Quick guide to car buying: what you need to know | AA Cars

Before you hand over the money for your next car, there are a few things you should consider – from choosing the right model for you, to checking it’ll stand the test of time as your next everyday vehicle. 

Make sure you’re prepared before you enter the purchasing process with our quick guide to car buying. 

What are the different options for buying?

When it comes to buying a car, checking what you can afford first is very important. Some people will want to buy the car outright, while others will look at the car in terms of monthly payments. 

You’ll need to be sure that you’re sending or giving your money to the right person though by clarifying their banking details beforehand, and that you can afford the upkeep of the car afterwards. 

If you’re considering finance there are a few different options – from using car finance from the dealer, to your own choice of finance provider or a bank loan. To find out whether you’re eligible for finance, you can use our eligibility checker.

You may also want to part exchange, which is when you trade in your current car with the dealer. This is an easy way to sell your car and cut the price of your new one. Just be aware that because the dealer will need to make money you’ll usually sell it for a bit less than you would privately. But it can take less time and be less of a risk for you.

Want to see if you are eligible for a finance package on your next car? Use the AA Eligibility Checker before officially applying with a car dealer.

How can I work out if a car is right for me?

Before settling on a car to buy, think about your lifestyle and which car would be right for you. Number of seats, number of doors, type of fuel, efficiency plus the additional cost of car tax and insurance are all important factors that will impact your time with the car. With London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone now in force and other cities considering access restrictions on older cars, the Euro emissions standard that the car complies with might be important to you too.

Once you think you’ve found a car that’ll suit your lifestyle, do your research and check if there are any known faults worth looking out for. You can also read what current owners have said about that particular car by heading over to our reviews pages.

How do I check a car is roadworthy?

Start by carefully reading the advert as most sellers will list any problems with the vehicle up front, but always be wary that they may not be telling the whole truth. There are some ways you can do a quick check online to see if there are any known problems with the vehicle, as long as you have the vehicle registration. 

Online vehicle checkers allow you to see if there is any outstanding finance or whether the car has been previously written-off. You can also use the government’s vehicle information website to check if the car has a valid MOT, what issues have been picked up on previous MOTs, and if the mileage seems accurate based on its last test.

With AA Cars you can be sure that all vehicles have already been history checked, and we exclude all stolen or written off cars. 

If you want to see the range of used cars available through the AA Cars, click here.

How can I test drive a car?

The best way to find out if a car will suit your needs is by checking it out in person and taking it for a spin. If you’re going to a dealership they’ll make sure you’re covered to drive it but take care if buying privately that you’re insured on the road.

It’s worth doing the above checks online too if you’re serious about buying a car, but test driving will confirm whether it’s something you can live with. It’s important to check the tyres, brakes and steering are safe. Make sure you check features such as the sound system and if there’s any satellite navigation too, but also drive the car listening for any unusual noises.

Buying a car with an AA Vehicle Inspection means the car has been carefully tested by an independent AA inspector and the report is available to you. 

Need a vehicle valued? Use the AA’s free valuation service to see what dealers will offer for your car


Mileage – The number of miles a car has done in its lifetime

MOT – It stands for Ministry of Transport test and a car is required to pass annually for you to drive it on the road

Vehicle history checker – Checks whether a car has outstanding finance, is in date for its MOT or has been written-off in the past

Written-off – A car which has been damaged and fixing it would exceed its value

Car finance – A loan specifically for buying a car

Part exchange – Using your old car towards the cost of buying a new one

Private sale – Buying or selling a car directly from the previous owner


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