How to buy a used car
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Buying & selling a car

How to buy a used car when you only have a provisional licence

I'm going to do this because I just lived it and it was COMPLICATED with no guidance. If I struggled, it stands to reason someone out there is also struggling. This will be my Good Work for the month.

The problem

You've been learning a while and you're coming up to test time. You've started thinking about the kind of car you're going to buy and maybe browsed a few million eBay/Autotrader/Gumtree listings.

Then you find the one. THE car. It's not 50 years old, it's still got all 4 wheels and the insurance won't require you to sell yourself into indentured slavery. It's the one, no doubt.

Only problem is: how do you go about buying a car when you can't even legally drive one?

The solution

  1. Set a few 'wants' you definitely won't compromise on

    It's tricky to buy a car as a learner and you want to be sure about any car you like before you set the rest of the process in motion.

    No listing is going to be 100% on details. It's amazing how many people forget fairly vital facts like how many miles a car's done. Write your list of exactly what you're looking for and THEN contact the owner. If they don't tick off everything on that list, it's not the one for you after all.

  2. Get someone you trust involved

    I'd recommend a parent, simply because they might be taken more seriously than you. Sorry - it's the way of the world. A curmugeonly old trout from Bidderminster may not take kindly to a 19 year old lad asking after her beloved Fiesta. Don't give too much away about yourself when you enquire.

    I feel like a feminism betrayer but here's a secret: when I was enquiring about cars on Autotrader, I used my boyfriend's name. I was afraid of being taken for a ride by some awful salesman after a quick buck. I'm not saying you have to do this but it's worth keeping in mind.

    Find yourself a trusted adviser who's bought and sold cars before - the person you've been doing your private practice with would be ideal as they know how you drive yourself.
  3. Arrange a test drive

    Yep, you heard right. A test drive. BUT I CAN'T EVEN DRIVE YET YOU FUFHGUFHSKLDJHDFSJHG. I know, but your trusted sidekick can, right?

    Don't tell the owner it won't be you test driving the car, just say you'd like to arrange a test drive. Your parent/friend/priest/spirit guide can then take the car for a spin (hopefully with you in the car as well) so you can both assess if it's going to be OK for you.

    If, like me, you can't get someone to go with you to test drive the car, ask the owner to take you out for a drive. Look out for how the car brakes, ask to try the radio and heating, listen for any weird noises and take a good look around the interior.

    Get more help with what to look for when you're buying a second hand car.
  4. Leave a deposit and arrange pick-up

    Even if it's perfect, go away before you pay. It's soooo easy to be blinded by the shiny car and want to take it away then and there. But you musn't. Leave a deposit (about £250 seems to be usual) and get a receipt.

    Of course, if you've got no one with you who can drive, you'll have no choice but to leave the car behind. It's not a bad thing - you'll have time to consider while you wait.

    Agree with the owner when you'll be back to pick up the car. Pro tip: work out some days with your trusty sidekick BEFORE so you can give the owner a definite date. They may not want to sell to someone who'll pick up the car "soon".

  5. Find insurance

    If you think this car is the one, you've probably run it through a million quote forms, right? Hopefully you now know which insurer you're going to go for and how much it's going to cost as a learner. Have your quote ready with all the information straight before you go to pick up the car. All you want left to do is the actual payment.

    (Hey, you know we do insurance, right? Just checking.)

    Once you've completed the biggest purchase of your life so far, you can then finish the quote on your phone. Make sure you've run through this beforehand so you know all the details you'll need: card number and address for example.

    Just to be clear: your trusted adviser may be insured to drive any car with their own insurance. But that only counts if the car they're driving is also insured under a motor insurance policy. That means you need to complete your own policy purchase before they drive the car away.

    Ask your insurer beforehand if your learner policy allows a 3rd party to drive your car. I added my dad as a named driver on mine just to be safe, which actually lowered the cost.
  6. Tax it up

    Another thing you need to sort before you drive away is vehicle tax. I found this was super easy to do online so you can even wait until you pick the car up to do it.

    All you need is the number plate and the 12 digit number on the green 'new owner' (V5C2) part of the car's logbook (V5C), which the owner should be able to show you.

    Taxing a vehicle

    Then you go through the Tax your vehicle wizard on GOV.UK:

      Tax your car online
  7. Park the car somewhere sensible

    The car probably isn't going to be moving a whole lot before you pass your test. If you live with your parents, that's easy as hopefully you've got space at home to park it.

    But if you live on a street with parking restrictions and no one in your household drives, it can't live there while you're still a learner as you won't be able to move it yourself. Make sure you have a place to keep it in the run up to your test and give the key to the person in charge of keeping it safe.

    Bear in mind that the car needs to be mostly parked where you said it lives in your insurance policy details. It's fine to keep it somewhere else temporarily but you will have to tell your insurer if it ends up being parked away from home at night for an extended period of time.

  8. Sounds like it's time for a bit of private practice before your test! Find out what you need to know about practising in your own car.


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Honor joined ingenie in 2014 and is in charge of words on the Young Driver's Guide and blog. Her first car is a Peugeot 206 cabriolet, which is a very sensible choice for the British climate. Follow her on .

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