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5 things people worry about when buying a second hand car

Carlton Boyce / 07 June 2016 ( 30 November 2018 )

We look at the five common things people worry about when buying a second hand car and how to avoid getting caught out by them.

One in five secondhand car buyers experience a mechanical problem within the first 12 months of ownership
One in five secondhand car buyers experience a mechanical problem within the first 12 months of ownership

Buying a new car holds little appeal for a lot of us. I, for one, won’t splash out on anything that is going to lose half of its value in three years, no matter how wonderful it is to drive or to look at - but few pools hold more sharks than the second hand car market, something that also deters a lot of people from taking the plunge.

Research by HPI and Ocean Finance shows that there are five common worries that haunt potential buyers, so we thought that it would be a good idea to take a look at each concern in turn – and show you how to dodge them!

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1. It might have a hidden mechanical problem

The fear

Undetected mechanical woes are the most common concern among buyers with 42% worrying that they’ll be faced with an unexpected repair bill after buying a car. It’s a genuine fear too, with one in five second hand car buyers, on average, experiencing a problem within the first 12 months of ownership.

The risk

It’s not all bad news. While younger drivers have a one in three chance of buying a dud car, older drivers, who are aged 55+, only have a 10% chance of having to deal with a mechanical problem after buying. 

This may be because they can afford to buy better cars, but could also be due to them using their years of experience to avoid buying a dodgy car in the first place.

The solution

If you don’t have sufficient experience to enable you to examine the car yourself, you could either take a more knowledgeable friend with you or, best of all, ask the seller to take it to your local garage for them to give it the once-over on your behalf; after all, if you do buy it then they’ll be the ones looking after it for you!

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2. Paying over the odds for a second hand car

The fear

Thirteen% of us worry that we are going to end up paying more than the true market value of the car.

The risk

With the advent of the internet, the risk of paying more than your car is worth is minimal as long as you take a couple of simple precautions.

The solution

Looking at advertisements for similar cars on Autotrader will give you a very good idea of what similar cars are selling for, but don’t forget to compare apples with apples; a private seller will ask for less money than a car dealer, as they don’t have the same overheads or legal obligations to cover. 

Similarly, if you are buying from a private seller, make sure you don’t pay main dealer prices! 

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3. It might have been in an accident or written-off at some point

The fear

Almost one in ten buyers worry that they might buy a car that has previously been in an accident or, even worse, completely written off.

The risk

Almost half-a-million cars are ‘written off’ in the UK by the insurance industry every year.

Being written off means that they have sustained damage that would cost more to repair than the car is worth. 

These cars are sold within the trade for peanuts, making it tempting for criminals and unscrupulous dealers to buy and repair them cheaply before selling them on to unwary customers who will often have no idea of the car’s hidden history.  

The solution

You should always carry out an HPI check before buying any second hand car.  This will show you whether it has been written off or involved in an accident. It isn't a free service - it's £9.99 for a basic check or £19.99 for a more thorough look into the car's past, but when you're looking at paying out thousands of pounds in potential repairs if it all goes wrong, this is peace of mind that money can buy. 

You should be especially wary if a car is being sold at a huge discount compared to other, similar cars. Crooks will often do this hoping that your greed will override your caution.

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4. The car might have been stolen

The fear

5% of us worry that we might inadvertently buy a stolen car.

The risk

A stolen car still belongs to the original owner, even if the buyer has bought it in good faith, so an unlucky buyer could lose every penny. 

Despite the severity of the risk, the over-55s are the most likely group to skip even the most cursory of checks when they buy a second hand car.

The solution

Again, an HPI check will identify whether a car has been recorded as stolen, but you should always inspect the car at the same address that is registered on the car’s logbook, or V5 registration document. 

Never, ever agree to meet the seller at any other location, no matter how convenient it might be for you.

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5. The mileage might have been changed

The fear

Just 3% of second hand car buyers worry about whether a car’s mileage is accurate or not.

The risk

Changing the mileage used to involve a lot of dismantling and a couple of hours with a Black and Decker drill. The advent of electronic dashboards means that the same job now takes seconds – and knocking thousands of miles off the odometer can add thousands to the price.

The solution

Doing an online MOT history check won’t only tell you whether the car has an MOT, it will also give you the recorded mileage at each MOT. 

This can be cross-checked with the reading on the dashboard odometer and the car’s service history to verify that the mileage the seller is claiming is accurate.

Do these fears mirror your own? Or do you have a worry that isn’t on the list? If so, please let us know by emailing us on and we’ll see what we can do to help allay them!

Saga Car Insurance: Join over a million drivers already benefiting from our outstanding cover and personal service for the over 50s.  Get a quote and find out more!

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.