7 min read

The big car choice: should you buy new or second-hand?

Hannah Patnick
10 February 2017

Buying a car is a big decision – especially if you’re trying to work out whether to go brand new or buy second-hand. We’ve put together some tips to help guide your decision.

Buying a brand new car is a dream situation for many; it’s clean, it’s shiny and it has that great new car smell.

But if you’d rather buy more economically, and avoid paying the premium for being a car’s first owner, then you might want to consider going second-hand or even ‘nearly new’.

Consider the overall cost, not just the purchase price

Depending on how you plan to pay for your car, you’ll be doing your initial cost comparisons using the large, one-off price or the monthly repayment amounts (if you pay on car finance).

However, there are lots of other costs that come into play when buying and running a car and they shouldn’t be overlooked. These include the car tax, a car’s fuel consumption, MOT costs and car insurance. In particular, the car tax and fuel consumption are often cheaper on new cars (which run more efficiently) compared to older cars.

Making careful decisions about these (and other) factors could save you a small fortune over the years that you plan to have a car - and you may even find a new car or higher spec used car is more affordable than you first thought.

Useful links

  • You can work out the vehicle tax rate for any car on this website
  • You can find out how to cut the cost of car insurance through the Money Advice Service
  • If you’re thinking of buying second-hand, you know the number plate and the car is less than 5 years old, you can use this tool from Money Advice Service to find out a car’s estimated running costs.

Check what you can afford before you decide

If you’ve got an idea of which way you want to buy, the next step is to check what you can actually afford. If you’re planning on borrowing the money, make sure you understand the different ways you can borrow money to buy a car. Carrying out soft searches will help you check if you’re eligible for the loan before you set your heart on something you can’t afford.

Check out car finance offers matched to your credit history

Buying a new car

Pros:

  • You can get the exact specification of car that you want
  • Generally speaking, new cars are safer and more fuel efficient thanks to the latest technology that’s rapidly entering the market.
  • You’ll be covered under a manufacturer’s warranty (usually lasting 3 – 5 years)
  • New cars are more reliable because there’s no previous wear and tear
  • Lower running costs than older cars: so it’s likely to have a better fuel economy, fewer (if any) maintenance costs, no MOT to pay (for 3 years) and the car tax is likely to be lower too.
  • You might be offered a better car finance deal that used car buyers won’t be offered

Cons:

  • New cars are expensive (obviously). You pay a premium for being the car’s first owner.
  • Most new cars lose up to 60% of their value in first 3 years, so if you choose to sell the car on, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to make back much of the money you’ve paid for it.
  • If you go for a tech-reliant car you may find computer faults occur which can’t be fixed at the side of the road.

TIP:
Try to avoid getting too niche when you’re picking the specifications of your car. If you add loads of unique features to the car, you may love it but it may make it harder to sell on.

Buying a second-hand car

Pros:

  • It will be much cheaper than buying a brand new car
  • Because it’s cheaper, it helps your chances of affording a higher spec of car
  • It doesn’t lose as much value as a new car, so if you choose to sell it on you’re more likely to get a good chunk of your money back
  • It’s yours straight away

Cons:

  • You don’t know the car’s history. You may want to pay for a history check which will allow you to verify the car’s details and check for things such as previous insurance write-offs.
  • If you buy privately, it may be difficult to go back to the seller if something goes wrong with the car.

Buying a nearly new or pre-registered car

Nearly new cars are cars which are no more than 12 months old. Generally speaking, these tend be former dealership demo cars, company cars, hire cars, or may have been ‘pre-registered’ by the dealership themselves (in which case they may have never been driven).

Pros:

  • The price will be lower than a brand new car
  • Because you haven’t paid a premium for being the first owner, you won’t lose as much money in depreciation
  • It’s likely to be in good condition
  • It’ll still be covered by the manufacturer’s warranty, even if it’s for a shorter period than if you bought it brand new.

Cons:

  • You will have to buy ‘off the rack’ – so you can’t demand the exact specifications you want
  • If it has been driven before, you won’t know it’s history
  • Because you’re technically the second owner, you won’t be able to sell it on for as much money as you would have if it were new – even if you were the first person to drive it.

So which is right for you?

There’s no right answer to this question. Some buyers prefer a new vehicle and are happy to pay for that privilege; others feel uncomfortable with a debt or monthly leasing cost and want to buy a car they can drive away immediately without worrying about depreciation.

If you’re not sure which option is best for you then it is worth prioritising what you want and doing the sums. The new vehicle may not be as out-of-reach as it first seems, or a second-hand car might enable you to buy a higher-spec model.

by Hannah Patnick

In her previous life Hannah was a consumer journalist making primetime television shows. Now she's ClearScore's new Content Producer. Amongst her many talents, Hannah is famed for her excellent tea-making skills.

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