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Thinking of buying a car? If you’re tired of waiting for the bus in the rain only to realise it’s not going to show up yet again, it might be time to get your own ride. After all, there’s only so many times your boss can let things slide before it starts affecting your performance. 

But it can be daunting looking for a new car. There are so many different things to think about, and it can be hard to know how to get started. Well, you’ve come to the right place! We’ll talk you through setting a budget, finding a reliable car, and arranging temporary car insurance to drive your new prized possession home. But before we delve into our guide, let’s take a look at another possible option – i.e. not owning a car at all. 

We know what you might be thinking: “You must be joking! Talk about a bait-and-switch!”  But, bear with us please! We just want to show you there are alternatives to car ownership available that could make you a saving and still get you from A to B. 

And if you really want to skip to a particular section on our super handy guide, we’ve included a helpful table of contents below to help you get to the parts you’re most interested in. You’re welcome.

Car buyers’ guide: The ultimate guide to buying a car in the UK in 2023

Person in orange with blue car and trees and sun in the background.

Should you buy, borrow or share a car?

Before we delve into a whole host of useful tips to help you pick the best car for you, let’s work out whether you actually need to buy a car. This is 2023. Owning a car is so yesterday. Nowadays, people are all about the planet.

They like to cycle, take public transport, or share cars where possible. So do you need to own your own car, so to speak? Or could you just borrow your friend’s or partner’s in a pinch? Because if so, why add yet another pretty substantial expense to your life? Not to mention the impact on climate change. 

Become a part of the sharing economy and ditch ownership 

Why not consider becoming a part of the evolving sharing economy? Put simply, the sharing economy is a way to share our resources with each other so we can curb the rampant consumerism that is, at least in part, contributing to climate change. 

Here’s what that might look like. Let’s say both you and your friend need a car. Your friend needs to commute to work every single day. You need a car every other weekend so you can visit your parents’ rather remote home in the countryside. 

In this scenario, your friend might buy a car and insure it because they need it to get to work. But, you might come to an arrangement with your friend where you, perhaps, pay a contribution towards the car so that you can borrow it every other weekend. 

There’s one less car on the road as a result. One less car needs to be serviced, maintained, refuelled. And eventually, if enough people do this, there will be less cars on the road overall. Simply because there will be less demand for cars. 

Not to mention, you’ll be sharing the costs of car ownership, or at least contributing to them. This is a win-win situation for both you and your friend from a financial perspective. 

But what about car insurance when you’re sharing a car? 

You’ll still need car insurance to drive your friend’s car. One option is to get added as a named driver. You’ll need to consider:

  • How you’ll cover any potential increase in their premium 
  • What the admin fees and timescales are like 
  • Whether your friend is comfortable with putting their No Claim Discount on the line 

That latter point is often, well, the “sticking point” when it comes to discussions about named drivers. You see, your friend’s sparkling NCD record could be undone with just one fault claim. And it doesn’t matter if you were behind the wheel, and not them. 

This is why some people opt for temporary car insurance, instead. This option works well because it’s a totally separate policy and only covers you during the time you actually drive the car. 

Green temporary car insurance with Zixty 

With Zixty, you can take out a policy lasting between an hour to a few weeks in just a few minutes. Plus, we have a handy app that lets you manage your policy on the go. And once you scan your licence once, we save your details so you don’t have to worry about filling them all out all over again. 

Plus, speaking of the sharing economy and loving the planet, we are the green temporary car insurance company in the UK. Once you enable Zixty Miles, our free add-on, we’ll carbon offset all your journeys up to 100 miles a day while you’re a customer. Plus, we’ll plant a tree every time you take out a new policy just because we love trees that much. Sound good? Bet you want to share a car just so you can do your bit for the planet now! 

All jokes aside, we recognise sharing a car is simply not always an option. Sometimes you need to buy a car. And that’s all there is to it. We get it. So how do you go about buying a reliable set of wheels that won’t break the bank? Read on to find out. 

Man with blue hatchback car with trees and the sun in the background

Car buyers’ guide: Start by working out your budget

There’s more to working out your new car budget than the sticker price. The average second-hand car on AutoTrader costs approximately £18,000 this year. That in itself is a pretty hefty sum. Whether you’re planning on paying cash or opting for a financing option, however, you’ll need to think about a whole host of other expenses that come with your car too. 

Basically, don’t max out your budget to buy the car, because you’ll soon find you can’t afford to run the thing. Which sort of defeats the purpose, unless you were hoping to buy a really expensive car-shaped garden ornament, in which case: congrats, you’ve done it! But, we’re going to assume that’s not why you’re here. 

So what other costs should you think about when buying a car? 

To start with, you’ll have to insure your car before you can drive it home. There are all sorts of factors that go into working out your exact insurance quote, including your driving record, location, and the type of car you’re planning on buying to name just a few. 

You’ll also need to tax your car. Your road tax can range from £0 to £2,605 to tax per year. Typically, you’ll pay tax based on the vehicle’s carbon emissions for cars registered after April 2017. It’s worth checking the road tax for the car you’re thinking of buying as it can be a pretty significant expense.

