Should I buy a new or used car?

James Foxall
Written by: James Foxall
Posted on: 19 April 2016

A new car or used car? Which is better?

It’s a question that’s frequently asked, not least because buyers often think that a second-hand motor will give better value for money. Consider the following: for around £25,000 or about £350 a month, you could be the proud owner of a 12-year-old Bentley Continental GT. It’s got massive performance from a massive engine and wears a badge that oozes success. On the other hand, you could go for an upper mid-range Volkswagen Golf. You’d think there’d be no competition. Or would you?

Advantages of buying a new car; disadvantages to buying a used car

Around three times as many used cars are sold every year as new. So buying a new car is a privilege that not many of us enjoy. But with the advent of increasingly competitive and adventurous finance packages that allow drivers to pay for cars on a monthly basis, new models are becoming more accessible.

Perhaps the main reason for buying new is drivers get a car that is exactly to their liking. You want pink paintwork with a purple interior and alloy wheels? It’s yours. And if the optional arm rest, individual USB ports for the rear seats and adaptive cruise control tickle your fancy, then again, they’re all yours.

Pink Fiat 500

Pink Fiat 500

A new car also offers greater peace of mind. You’ll be buying a car whose history you know – because, simply, it doesn’t have any yet. It’ll only have a handful of miles under its wheels, the clutch can’t have been abused and the brake pads worn thin. And that is one of the big downsides about buying a used car; it might have a full service history but buyers have no way of knowing how it’s been treated.

You’re also unlikely to find one that is exactly the colour you want, or the wheels you fancy with all the equipment you’d like, for the budget available. Equally, unless you’re buying a used car that is less than three years old, it may not have a warranty. Why’s this important? There are lots of things to go wrong in a car. Forget the complex electronics and equally complicated power plant for a moment. Even components as humble as the struts that hold the hatchback up can fail. If the car is under warranty, these will be replaced free of charge. If it isn’t, the owner picks up the tab.

Advantages of buying a used car; disadvantages to buying a new car

The biggest hidden cost in motoring and the one most people forget to take into account is depreciation; the value the car loses as it ages. Typically this is at its steepest over the first three years of a car’s life. Then when the warranty has run out and an increasing number start being sold as used cars, the curve starts to flatten off. So on a second-hand car, the theory that the previous owner will have taken most of the depreciation hit is an accurate one.

Assuming you do your homework with a used car, it’s safe to say that any new-car teething troubles are likely to have already reared their ugly head and hopefully been dealt with. Here’s where diligently checking the car’s paperwork or history comes into play. And don’t forget that the Government’s website has a record of all vehicle recalls. Check if the car you’re interested in is on it and then go through the paperwork to see if the work was done.

Used cars are becoming ever bigger business for manufacturer franchises

Buying a used car can also be an instantly gratifying experience. You see the car, you test drive it and if you like it, are satisfied with the paperwork and it’s the right price, you can drive it away immediately. There are no weeks of waiting for it to be built.

Then there’s the buying experience. With a new car, the dealer will be pulling out all the stops to impress you in order to part you from your hard-earned money. However, with the increasing number of cars bought on finance and exchanged after three years, used cars are becoming ever bigger business for manufacturer franchises. The result is you may well enjoy the same dealer experience when buying a used car as new. And they may even include a warranty as a sweetener.

Verdict

As you might expect, it really is horses for courses. If you want the security of a manufacturer warranty and the knowledge that everything that’s happened to the car has been done by you, it has to be a new car. If you want to buy a bigger car than you can afford from new, go for used. Just remember to factor in warranty cover and budget for ‘wear and tear’ repairs.

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