A guide to buying a used car from a dealership

Buying a used car can be exciting and stressful in equal measure, but purchasing a second-hand vehicle from a dealer is often the safest route. Amongst other factors, dealers are obliged to prepare the car before offering it for sale, including verifying the accuracy of the recorded mileage. Also, while buying from a dealer can be more expensive than buying one privately, you do have more legal protection if things don’t go to plan.

Here are a few steps you can take to make sure you avoid disappointment and end up with a reliable vehicle, no matter whether you’re looking for used cars in Dorset, or a Ford dealer in Hampshire. We talked to the RAC and HonestJohn.co.uk, who both helped us create this guide. The RAC assist both private and business motorists, and have more than 8 million members. HonestJohn.co.uk provides unbiased, independent advice for owners, buyers and sellers, plus in-depth reviews and the latest news.

You can also print our used car checklist to take with you when you visit the dealership.

Work out your budget

“Firstly, you should set your budget and if you already own a vehicle you should check its current market value. Carrying out a car valuation is an important first step in helping you make sure you get the correct price for your car, especially if you’re part exchanging your car with a dealer.” - RAC

Set your budget when buying a used car.

“The cost of motoring can be astronomical if left unchecked, so it’s important not just to look at the price of the car itself, but also how much it will cost to run over the medium and long terms. If you’re taking on a monthly payment (as do most buyers), you’ll need to add to that the fuel, car tax, insurance and any potential repairs, should you decide to keep it beyond its manufacturer warranty. This isn’t too complicated, but requires thought and planning – and the willingness to stick to your budget.”– HonestJohn.co.uk


When you find a reliable dealer, discuss finance payment plans with them. They should be SAF accredited and trained to present a range of finance and insurance products. Using dealer finance gives greater protection and options as you will be protected by the Consumer Credit Act. If you fund your car by a personal loan through high street lenders you won’t get the same level of protection.

Choose a reliable seller

All reliable dealers should display a trade associate member logo, which shows that the establishment follows a code of practice, and has a conciliation or arbitration service. However, if you cannot see one in the office or on paperwork, you can either ask the dealership directly or contact the trade associations, who should have a search facility on their website.

Online forums and reviews are another good source when seeking advice from others, and will help you suss out whether you should trust your initial gut reaction.

Mechanical checks

One of the most vital steps when buying a used car is to check the car’s condition, ensuring that it is aesthetically, electronically and mechanically sound.

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Look for signs of rust, mismatched paint and gaps between panels, which could end up being costly in the future, or be an indication that the vehicle may have been previously written off in an accident. Take a look at the tyre tread, and ensure a spare, and all the changing tools are provided.

Check all the car’s features work, such as the lights, windscreen wipers, electric windows, horn, and heating system, as it will be much easier to ensure these are rectified before purchase than after. You will also want to ensure that all dashboard warning lights are operating correctly, and if the car has a trip computer, get the dealer to run through its functions.


Run the engine and make sure that everything sounds as it should, check under the bonnet, and keep an eye out for any leaks. It is also highly recommended that you get a second opinion, such as using a paid-for service provided by a mechanic. This will help to give you added peace of mind.

“Any legitimate dealer will have no problem with a buyer having the car inspected by an independent professional and for around £150 you can ensure (as far as possible) that the car you’re buying is sound. This is not a guarantee, of course, but it’ll go some way to reassuring you. With the AA’s service for example, the results are usually given the same day.” – HonestJohn.co.uk

If you do find anything that you are unhappy with, agree any repairs or replacements with the salesperson. Then, before signing the contract, check that all agreed actions such as a service, paint/body repair, new MOT etc. are noted on the contract.

Take the car for a test drive

It is advised that anyone buying a used car should take a 15-minute test drive on a variety of roads. Start the car when the engine is cold, and when driving check gears, brakes, steering and suspension. Again, listen out for any odd noises such as knocks or bangs.

