The Best Way to Find Used Cars Online: Quick Tips

Find out the best way to find used cars online, including pointers on vehicle provenance checks and what to look for in a vehicle.

The Best Way to Find Used Cars Online: Quick Tips

A new car’s value depreciates the second a buyer drives it away from a dealership. According to the AA, by the end of the first year, a new car may well have depreciated by as much as 40%! This is not great news for new car buyers, but it’s good to know if you're thinking about buying a used vehicle.

When looking for a used car, it’s always worth doing a bit of research before buying to make sure you don’t end up with a bad deal. If you’re in the market for some new wheels, the best way to find used cars online is laid out here...

Requirements & Budget

A calculator and budget sheet

One of the first steps to buying a used car is determining your requirements. What type of vehicle do you need? Are you looking for a family-sized car with ISOFIX fittings for a child’s car seat? Do you want one able to support roof racks for bicycles and other sports equipment? Or are you after something a bit fancier, like a sports car?

Most importantly, consider how much you’re willing to spend, taking into consideration a minimum and maximum price. This’ll help you to stick to a budget and stop you from splashing out more than you had originally planned. What’s more, knowing your budget and general requirements will help to narrow down the search and give you a starting point when shopping for a used car.

Conduct a Vehicle Provenance Check

Also known as a used-car history check, a vehicle provenance check lets you access information on the car’s past, including the number of previous owners, its accident history and whether it’s been stolen or not. This data is collected by finding out the used car's DIN (Vehicle Identification Number) and applying it for analysis onto reputable sources, such as AutoDNA, Autocheck, the Police National Computer and the American Insurance Association.

We’d really recommend getting this check done, with most bodies doing it for around $20. Online offers can sometimes be cheaper, but we’d be wary of these options as companies offering such services don’t always have access to the same databases as other ones who charge more for them. When buying a used car, you want the most reliable information possible about the car’s history.

Perform an In-Person Inspection

A man checking the oil on a vehicle

Before you pay for the car, there are a number of things that you’ll want to check:

  • Tires – how worn are they? How soon will you need to change them?

  • Dents & scratches – is there any visible damage? If possible, make sure to view the car in clear daylight to allow for an easier assessment.

  • Electrics – test all the electrics including windows, radio, lights and air conditioning. If anything isn’t working right, factor repair costs into the final price.

  • Glass – check the windscreen and windows for any chips or cracks.

  • Panel gaps – look for gaps between the panels as large repair gaps could indicate a poor repair job after a crash.

  • Upholstery – is it stained? Ripped? How does it smell? If it smells like tobacco, bear in mind that cigarette smoke is nearly impossible to eradicate.

  • Fluid levels – check the oil, brake and power steering fluids. Look for any signs of leakage underneath the car.

  • Oil cap – when inspecting the engine, keep an eye out for any white mayonnaise-like substances which form nearby. This is a sign of oil mixing with coolant, which could be an indication of a head gasket failure.

Spare wheel – is there a spare wheel? What condition is it in?