Finding a cheap car isn’t difficult. There are more than 800,000 used cars for sale at any one time on websites such as Auto Trader, eBay, Exchange & Mart and Gumtree. And that’s in addition to other online sales sites both locally and nationally.
Buying a good one, however, calls for drivers to do their homework. We’ve created this checklist to help drivers buy the best motor for their budget and sort the good from the bad and the downright ugly.
Research the best cheap car for your needs
Phoning up to enquire about a cheap car or arranging to see it if you haven’t done your research is a classic case of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.
First, drivers need to set a budget. Next they should write a list of priorities a car must fulfil. Finally, write a shortlist of cars that potentially best meet those needs.
Read period reviews of cheap old cars
To get an accurate idea of how good any car was in its day, search online for period reviews. Comparison tests that pitched that car against others of its type are particularly useful. This will help build a picture of whether it was the best of its kind, or an embarrassing flop. And it could steer you in the direction of a better buy for your budget.
Which are the safest cheap cars?
Are you searching for an affordable family car that should keep all those onboard safe? Browse cars’ safety performance, using Euro NCAP’s crash test ratings. These detail how well a car will protect adults and children in an accident.
Find out the most reliable cheap cars
To get a good idea of which cars run like clockwork and which don’t, see the Reliability Index. It’s compiled by Warranty Direct, which provides drivers with warranties for used cars. The index weighs up the number of times a car fails, the cost of repairs, time spent off road having repairs carried out and the average age and mileage of cars that are covered by Warranty Direct. That makes it more objective than subjective consumer satisfaction surveys.
Did you know that a cheap car like the Toyota iQ is judged the most reliable? And a fancy car, like the BMW M5, is actually the least reliable?
Is the cheap car actually cheap enough?
As well as comparing the prices of cars you’re interested in buying, use a free online valuation tool to check that any cheap car is correctly priced. Auto Trader, HPI, Parkers and What Car? all provide free valuations in a matter of seconds.
Avoid cars that are costly to run
Why buy a cheap car if it costs a fortune to keep on the road? Make sure you know its fuel economy, annual road tax, insurance and servicing costs.
Prepare a list of questions for the seller
Before going to look at any cheap car, speak with the seller and build a picture of the car’s history. You need to find out exactly which make and model it is, whether any desirable options are fitted, how long they have owned it, why it’s for sale, how much MOT remains, and if it has a complete service history.
Also, ask about the condition of the tyre tread, brakes and exhaust. Then find out when the next service is due. Speak with a franchised dealer about the servicing requirements for the car, given its age, mileage and past service history. You don’t want to be landed with a bill that’s bigger than the price of the car in the first place.
If some of your questions aren’t answered, a vehicle history check may be the next best step.
Know how to spot bad cheap cars
There are plenty of ways to spot cheap cars that aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Check the paperwork or have the vehicle inspected by a reputable garage. And it’s not just the car that buyers should be concerned about: looking out for the telltale signs of rogue sellers is important too. See our guide to spotting a bad used car, here.