Take the car for a test drive

“Your insurance company should cover you for a test drive, but always check beforehand. When taking the car for a test drive, listen for any unwanted rattles, squeaks and knocks. Do the brakes stop the car straight and true? If you feel juddering, the discs may be warped. Does the car accelerate smoothly? If it's an automatic, do the gears change smoothly? Take in a variety of roads and speeds.” – HonestJohn.co.uk

History checks

Check paperwork thoroughly – ensure service history, previous MOT certificates (will help you work out if the vehicle has been clocked) are possessed by the dealer. You will also want to check the vehicle has a V5C registration document, be suspicious if this is a photocopy.

Check the VIN in four places:

  • at the base of the windscreen
  • under the bonnet
  • stamped under the chassis under the carpet on driver’s side
  • make sure this number also matches the log book

“Check the car itself for wear and tear consistent with the claimed mileage: if the steering wheel, gear knob and pedals are very worn – or brand new – this is suspicious. Confirm with the dealer that they have carried out a HPI check; this will highlight any outstanding finance or reports of being stolen. It will also raise any mileage discrepancies or show any history of the car being written off.” – HonestJohn.co.uk

“Check the car itself for wear and tear consistent with the claimed mileage: if the steering wheel, gear knob and pedals are very worn – or brand new – this is suspicious. Confirm with the dealer that they have carried out a HPI check; this will highlight any outstanding finance or reports of being stolen. It will also raise any mileage discrepancies or show any history of the car being written off.” – HonestJohn.co.uk

Check how you will be protected for your purchase

Before you purchase, make sure that you are wary of specific buying terms, checking that there is someone to turn to if you have a problem with the car/seller/warranty. Most dealerships will offer some form of warranty with a used car, which is usually 30, 60 or 90 days, and will cover most faults. You will also want to discuss extras such as service plans, GAP, and paint and fabric protection, which a reliable dealer will provide.

“It is also important to remember that buying a used car from a dealer provides you with more legal protection than buying one privately as dealers must adhere to the new Consumer Rights Act. The new legislation came into force on October 1st 2015, replacing the Sale of Goods Act, Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations and the Supply of Goods and Services Act, and all purchases from this date onwards will be governed by the act.” - RAC

Finalise the deal

Once you are happy with all of the above checks, you can then proceed to negotiate a price, and a date for full payment of the vehicle and collection.

Agree on a used car purchase

When the purchase is complete, the dealer will write a receipt for you both, and request the full terms of the deal in writing. It is also important that you fill in the new owner’s section of the V5C registration document, and ensure that the dealer is responsible for changing over your details with the DVLA. However, if you are part exchanging a vehicle, it is your responsibility to complete section 9 of the form, and send to the DVLA on collection of your new car.

Buying a used car from Foray

We hope that this guide removes much of the potential stress when buying a used car from a dealership, but wish to also remind you how Foray can help even further, with our list of unique benefits when you buy a used car from Foray. These include:

  • Foray Authorised Used – many of our used vehicles are supplied by us from new and have only had one previous owner, meaning low mileage and a full service history
  • Multi Point Vehicle Health Check – all used vehicles are thoroughly checked by us and any reported faults are fixed with genuine Ford parts
  • Warranty – many cars are still covered by the manufacturer warranty, although an extended warranty of 36 months can also be provided
  • Service Assure – we offer a £10 per month package to help you budget for your service rather than receiving a monthly bill
  • Ford Blue Service – a fantastic range of free facilities such as roadside assistance, accident management and insurance company liaison
  • Provenance Checks – every car is HPI checked by us to ensure the car is described to you exactly as it should be
  • 90 day pledge – if anything goes wrong within this time period, we will either cover the cost of the repairs, or contribute towards the bill
  • £100 Introduction Voucher – recommend us to a friend or relative and we will reward you with a payment of £100


Image Credit: Tax Credits, Mahela Munasinghe, daveiam, Pete, Flazingo Photos (flickr.com)