Buying a car

Choosing a car is exciting – it’s one of the biggest things you’ll ever buy, so think carefully about what you need as well as what you can afford.

Talk to friends and family about their cars and why they chose them. These are some of the things to think about when choosing a car

  • Price – what does it cost to buy? If there’s a finance deal, can you afford the payments?
  • Size – how many people do you need to fit in the car, or what might you need to carry in it?
  • Age/mileage – an older car or one with a high mileage is likely to need more maintenance than a newer car.
  • Fuel economy – if you’re going to be doing a lot of driving, having a car with poor fuel economy (it does not do many miles per gallon of fuel) will be expensive.
  • Model/engine size – sporty models and cars with bigger engines will cost more for a new driver to insure.
  • History – who’s owned the car before? This will give you some clues about whether the car has been well looked after.

Fuel consumption

If you’re planning to buy a new car, check the fuel consumption, CO2 emissions and tax bands of the model you’re thinking about buying: use the CO2 and vehicle tax tool on GOV.UK.

There’s also a tool for checking van fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.

The lower the CO2 emissions and the fuel consumption, the cheaper your vehicle will be to run.

If you’re thinking about buying an electric car or van, you might be able to get a grant to help with the cost. See the fuel-efficient driving page for more information.

Keeping insurance costs down

Owning a car is an expensive business but you can help keep insurance costs down by taking the Pass Plus course: find out more about Pass Plus on the Further training page.

Some insurers offer ‘pay how you drive’ insurance: a GPS box is fitted to your car to record how you drive, and your premium is worked out from this information. This can save you money if you drive well.

Keeping your car secure will also help keep insurance costs down: if you can, keep it in a locked garage overnight. Having security devices fitted, such as an alarm or immobiliser, can also bring down the insurance cost.

You should also

  • avoid driving convictions
  • consider choosing a higher ‘excess’: this is the amount of any claim that you’ll pay; the insurer will pay the rest.

Remember, the longer you own and drive a car without making an insurance claim, the more ‘no claims’ discount you’ll earn – so driving carefully and skilfully really pays off.

Buying a used car

The car details

Before seeing the vehicle, ask the seller for the registration number, make and model of the vehicle, the MOT test number and the vehicle tax details.

You can use an online service to check whether there’s outstanding finance on the car: search for ‘check if a car has outstanding finance’.

If you know the make of a vehicle and its registration number, you can use the DVLA vehicle online service to find out

  • when the vehicle tax is due to expire
  • the date that a Statutory Off-Road Notification (SORN) expires
  • the date it was first registered
  • colour
  • engine size
  • year of manufacture
  • CO2 emissions
  • current vehicle tax rate.

Check these details against those given to you by the seller and use them to check the vehicle’s MOT test history and its current MOT test status on GOV.UK.

You can also get a vehicle identity check. This will tell you if a car has a ‘VIC marker’ (vehicle identity check marker) on its vehicle record, which shows that the car has been written off or stolen. Find out more about the vehicle identity check at GOV.UK.

The registration certificate (V5C)

Hold the V5C up to the light to check the ‘DVL’ watermark is there. If not, the document may be a forgery.

Remember that the V5C is not proof of ownership: make sure the seller has the right to sell the vehicle and that the V5C matches the vehicle’s details and all other documents provided.

Look out for stolen V5Cs.  If the seller has a blue V5C with a serial number in the following ranges, do not go ahead with the sale (the serial number is in a white circle in the top right-hand corner of the V5C); contact the police when it’s safe to do so.

  • BG8229501 to BG9999030
  • BI2305501 to BI2800000.

Do not buy the vehicle if you think the serial number has been altered or if part of the V5C is missing.

The vehicle

Do not buy the vehicle if the vehicle identification number (VIN) has been tampered with or is missing: it’s usually on a metal strip at the base of the windscreen, under the bonnet or beneath the carpet on the driver’s side. Before buying a vehicle, check that the VIN and engine number match those on the V5C. 

Remember, if you have any doubts, do not buy. Buying a cloned vehicle could result in you losing the vehicle and the money you pay for it.

Vehicle tax

Remember, whenever a vehicle is bought or sold, the vehicle tax needs to be paid by the person receiving the vehicle before they drive it. The seller gets a refund for any full months of tax they've paid beyond the date that ownership changed. For more information, see GOV.UK on selling, transferring or buying a vehicle.

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