change your car

changing your carLooking for a new car can be exciting, but it can also be a complex decision which takes into account a number of different factors.  The right car for you will vary depending on how you use a car and what your longer-term expectations are.

Here are some of the things that car buyers should consider before they start their car search, and when they are looking at cars online or at dealership.

What to look out for when purchasing a car


For most people this will be the first consideration. Your budget will then almost certainly influence some of the other factors below.

Unless you have the money ready to buy your new car then you will probably be looking to finance your car purchase. There are various options available to you, and one of the most popular approaches is a hire purchase arrangement. Think about how much you can comfortably afford to pay each month and the size of the deposit you would like to put down when you find your chosen car.

New or used

Are you looking for a new or used car?  A new car comes with the peace of mind that it is covered by a warranty and there should be no unexpected or hidden maintenance problems. When buying a brand-new car, you can also make certain decisions about the features you want on the car, the colour and interior. A used car will, of course, cost less than a comparable car from new and as a used car owner you won’t lose as much money through depreciation.

Size and space

How do you use your car and what space do you need? Think about whether you regularly carry passengers, do you need to install children’s car seats? If you do then a five door is probably essential. Is boot space important? Buyers with small children or who are planning a family might want to consider how a pram or pushchair would fit in the boot of the car and how much space would then be left for other items.

Fuel type

Petrol, diesel or electric. Some people will have a clear idea or preference, but for others it might not be a deciding factor.  How and where you intend to drive the car should influence this decision.

Running costs  

Check the car tax payable, the cost of insuring the car and the fuel efficiency. All of these factors will give you an idea of the overall running costs for a particular vehicle.

If you are looking at a used car, you’ll also want to consider the following factors:

Age and mileage

An older car might require more maintenance, but if it has low mileage that might make it a more attractive proposition. It is often a good idea at the beginning of a car search to decide on an age limit and an upper mileage limit. This will help to focus your used car search.

Service history and previous owners

In addition to age and mileage, taking into account the number of previous owners and whether a car has full service history can help as part of the buying process. Full service history will give you a clear indication of the work that has been done and how well the vehicle has been looked after.

Check HPI or another finance history checker (cost around £20.00) to ensure the sellers owns the vehicle and not a finance company – very important.

Make sure a trader is trustworthy

If you’re buying from a trader (a business that sells cars) you should:

  • look for an established firm with a good reputation
  • look for a trade association sign (for example, the Retail Motor Industry Federation or the Scottish Motor Trade Association) or a sign that says they follow The Motor Ombudsman’s code of practice – this means you can act through a trade association if something goes wrong
  • look for a trader whose cars have been inspected by an independent engineer or motoring organisation

Check a car’s history

Doing some simple checks will reduce your chances of buying a car that’s being sold illegally or has had major repairs. You can also find out if the current owner still owes money on the car.

It doesn’t take long or cost much. You should consider doing this no matter who you buy from.

Check the car’s details with the DVLA:

  • registration number (on the number plate)
  • MOT test number
  • mileage

Use the DVLA’s free online vehicle information checker to make sure what the seller tells you matches the DVLA’s records.

If some of the minor details don’t match, you can ask the seller to clarify – it might be a simple mistake. But if you’re suspicious that the seller gave you fake details then you shouldn’t buy the car.

Check the MOT and history

Vehicles need regular MOT tests to make sure they’re safe for the road. You should check that MOT tests have been done regularly throughout the car’s history (most cars over 3 years old need an MOT test every year).

Check the MOT history of a car on GOV.UK. This is a free service.

Ask the seller about any gaps in MOT – don’t continue with the deal if you’re suspicious of the MOT history. A car might not have needed an MOT if it was unused for a period of time and was registered as SORN (statutory off road notification).