An insider’s view on the smart way to shop for a second hand car

Woman In Car (1)

Sales of used cars are soaring in the UK as the effects of the pandemic alter many people’s daily travel routine. To find out how the used car market has changed and what potential buyers need to know before stepping on the forecourt or browsing online, we spoke to Ryan Tickler, a sales executive at a Suzuki dealership in Hampshire.

Dealerships up and down the country have reported a huge uplift in demand for used cars in recent months. Latest figures from industry body The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) revealed that more than two million second-hand vehicles changed hands between July and September – a 4.4% uptick when compared with this time last year1.

While it’s no surprise that people have been favouring cars over public transport in the midst of a global pandemic, the numbers do highlight how much the crisis has impacted our behaviour as consumers. Buying a car is a significant outlay for most people, so it seems many Brits are making big financial choices to support a new way of life.

Choose wisely if you want to save on fuel and tax

But why all the fuss over used cars? Ryan Tickner, sales executive at a Suzuki dealership in Hampshire, says that while cost is a major factor, many buyers are taking the long-term view, following the old adage that a new car loses 20% of its value as soon as you drive off the forecourt. All the same, people are generally still aiming for as new as they can get – which is a good approach if you can afford it. As a rule of thumb, Ryan says vehicles up to five years old will be more economical and likely cost less to tax.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean you should rule out a new car. With many dealers offering zero percent finance on such vehicles2, this may work out in your favour if a Personal Contract Purchase (PCP) plan is something you’re considering.

Act fast if you want to beat the end of year rush

During the first lockdown, British car auctions – where most dealers source their stock – were forced to close, meaning that many firms found themselves paying retail value for vehicles in order to meet growing demand. Autotrader reported that used car prices shot up by a record 6.1% in August3 and, with our salesman expecting an uncharacteristic December rush with lockdown restrictions easing, it’s likely we’ll see a repeat of this trend as dealers look to earn back revenue lost during the lockdown period.

But that doesn’t mean you won’t have haggling power if you’re looking to secure a competitive deal. Gone are the days when you can make a steal by paying cash up front, but Ryan says most dealers should still be prepared to negotiate. And while finding scratches and scuffs is unlikely to get you money knocked off, most firms won’t bat an eyelid at fixing bodywork issues, so this can be a good way of maximising value for money.

Watch out for vehicle scams and rogue dealers

With Action Fraud reporting an enormous 550% increase in vehicle scams since March4, it’s arguably more important than ever to find a reputable dealer in the current market. Ryan suggests that while many people are turning to social media and other online resellers to save money, you potentially open yourself up to a small minority of rogues looking to make a quick buck. Main dealerships continue to offer peace of mind in terms of quality of vehicle, since most have completed a full service – and sometimes an MOT – before you drive away.

Look beyond the forecourt

The evolution of the digital marketplace has transformed how we shop, and the motor industry has had to adapt and change with the times, even more so accelerated by the impact of Covid-19. You no longer have to physically walk into a dealership to buy a new or used car, there’s a lot of choice and good bargains to be had online. According to, digital car sales platforms have enjoyed a stellar year, with an increasing number of customers switching to digital to find their next vehicle. These so-called online car supermarkets offer consumers far more choice in one place than ever before, and you don’t even need to leave the comfort of your own home.

Of course, there are risks associated with buying online so we would always encourage you to do your due diligence and buy from a reputable source.

‘Click and Collect’ could be part of the future

As for the future of buying a car, an increasing number of dealerships have moved to offering a Click and Collect service whereby buyers pay a small deposit to secure their car of choice. Though many of us might see ‘kicking the tyres’ as part and parcel of buying a car, this option has proven surprisingly popular among consumers looking to social distance, and our salesman believes it could become the new normal for people looking to find their dream car.

Moreover, he says fewer customers are snapping up PCP plans on the spot, instead going away to explore other options before committing to purchase.

Taking a more cautious approach to financing a used car is a wise decision in the current climate, as Paul Went, managing director of our consumer lending division pointed out to us.

His advice to anyone looking to buy a used car, regardless of their financial situation, is to carry out a thorough and honest assessment of their finances before committing to a decision. Aside from calculating what your maximum spend is and how you intend to fund the purchase of the vehicle, he also advises that people think carefully about whether they would still be able to afford it if there was any change to their personal circumstances.

For example, if you’re currently working from home, would you be able to afford the monthly repayments on a finance deal if you were asked to return to the office and were required to start paying for a new season ticket to commute in? Or in a worst-case scenario, if you suffered a drop or loss in income, would you still be comfortable meeting repayments?

Thankfully, there are a range of financing options available. The research you put in at the beginning is absolutely essential as it will help you to get the best deal and minimise the risk of any financial complications further down the line.


1The Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders (SMMT)
4This is Money