What to ask when buying a used car

What do you need to look out for when buying a used car?

I’m in the market to buy a new car, and suddenly every man I’ve ever met wants to give me advice on what to look for in a used car. Given that most of the guys I know have never so much as stuck their head under a car bonnet, their involvement is well meaning but ultimately NOT THAT HELPFUL.

These days though, I’m not sure how much advice I need from my Dad. I’ve been driving for 25 years – and I have a pretty good idea of what to ask when buying a used car.  Actually I didn’t even tell my Dad I’m buying a new car. I just don’t want to hear about all the terrible things that could go wrong (is it just my Dad who does this?) 

Anyway, these are the five questions I always ask when looking at a used car:

How much space does it have?

My current vehicle (a Honda CR-V) has a massive 600-litre boot space, which comes in handy when you’re transporting a hockey goalie kit, or a bunch of paddles and paddleboards on a weekend road trip. My current car can easily handle a boo full of gear and one or two kayaks on the roof. Contrasted with when we reviewed a Citroen Aircross, which is a gorgeous car, but struggled to fit Flea’s hockey bag…

Citroen C3 aircross review

Is it reliable?

As a single parent one thing I always ask when buying a used car is about the reliability. I look at the charts produced by the likes of Which and AutoTrader. I never want to be stuck on the side of the road with a child, if I can help it. This gives you an idea of how likely a specific car model is to develop a fault within a year of you buying it. When buying a used car also ask about how many owners the car has had, miles on the clock and whether it’s been involved in any accidents.

How safe is it?

Not all cars are created equal when it comes to safety. Check out a car’s Euro NCAP rating – the higher the number of stars, the safer the car. You should probably also check out the car’s safety features like reversing cameras and parking sensors, automatic emergency braking and lane departure warnings. Cars from Skoda often perform really well here.

car mpg

Is it affordable?

This is a big one. With the cost of fuel rising and everyone watching the pennies, it’s important to know about the running costs of a used car before you buy. There are three important things to ask about here:

  • What’s the MPG for your chosen fuel and type of driving? My Honda does 48mpg, which makes it pretty affordable for its size. I tried a Volvo a few years back but the mpg was too low for me.
  • What’s the insurance group? Again, the CR-V is group 24/50, which puts it in the middle for insurance premiums. Check out the insurance group for your preferred vehicle here.
  • What is the finance like? If you aren’t paying upfront in full for a car, it’s important to understand the potential monthly cost for finance, and whether you’ll be approved. You can often do a quick eligibility check online (that won’t affect your credit score) which will tell you if finance is available to you. As a single parent, this is a bonus because finding the right credit can be a headache.

volvo xc90 review picture

How old is it?

My last advice when it comes to what to ask when buying a used car is the age. Are you buying new, nearly new or used? I’ve done all three in my time and while having a new car is great, the best cars I’ve bought have been 2-3 years old – new enough to still be in great condition with some manufacturers’ warranty remaining, but old enough that you’re not paying a stupid premium for a brand-new vehicle.

I bought my current car from the dealer, and it had been used for staff at the dealership and test drives. By the time I bought the car, it had 8,000 miles on the clock and was 10 months old.

My car has been amazing but it’s starting to show its age after seven years of pretty high mileage. I want to replace it with something newer and more reliable. Over the next week or two I’m hoping to find a Honda CR-V or Kia Sportage to replace it – wish me luck!