Having come up with a shortlist of possible models, it's time to get down to finding your dream car and it's likely location will vary considerably with it's age and cost. Where you buy from is largely dependant on the value of what you are buying.

If you are looking for a car less than 2 years old you might concentrate your search on franchised dealers of that particular make where the car will have a known history, be fully checked for any faults, will have a guaranteed mileage  and will have been serviced and valeted before getting onto the forecourt.

At the other extreme, in the few hundred quid and over ten years old category, you will probably be dealing with a shadowy figure with just a mobile phone as an office, the car may have had many owners not all of whom came by it honestly,   the claimed mileage will be very dubious and it may have all of the appeal of a scruffy skip but it will be cheap... at first. 

In between lies every possible combination of good or bad dealer or private seller, good or tatty car, dream or disaster. The condition of the dealer's forecourt is always a good indicator of their professionalism, a tidy forecourt and cars says much about a dealership's business practises.

Only a comparatively small number of buyers can afford to buy in the chrome and glass high street showroom of the one make franchise and the majority are buying from the vast middle ground of dealers from the new American style multi-make used car supermarkets just appearing in the UK or the long established family outfits specialising in perhaps 2 or 3 leading makes and reliant for repeat business on keeping the good name they striven many years to acquire or, at the other end of the range, the back street car lot with rusty fencing and hand painted sign, a name the dealer hopes will be instantly forgettable, a track record measured in hours and the legality of an armed robber.

Many dealers now offer AA and RAC inspections along with the cars on their forecourt but be careful,   these inspections while very worthwhile are not usually as extensive as those which the AA or RAC would do for you as a private customer.

A useful check on dealers is membership of a recognised trade association as most of these have Codes of Practise that bind their members and some these have arbitration processes to help resolve disputes. The most common associations are the SMMT, RMI, MTA and Scottish MTA, VBRA. AA and/or RAC approval is always a good sign. Word of mouth recommendations from friends and workmates also count for a lot.

 Abstracted from the book “Buying a Used Car” © G Benge 1997-2007

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