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Tips to help you buy a reliable used car

How on earth do you choose the right car? There’s so much to consider, from brand, to car type (SUVs, hatchbacks, crossovers…), to fuel type (electric or petrol?) and even colour.

And then of course, there’s the super important question of reliability. You’ll want to feel confident you’ve chosen a car that will keep on going for miles and miles without repeated trips to the garage for repairs.

The challenge is often harder with used cars, as you have to make an effort to find out about their background, services and past owners. If you don’t have much experience in buying used cars, or you need a refresh on how to reduce your chances of making a bad choice,  here are some tips to help you in your search.

Check the car

Don’t rely on photos of a used car posted online. You need to see it in person. When you do, have a good look, inside and out. Make sure to do this in the daytime and try and take someone else along with you for a second pair of eyes.

If you don’t feel confident about giving the car a proper check over, then think about getting a professional to look at it for you.

Test drive the car

Always try it before you buy it. A car is, after all, a big purchase. Ideally, try out your desired car both on urban streets and on the open road so you can get a feel for how it drives in different settings.

However, before you take the car out for a drive, check with your insurance company that you’re covered to drive another car – you can arrange temporary cover if not – and take proof of your insurance with you when going to view the car.

Make sure the paperwork is right

Always make sure all the paperwork is in order before buying a used car. Key things to consider are:

  • Check the log-book carefully, to ensure it matches the details you’ve been given.

  • Seek out the vehicle identification number (VIN) on the car, and ensure it matches the one in the log book. The VIN is normally found on the driver's side at the corner of the dashboard where it meets the windshield, or by driver's side door post.

  • Check the details you've been given match DVLA's information on its website. Then enter the car’s registration number to check the past results of a vehicle’s MOT tests. The same search will tell you if the manufacturer has recalled a vehicle, part or accessory because of a serious safety problem.

Do a data check

You could also pay as little as £10 for an organisation such as the RAC, AA, or HPI Check to do a data check. They’ll check for things like stolen, scrapped or write-off alerts, outstanding finance and mileage discrepancies.

Find out what car owners say

You can improve your chances of finding a reliable car by opting for a brand with a good reputation for dependability.

Help is at hand from What Car? which surveys thousands of car owners to compare their experiences with cars up to five years old and uncover the most reliable car brands.

Lexus was crowned champion in the 2020 survey, followed by Mitsubishi and then Toyota[1]. Land Rover languished in last place. So, these could be good brands to consider.

The full table of reliable brands is available here.

Consider a hybrid

One car type fared particularly well in What Car?’s research: hybrid cars.

The class gained a 96.7% rating overall, and none of the cars surveyed scored less than 95%.

So the car review site concluded that if you want a dependable car, then it might be worth considering a hybrid.

The most reliable cars

In the hunt for the most reliable car possible, you could consider one of these vehicles, which have all been tipped as being particularly dependable:

Ford C-Max (2011-2019)

This MPV was one of three cars - alongside the Skoda Citigo and Toyota Aygo - to gain a 100% Reliability Rating in What Car?’s research[2].

It got extra praise as it features in a class, MPVs (or Multi-Purpose Vehicles), that What Car says often gains the lowest reliability scores.

Skoda Kodiaq Mk1 (2016 - present)

The Skoda Kodiak is tipped to be the UK’s most reliable family car. That’s according to Auto Express’s Driver Power research, which it says is the UK's biggest car customer satisfaction survey[3].

“The Kodiaq came top for outright dependability and plenty of owners rave about their car’s interior build quality, too”, it says.

Ford Fiesta petrol (2008-2017)

Another way you could find the most reliable car possible would be to find out which can really rack up the miles and still perform.

In 2019, What Car? published the results of a study into more than 18,000 cars to find the 10 most reliable vehicles that have covered more than 60,000 miles, and the Ford Fiesta came out top[4]. According to What Car? just under one in five (20%) petrol Fiestas had a fault, but the most common problem areas were minor: bodywork and non-engine electrics.

So, these models, that are tipped for their reliability, are worth bearing in mind when you start your hunt for your next car. Good luck!