What is the best way to buy a car?

The best way to buy a car is dependent on your preference, your personal circumstances and on your desired vehicle. For instance, if you have the necessary savings and have identified a particular good value used car deal, buying a car outright privately might suit you well. Whereas if you are looking for a brand-new car and can commit to monthly repayments over an agreed period of time, buying a new car from a main dealer might be better.

Once you’ve researched and decided on the type of car you want to buy and have understood your affordability, you need to compare the options of how and where to buy a car. There are several common ways to buy a car, all of which have their pros and cons. Because of this, the best way to buy a car is dependent on your preference, your personal circumstances and on your desired vehicle.

The most common ways and places to buy a car are:

  • Buying a car privately
  • Buying a used car from a dealer or garage
  • Buying a car at an auction
  • Buying a new car

Let us take you through the various options to help determine the right method for you.

What is the best way to buy a car

Buying a car privately

Buying a car privately from a private seller is a popular method of buying a car and could save you money in comparison to buying from a dealer or garage. If you’re looking for a car which is a popular make and model, you can often find lots of choice in the private seller market, allowing you to find a car with the right finish, mileage and history.

Buying privately can sometimes feel daunting as you are dealing directly with the car owner, without the added protections of a garage – particularly where warranties and breakdown cover are factors. Hence, there are some key tips and advice you should consider before buying a car privately.

Tips to remember when buying a car privately

  • Ensure the seller has the rights to sell the car and that all paperwork is present, correct and consistent.
  • Ensure the condition of the car matches its description, has a valid MOT and is roadworthy. Our car condition checklist will help make sure you don’t miss anything.
  • Test drive the car to check its condition and suitability, to ensure it matches the description. Our test drive checklist lists all the important checks to make when test driving a car.
  • Don’t be afraid to try and haggle or negotiate the price. This is commonplace when buying a car privately, with sellers often considering this when setting their original selling price.
  • Undertake a HPI check to ensure that the vehicle you’re buying doesn’t have any outstanding finance attached to it. This is important as even if you’ve bought the vehicle in good faith, the finance company can repossess the vehicle as it legally belongs to them.
  • Don’t be afraid to walk away from a potential deal if you’re unsure about the legitimacy of the car or of the owner. If something doesn’t feel right, it might be best to go with your instincts and wait for another car to come along.

Buying a used car from a dealer or garage

Buying a used car from a dealer or garage is very common. There are often bargains to be had and with an added layer of consumer protection, buying confidence increases. Buying a car in this way can range from buying from a main manufacturer dealer who stock used cars, to small garages or independent driveway sellers with much smaller amounts of stock.

  • Look for an established dealer or garage with a good reputation. Traders who are part of trade associations like the Retail Motor Industry Federation for example, add a layer of protection to your purchase should anything go wrong.
  • A dealer or garage is likely to have put the car through some level of inspection or service before putting it on sale. While this could come at a price, it can offer peace of mind that the car is in good condition and is safe to drive.
  • As with buying a car from a private seller, be sure to check all relevant paperwork and the car’s history, to ensure it is accurate and legitimate. Undertake a HPI check to ensure the vehicle doesn’t have any outstanding finance.
  • Many garages will offer a warranty or guarantee with their car sales, either complementary or at an added cost. Usually this will cover any major faults which could occur, but it’s best to check the terms and conditions to be sure of what your warranty covers and for what time period. See our guide on warranties to find out more.

Buying a car at auction

Buying a car at auction can be a great way to find a good deal, though it can also be risky as you probably won’t have the same legal protection that you have if you buy through a trader. You will also likely only have a limited window to view the vehicles up close, and you’re unlikely to have the opportunity to test drive.

Tips to remember when buying a car at auction

  • Buying a car at auction can result in a real bargain, particularly if you are after a car which isn’t overly competitive. It’s a good opportunity to snap up a car quickly and easily.
  • Most auction houses allow a few hours of browsing before the sale, so get to the auction early and use as much time as you can viewing any cars which you’re interested in.
  • Auction houses typically add fees on top of the sale price, so make sure you find out what these are before making a bid on any car, so they are factored into your budget.
  • Repossessed vehicles or cars which have been damaged or written off are sometimes sold at auctions. It’s entirely legal to sell these cars, so long as the history and condition is accurately disclosed. Be sure to check these details and the associated paperwork carefully, so you know exactly what you are bidding on.
  • Some auctions are trade-only so are not open to the general public – it’s worth checking this in advance.

Buying a new car

Buying a new car is a popular choice for many people, as you have the excitement of the car being brand new and built to your own specifications. There is of course a cost to this, but providing the car is affordable, it can be a desirable choice. If you are looking to buy a new car, there are a number of options such as buying directly from a dealer, using a broker or using a car finance company.

Tips to remember when buying a new car

  • There are pros and cons to buying a new car directly from a dealer versus using a broker. Brokers often offer cars at a cheaper price, but there are often limitations around part exchanging your existing vehicle, as well sometimes being unable to offer the face-to-face service that a main dealer can. In any case, it’s worth comparing the deals offered by any dealer or broker to find the right one for your needs.
  • New cars depreciate at a fast rate, so consider this in any potential deal and any additional optional extras you desire.
  • Be sure to test drive a new car – just because it is brand new, that doesn’t mean there may not be faults or issues with the vehicle.
  • Don’t be afraid to haggle or negotiate the price, or for additional optional extras, warranties or service / maintenance incentives. These are often overlooked, but if a dealer knows you are interested in a car, they will sometimes throw in such incentives for free or with a discount, in order to seal a deal.


If you are thinking of buying a car on finance, Moneybarn are bad credit vehicle finance specialists who might be able to help. Use our car finance calculator or apply online today to see if we can help you get car finance.