There are no two ways about it – used cars are expensive, along with everything else at the moment.
Why? This trend is due to an ongoing global microchip shortage which has hampered the availability of new cars. This means buyers have turned to used cars in their droves, which has ratcheted up the price.
But is it possible to get a good value used car while working to a budget? The answer is yes, if you do your homework,so we’ve gathered some tips and recommendations to help.
- Tips to help you find a used car that's good value
- Recommendations on some of the best value family cars that are currently available.
How to find a used car that's good value:
Tip 1: Be sure to shop around
Take your time to look into as many options as possible. If you want peace of mind when you buy, sites such as AA Cars and RAC Cars will have vetted the dealers they have listed, so you can’t go too far wrong. Although there is a large choice of dealers, it does mean you could be missing out on some true bargains, from less well known sites.
Other good sites for shopping for cars include AutoTrader, Motors.co.uk, Desperate Seller, Autoweb and CarGurus. There are of course cars for sale on more general market sites such as Facebook Marketplace and Gumtree, but you really need to know your cars, or take someone that does so you can do all of the necessary checks.
You can usually set filters such as the distance you’re prepared to travel for cars, price range, class of vehicle or body type, and specifics such as make and model if you know exactly what you’re after.
But be prepared to cast the net wide – you may have to invest a bit of time before you come across a genuine bargain.
Tip 2: Don’t exclude cars with high mileage
It’s no longer the case that cars with high mileage should be avoided at all costs. Considering that many vehicles are durable enough to top out at 200,000 miles now, it may be worth going for something that has clocked up a decent number of miles – provided it’s generally considered to be a reliable model.
Check out the most reliable cars with high mileages here.
Tip 3: Keep an eye out for best buys
While doing your homework, it’s also good to know that others will have prepared some cheat notes for you to save you time. Look into which used cars top the best-buy tables.
Expert consumer advice website
Which? has best-buy car tables featuring used models, divided into types of vehicle. The cars themselves are behind a paywall, and membership is £5 for the first month – but this may pay for itself if it helps narrow your choice down to the best models available. AutoExpress and Parkers have their own best-buy tables too which are free to access.
Tip 4: Consider local clean air charges
Increasingly, cities are clamping down on the worst-polluting vehicles. London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) was introduced in 2019, and is expanding in August 2023 to cover all 33 boroughs. Any vehicle which doesn’t meet these emission standards is charged £12.50 each time it passes through the zone.
Many other cities now have Clean Air Zones (CAZ), or similar schemes, including Bath, Birmingham, Bristol, Derby, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Nottingham, Portsmouth and Southampton – with several other cities across the UK set to follow suit.
Given that this trend is set to continue, if you can, it may make sense to invest in a car which won’t fall foul of CAZ or ULEZ rules. If you’re going to be doing a lot of city driving, it’s worth checking which cars have good green credentials.
Tip 5: Check the insurance and tax
There are other variable costs worth checking out before you commit to buying a car. The amount of car insurance payable is a key factor, and could help reduce your options on which car to get, so it’s a good idea to get a quote ahead of time.
The tax you’ll have to pay is also worth considering. Check the vehicle excise duty (VED) – otherwise known as car or road tax – before you buy. Again, vehicles with the lowest emissions win out here, with electric vehicles (EVs) being exempt until 2025.
Tip 6: ‘How much is my car worth?’ Get a good price for your current vehicle
The flipside to used cars being expensive is that you may get a great price if you’re selling your current car.
To get a valuation on your outgoing vehicle, use a reputable site such as AutoTrader, Parkers or What Car? Gather a few valuations to get an accurate view of what your car’s worth. Bear in mind that some sites may give lower valuations in the knowledge that some people are looking for a quick sale.
Other things to look out for:
There are a few other things to take into consideration, which could mean the difference between a deal and a dud.
Check the V5C logbookThis can give numerous clues to the car’s history, such as the number of owners – where more does not mean merrier. Read up on which questions you should ask before buying a used car.
Has the car been written off?If the car is a Category N write-off, it means that the car has been previously written off for non-structural damage that an insurance company deemed uneconomical to repair. This can go one of two ways. If, for example, it was written off because the bumper was damaged – but has since been repaired – you might bag a bargain. However, it might be something more sinister, so it’s important to check its history. You can find this out with an online HPI check, which tend to cost around £15, although it is possible to find them cheaper.
Find out more about checking a car’s history.
To get the ball rolling on your search, here are five used family cars that come recommended:
1: Volkswagen Golf / Passat
Volkswagens are an all-time family favourite, as VW has a reputation for reliability. They’re stylish looking, often cheap to repair (assuming you’ll need to), and the VW Golf Mk7 scooped the Parkers Used Car of the Year 2023 award.
You can pick up used models for incredibly reasonable prices. Which one to go for depends on the size you need. You can grab a used Golf for as little as £4,000. But if you want loads of room and a vast boot for your family’s luggage, you can pick up a Passat from around £7,000 – which gets a 5-star review on What Car?
2: Vauxhall Insignia
The Vauxhall Insignia is a good alternative to a VW Passat, and you can usually pick them up a bit cheaper. They’re roomy and reliable, and great for comfortable long-distance trips with the family. Plus, they’re economical.
It’s also got the Carbuyer Best Used Family Car 2023 award on its mantelpiece.
3: Skoda Octavia
If you’re looking for something practical and spacious for the family, the Skoda Octavia is a great bet. They’re good value, cheap to run, and have VW engines – so you know they’re going to be reliable.
If you’re looking for something with low emissions, certain models of the GreenLine version are exempt from VED, despite having diesel engines. The Octavia also features in the Parkers top 10 best used cars 2023.
4: Kia Niro
If you’re in the market for an SUV, then the Kia Niro has a good deal to recommend it. It’s spacious, and has an excellent on-board infotainment system – great news if you’re planning on going on long drives.
And one particularly attractive feature is that Kias come with a seven-year warranty – meaning there are plenty of used models available with warranties still in force. It also features in the Parkers top ten used cars 2023 and scored a glowing review on Auto Trader.
5: Honda CR-V
Japanese manufacturers are also well-known for producing reliable cars, and the Honda CR-V is an SUV which has been around and incrementally improved for almost 30 years.
The latest versions are fabulously spacious and comfortable for all passengers. They’re also a pleasure to drive. With responsive engines, they’ll shift when you need them to. Plus they’re recommended in the Parkers top 10 used cars 2023.