The average cost of a comprehensive car insurance policy in the UK is £412, but if you’re in your early 20s, you can expect to pay closer to £851. If this seems a bit steep, check out our article to find out how to save money on car insurance

Fuel economy is often overlooked, but with the constantly fluctuating fuel prices, it’s an important cost to consider. Be mindful of how much fuel you’ll typically need to use with your car and plan accordingly.

Lastly, don’t forget maintenance costs. Cars require regular servicing and used cars may rack up repair costs, plus there’s the annual MOT costs to take into account too. Make sure you’re factoring this into your budget to reduce unnecessary financial surprises down the road.

What finance options might be available to you? 

Once you’ve worked out how much you’re willing to spend, whether that’s cash or per month, you may wish to explore what finance options are available to you.

For instance, you might be able to afford a £500 monthly car payment, but you might find lenders aren’t willing to offer you that much for whatever reason. This means you might need to spend longer saving up for a deposit, or even adjust your budget. 

You can usually negotiate finance through the dealership itself, but it’s always useful to have an idea of what you can get elsewhere, and what the different types of finance mean before you start haggling and trying to get the interest rate down. Remember, knowledge is power. 

Should you buy a new car or a used car? 

Who doesn’t like the smell of a shiny, new car? It’s no wonder people like to buy those “new car smell” air fresheners to go with their 2002 Honda purchase. No shade. But there is a reason why not everyone is driving the latest Tesla. 

Yup, it’s all about affordability. It’s no secret that new cars come with a hefty price tag, but did you know that they also come with a steep depreciation rate? That shiny new car you just drove off the forecourt? Its value plummeted faster than a Wetherspoons pint on a Friday night. Used cars, on the other hand, have already taken the bulk of the depreciation hit, so you can snag a sweet ride for a fraction of the cost.

But what about maintenance costs, you may ask? Well, new cars come with a warranty, so you’re covered for unforeseen repairs. But after that warranty runs out, be prepared to shell out some serious dough for those shiny new parts.

Still, used cars have a tendency to break down. They’ve been on the road a while, they’ve racked up that mileage, and maintenance costs can add up. In fact, the average person spends around £1,300 per year on repairs for their used cars. It’s something worth keeping in mind, anyway. 

Now, let’s talk about the environment. If you’re looking to make a greener choice, then, as a general rule, new cars tend to be the more planet-friendly option. In general, they tend to be more efficient and therefore less taxing to run. Especially if you can splurge for a hybrid or electric car. 

On the flipside, you could argue that buying new cars is just driving up demand for the manufacture of even more cars, whereas when you buy used, at least you’re simply borrowing from an existing supply of pre-owned cars. It’s complex and there’s some validity to both arguments for sure. 

Blue hatchback car with trees and the sun in the background

Key features to consider in a car

Cars come in many shapes and sizes. But with so many options out there, how do you even start looking for a car?

Identify your driving needs and preferences 

First things first, you need to identify your driving needs (and preferences). For instance, are you planning on taking loads of road trips or do you just need a car for your daily commute in town? Are you okay with a small hatchback, or would you prefer a larger car? Maybe you need space for your friends or your dog (because he’s a riding buddy, obviously). 

And if you’re a particularly nervous driver, perhaps you’ll want to forego the manual car altogether and opt for an automatic. Hey, there’s no shame in it! Those hill starts can be horrendous, and shifting gears all the time can get annoying. Figure out what works for you and your lifestyle before you even start looking.

Think about the type of car you need 

Once you’ve got that sorted out, it’s time to understand the different car types available. It’s like choosing your Hogwarts house, but with wheels. Each type has its own advantages and disadvantages. Hatchbacks are usually more affordable and fuel-efficient, while SUVs offer more space and are great for family road trips.

Electric cars are expensive at the outset, but tend to be more eco-friendly and don’t rack up expensive petrol or diesel costs. Understanding what’s on offer out there will help you narrow down the right car for you. 

Think about your “nice to haves” 

Once you’ve worked out what you need, you might want to consider some “nice to haves”. These include cool new features like lane assist that let you know if you’re veering into a different lane, or more bougie extras like heated seats and steering wheels, remote start, and rear entertainment systems (great if you’re travelling with kids).

These “nice to haves” might not be deal breakers, but they’ll certainly enhance your car experience. It’s a good idea to know what’s important to you and keep it in mind when it comes to haggling later.

Those are just some of the features to keep in mind when buying a car. Once you know what you want, it’s time to head online, or to your nearest dealership, so you can find a car that’s up your street (pun intended). 

What to do during a car viewing 

So, you’ve finally found a car that you think might be the ‘one’. The perfect car that will transport you from A to B (and maybe even C!) without breaking down or guzzling petrol. But before you hand over your hard-earned cash, it’s important to take a good look at what you’re buying to make sure it really is the car of your dreams. 

