Why October is a great time for a used car bargain – and how to haggle with dealers

Used car bargain

What driver doesn’t love bagging a used car bargain? Saving thousands of pounds can give a warmer glow than spending two weeks on a sun lounger in the Med. And there are few better times of the year than October to buy a great car at a knockdown price.

Every March and September, the registration prefix changes for new cars. It’s a way for drivers and the motor trade to differentiate between the age of cars, and in a nation obsessed about keeping up with the Joneses, the effect is to create dramatic seasonal spikes in new car sales.

This is great news for the canny car buyer. The market is flooded with second-hand cars that have been traded in as a part-exchange, and when there’s more supply than demand, car dealers have to pull together some seriously competitive deals to help sell all that second-hand stock.

How many more new cars are sold in September?

September is second only to March for the number of new cars sold. Last September, more than 462,500 of them ended up in the hands of proud owners. To put that surge in context, fewer than 82,000 were sold in August – meaning a five-fold increase.

When are the most used car deals available?

The spike in used car sales occur the month after the registration change. That means April and October see a glut of used cars being flogged by dealers. This April, more than 760,300 used cars were sold. And for the first time since records began in 2001, more than four million used cars were sold in the first half of 2016. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said that the 4.18m record mirrored the rise in new car sales.

Are we talking about old bangers or good quality used cars?

We’re seeing used cars get younger each year. That’s down to the way peoples’ car buying habits are changing. Fewer and fewer drivers want to own their car outright; instead, they accept that they can have a new car in the much the same way they pay for a phone – a phenomenon known as ‘iPhonification’ – and change their car every two to three years.

Philip Nothard, of CAP HPI, a car retail specialist, says buyers are comfortable paying to drive rather than paying to own a car. Its market research shows that car makers are seeing shorter 18-24 month lease periods growing in popularity. This is creating a rise in the supply of used cars.

“There are lots of used bargains waiting to be snapped up,” says Nothard. “As PCPs (Personal Contract Purchases, a form of car finance) become more popular and accessible in the used market, motor dealers expect their use to double in the future, so we’re going to see people changing their cars with increasing regularity.”

Is anything else increasing used car bargain numbers?

Yes, but it’s technical, so bear with us. The UK car market is one of the few to grow in Europe. So manufacturers are looking to improve their share of a growing market. They do this by putting pressure on dealers, in the form of stiff targets that are rewarded with huge financial incentives.

Philip Nothard of CAP HPI says that to hit these targets dealers buy cars themselves. It’s a legitimate practice known as pre-registering. Laws say dealers must hold onto these cars for 90 days before they can be sold as a used car. “They enter the used car market where they have to be reduced in price to sit below attractive new-car finance offers,” explains Nothard.

CAP HPI recorded a 46 per cent year-on-year increase in 16-plate sales during June, suggesting a frenzy of dealers pre-registering cars in March.

How much could I save on a used car?

Used car bargain

Even posh car makers like Mercedes offer huge savings on nearly-new cars

How long’s a piece of string? It all depends on the age of the car and the number of similar models for sale at the same time. Searching for the brand of car and ‘nearly-new discounts’ will quickly show how you’ll be spoilt for choice. There are serious deals to be had, as the picture (above), taken at my local Mercedes showroom, illustrates.

For example, at the time of writing, the big dealer group Arnold Clark was knocking more than £6800 off a nearly-new Toyota Avensis, nearly £5500 off a ‘66’ registration Seat Leon and more than £3100 off a nearly-new Fiat 500.

Top tips for haggling when buying a used car

We’ve got great tips for haggling on the price of a used car. From playing dealers off against one another, to the questions you should never ask a sales person, they’ll help you achieve the best possible discount – without being unrealistic. Click here to read the expert haggling tips.

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