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Whether your old car has just broken down or you’ve never had a car before, it’s difficult to deny that having your own vehicle for getting around just makes everything a bit easier. There’s no waiting for delayed buses in the cold, no 20 minute walk when public transport doesn’t run to where you’re going. However, cars are expensive and if you’re on a tight budget, you might not be able to afford the newest model.

Buying a used car is a good way to save money, but this can come with its pitfalls too. Find out what you need to look out for when you’re getting a second-hand car, as well as how the changes in tax could affect you.

What to check

Unless you really know cars (or have a friend or family member who does), when you go to choose your used car, be sure to go to a reputable car dealer. This means you’ll be more likely to get a car the safe and genuine and that there’s unlikely to be anything wrong with the vehicle, or any finance outstanding on it – and even if there is, it will probably be easier to take it back. Whilst you can buy a car direct from a private seller you’ll enjoy fewer consumer protections and, unless you are an expert, you’ll be less sure that the car is a good buy.

If you find a car you like, take down the vehicle’s registration plate number, the make and model and the MOT number. You’ll be able to use the DVLA’s vehicle information service to check if the details match, as well as when it’s due for its next MOT. If the dealer hasn’t provided it you can also check to see if there is finance outstanding on the car via sites such as HPI. This is really important because if you buy a car with outstanding finance it may be repossessed and there may be nothing you can do about it – leaving you out of pocket.

You should also ask to see the car’s logbook, also known as the V5C certificate. Check to see if it has a DVL watermark as this shows you it’s genuine. Take a look at the serial number – if it’s between BG8229501 and BG9999030 or BI2305501 and BI2800000, the Government says this could mean the logbook is stolen. If this is the case, don’t buy the car, and call the police instead.

Take the time to inspect the car thoroughly as well. If you’re not really familiar with the ins and outs of cars, take a friend who knows about this with you. You’re looking to see if there are any scratches or dents that the seller may have missed as well as if there’s anything else obviously wrong with the car. Check that the mileage seems about right – if it’s really low, but the car seems to have a lot of wear and tear when you take it for a test drive, it might have been ‘clocked’ so that the number of miles shown have been reduced.

Changes in tax

The way we paid for car tax changed in October last year, meaning you now don’t need to display a tax disc in your car’s windscreen. However, it also means it’s your responsibility to make sure that when you buy a used car, you’ve paid for the tax before you drive it home.

In the past, sellers used to be able to advertise used cars saying they were already taxed and the MOT had been covered. This has changed now, as when a vehicle changes hands, any months of tax that were remaining will disappear and it will effectively be untaxed. Make sure don’t get caught out by this rule, or else you could find your second-hand car clamped.

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