Things like scratches and bumps will be immediately obvious, but if you’re not really a “car person”, it might be worth bringing someone who knows a thing or two about cars and get their opinion.

You’ll also need to look at the practical bits, like how much space there is in the boot; with some cars, there’s just about enough room for the weekly shop, and that might not suit you. 

You should do your best to test drive the car too. In many cases, that’ll tell you “everything you need to know”. Not only will you get a feel for how the car drives, but you’ll also be able to see if there are any weird noises, smells or unexplained jolts. Just make sure you have the appropriate car insurance in place, or take out temporary car insurance if you don’t.

During the test drive, make sure you’re paying attention to the car’s functionality. Does it handle well? How is the acceleration and braking? Does it feel smooth or does it rattle and shake?  These are all important questions to ask yourself. 

Speaking of questions, it’s a good idea to come prepared with some questions to ask about the car. Ask the seller about the car’s history, including any accidents or repairs. Don’t be afraid to ask for receipts or proof of work done on the car. 

Doing your homework and making the most of the viewing are key to making sure you buy a car you end up loving. 

Blue car with trees and the sun in the background

Insider tips for buying a car

You want to get the best car you can for the least money possible. We get it. Who wouldn’t? So how do you maximise your chances of doing just that? With these insider tips, that’s how! 

Know exactly what you want before going to the dealership 

Salespeople have targets to meet so they’ll want to upsell various features and try to gauge your max budget. But if you know exactly what you’re willing to spend and exactly what you want in a car, it’ll be much easier to keep your cool and avoid paying for extras you don’t really need. That’s why it’s so key to understand exactly what type of car you want; and how much you’re willing to pay for it, before you go to the dealership. 

Shop at the right time 

If you don’t need a car urgently, it might be a good idea to wait for the end of the quarter to buy a car. Dealers usually need to meet quarterly targets to claim bonuses, so there are lots of great deals up for grabs towards the end of the quarter, i.e. March, June, September and December. But, don’t wait for the very last day of the quarter as it’s possible all targets will be met by then. It’s a fine balance. 

Get comfortable with haggling 

Haggling and car shopping go hand in hand like avocado toast and millennials’ crushed dreams. Just kidding. But it’s true though. You’ll need to be able to haggle to get the price down or get extras thrown in for free. 

It might be a good idea to walk in with a quote you already like and see if the seller could beat it, for example. And if they can’t, you could always ask if there’s anything else they can do to “sweeten the deal”. This can include anything from free floor mats to a Sat Nav. 

Keep your emotions out of it. Don’t name the car before you buy it. Once you name Ruby the red Mini, or Gertie the Golf, they’re yours. It makes it that much harder to walk away. So don’t do it. 

In that vein, be prepared to walk away. If the quote isn’t quite what you hoped for, leave. It’s not necessarily game over. If the dealership has your details, they might call you in a couple of days with a “better offer”. 

Don’t fall for pressure tactics. Lines like “my manager wants to give you a great deal right now”, or “this car’s super popular and will likely be gone tomorrow” might be true, but they’re most likely designed to give you massive FOMO and pressure you into a sale. Don’t do it. Take your time thinking things through and stick to your budget.

Everyone finds haggling awkward, but getting out of your comfort zone is the only way to get a decent deal. And you’re worth a decent deal. 

Don’t tell them you’re a cash buyer 

Car salespeople often make commissions on finance deals. The negotiated price can therefore vary based on whether you’re a cash buyer or not. The dealership may be saving their best deals for those buying on finance. So, if you’re a cash buyer, it might be worth keeping that fact to yourself for as long as possible. It can’t hurt negotiations. 

Driving off with your new car 

You’ve got your sunglasses on, you’ve wrapped a head-scarf around your hair ala Brigitte Bardot (or more likely Bridget Jones), and you’re about to step into your new ride and drive off like the cool main character you are. 

Except, this is the UK, so the sunglasses probably look a bit out of place as it’s most likely torrential out there. Oh well, it’s just one of those instagram vs reality moments. Except whacking the brightness filter up won’t convince anyone you’re on the French coast. Soz. 

And in real life, you need to sort a few things before you can drive off into the…impenetrable fog. So here’s a handy checklist to help you drive off with your new car: 

  • Bring your driving licence when you come to collect your car so the seller can check your identity if needed. 
  • Register your vehicle using the V5C certificate; or order a new V5C log book first if you need it. 
  • Insure your car; if you haven’t had time to buy an annual insurance policy, you could use temporary car insurance while you shop around. 
  • Tax your car using the government website. 
  • Get the service history book from the seller. 
  • Book an MOT if the test is due soon or set a reminder online if it isn’t. 
  • Get your receipt; this will be your proof of purchase.

The dealership may be able to assist with some of these steps. For instance, they might arrange temporary car insurance to allow you to drive your car home. But you shouldn’t assume this is the case. Always double check.

To sum up: make sure you know what you want, do your research, haggle, and take care of the paperwork. If you follow the tips in our comprehensive guide, you’ll probably end up with a pretty nice set of wheels.