Around eight million used cars are sold a year. While buying new is generally considered the gold standard in car purchasing, there’s sound evidence for purchasing second (or even third) hand. Looking for the best used cars to buy is much like perusing an antiques sale – while you might come across a few old jalopies in desperate need of repair, there’s also a good chance you’ll find exactly what you’re looking for. To help you in your search, here’s a guide on the best second hand cars to buy.
Second Hand, First Place
While the best-selling second hand cars tend also to be the most reliable, it’s still worth inspecting them thoroughly before you drive away.
Even if your chosen model has a solid reputation, it might also come with problems that can impair your motoring enjoyment further down the road.
There’s thousands of used cars out there on the market, but to help narrow things down for you, here’s a shortlist of some of the best second hand cars to buy right now.
Skoda Octavia (2013)
A firm favourite amongst car buyers, hatchbacks top the list for the most frequently bought style of car in the UK alone. The Octavia might be one of the pricier option out there – but that’s all the more reason to seek out a second hand model. It’s roomy – both inside and out, making it a perfect choice for growing families – but despite it’s hefty size and 1.2 litre engine it’s surprisingly agile, getting up to speed from around 1400rpm with little effort involved, and plain sailing at motorway speeds thanks to a standard six-speed manual gear box with a tall top gear.
The Sports Model
Honda S2000 AP2 (2004-2009)
Honda is renowned for it’s reliability (a key consideration when buying second-hand) – but the S2000 shows that durability needn’t come at the expense of a good time. With a high-revving engine and peppy suspension, the S2000 is a great sporty little number capable of running like new, even while it clocks up the miles. If you’re buying a used model, it’s generally best to buy as new as you can: less thirsty than it’s predecessors, the AP2 is a solid choice if you want a performance roadster that offers more miles for your money.
Toyota Land Cruiser 2.8 TD Invincible
Speaking of reliability, purchasing a used 4×4 can be fraught with technical issues: if they’ve been around the block (or ravine, mountain or forest) a few times, they’re more likely to have sustained damage than other cars – that said if youre looking for a big, mean off-roading machine with the ability keep going mile after bumpy mile, the TD Invincible more than lives up to it’s name. Behemoth in size (weighing in at a whopping 2,930kg), yet virtually unstoppable thanks to a 2.8 litre diesel engine, the Invincible shows that when the going gets tough, the tough really do get going.
The Luxury Car
Ford Mondeo (2014-present)
In terms of dependability, the Mondeo is streets ahead, with just 13% of owners in a Whatcar survey reporting any faults (with any faults being related to the exhaust and engine electrics). While it’s blocky exterior might not set any hearts racing, it’s spacious interior, dual-zone climate control and deft handling offer a smooth, comfortable ride for the executive driver on a budget. There’s plenty of options available ranging from 1.0litre engine all the way up to a 237bhp 2.0-litre engine – and you can even choose from a diesel or hybrid model. If buying second-hand, keep an eye out for any little extras such as tinted windows and keyless entry, and you might be pleasantly surprised. Now out of production, it’s likely to become a rare find in the years ahead – so while the jury’s still out on it’s future classic status, it might well be worth investing in.
The City Car
BMW Mini Cooper (2013)
While the original 2001 reboot caused a stir, it wasn’t always for the right reasons: luckily by 2007 the majority of issues surrounding cooling issues, power and durability had been ironed out, with the welcome addition of a turbocharged 1.6 litre four cylinder engine. Often considered a “heart over head” purchase due to it’s nostalgic appeal, buying a used Mini Cooper does require a little forethought: parked snugly in the sweet spot between the floundering first generation model and the nice-but-notably unchanged third, the 2013 Mini Cooper proves that sometimes, first is the worst – but second is best.
The Pros And Cons
Before heading to your local used car dealership, it can help to first weigh up the positive – and not-so positive aspects of used car ownership.
- From the moment it leaves the showroom, a car drops in value by around 20%, and within three years, many have already lost up to two-thirds of their value – but don’t worry, this is a good thing – because in other words: lower depreciation equals a cheaper car.
- The best used cars to buy are usually found within manufacturers approved used schemes. They do cost more – although the customer experience is similar to that of new car owners.
- Purchasing from a non-specialist (but reputable) dealer is still more costly than buying privately – but comes with the reassurance of added back up should any hitches occur.
- Increases in extended warranties offer greater peace of mind to drivers of previously owned vehicles.
- Uncertainty about the car’s history can come into play, including any “clocking” or tampering with recorded mileage (if you’ve ever watched or read Roald Dahl’s Matilda you’ll know what that means).
- All used cars should come with a complete service history, but if you’re not sure, you can always purchase a history check.
Your Used Car Checklist: What to Look For
Most privately-bought used cars are “sold as seen”, although not everything may be as it appears – so check the general condition of the car and make the following inspections – before making your decision.
Look under the bonnet for any signs of rust or flaking paint at the panel joints near the front of the car, as this can indicate repairs made after a crash. Open and shut all the doors and boot to check they function properly – including locks, and inspect rubber seals for signs of paint – as this can be another sign of a post-crash repair. Also check carefully along the sides of the car to see whether all the panels and bodywork line up: look out for wavy panelsor ones with uneven gaps.
If the car is low-mileage – yet the seats and pedals appear very worn, watch out: this could be a sign of “clocking”.
Assess the condition of the tyres, including sidewall damage and tread depth – and be aware that uneven wear could indicate wheel misalignment.
Look under the car and on the bodywork for rust.
Check the oil dipstick and interior of the oil filler cap – if there is any brown sludge, avoid at all costs – quite literally. This is a sign of engine damage, meaning there will be expensive repairs to make.
Clean engine bays could indicate dirty work – meaning that whoever cleaned it may have had something to hide.
Check to see that all other items are in working order, including any electrical components such as sunroofs and stereos.
On a test drive, your brakes should feel responsive, with enough stopping power to bring you to a halt when travelling at speed. The steering wheel should rotate smoothly from lock to lock, minus any strange noises or vibrations – and the gears should be able to engage smoothly without any clutch-grinding when fully depressed (a stiff or weak clutch pedal can also be an indicator of worn components, so beware).
While idling, the engine should be smooth and rev evenly. It might appear obvious, but clouds of blue smoke when you rev the engine are a clear indicator of excessive internal engine wear, so check for this too. Another costly repair comes with the exhaust system – so check that this is functioning well.
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