Whether you’re looking to part-exchange your current car, sell it privately or find out what a used car you’re considering purchasing is worth, here are the best ways to find out quickly, for free.
Even if you are just starting out and want to buy your first motor (or another one to the collection, you dandy), then there a few places you’ll want to start.
Best places to buy a car online
The best place to start your search is at AutoTrader. Go through this link to find an excellent search engine that will help you determine what exactly you’re looking for. You can pick from a number of variables such as price, seats, fuel consumption and even acceleration – the need to tailor your search is suited to the information that is required from all provisional sellers.
AutoTrader is an excellent tool that reassures you of the quality of your potentially expensive purchase as it does some important checks which tell you whether the vehicle has ever been written off, stolen or scrapped. The ability to select the deals with likely lower insurance premiums, and generally picking a car that’s a couple of years old as opposed to a new one will massively, and positively affect the price you’ll have to pay.
However, there are plenty of other places to look, with ebay being the obvious next choice. As well as classifieds, where there's a fixed (but negotiable) price, there are auctions which might enable you to get a bargain.
Other sites to check include Exchange and Mart, RAC, PistonHeads and - if you're after a classic - Car & Classic. Don't forget Gumtree, which has mobile apps for even easier car hunting. There's also Shpock which has become popular recently.
Most, if not all of these sites will let you set up alerts for particular searches, so if there's a new match, you'll get an email or a notification on your phone. Some services have a premium tier which gives you an early heads-up before 'standard' users see new adverts, and this can give you a head start: good cars really do sell quickly.
Before you go and see a car, try this RAC quiz - it may save you some time, and highlight problems with a car for sale.
Also, before making a potentially long trip to view and test drive a car, it's crucial to do your own history check. There are many, many services to choose between, including HPI Check, Experian Autocheck and RAC Vehicle Check. They cost around £15-£20 for an in-depth check that will tell you if the car was ever imported, written off, had a colour or registration change, how many owners it's had and much more.
You can buy multiple checks for a discount and there are cheaper services which claim to get their data from the same places. Some services have apps which are useful if you've already tested the car and about to hand over money, as they give you an instant report on your smartphone.
How to sell a car
If you are planning on part exchanging your car, it’s best not to let the dealer know about this until you have negotiated down the price of the new car as they will otherwise use your old car as their negotiating tool, offering a higher price for it if you’re willing to pay more for the new one.
In most cases, it’s best to sell your car privately and use the extra money you get selling this way to put towards the new car. It can be a hassle, and there’s the potential to get ripped off, but it will net you the highest price. For instance, never accept a bank or building society check and hand over the keys – go with the buyer to the bank to confirm it’s genuine. And similarly, know how to identify fake bank notes before accepting cash.
Bank transfers are generally the safest way these days: the buyer can make a payment via an app on their phone and you can check if it has arrived in your account within minutes – most UK banks support Faster Payments now.
Gumtree is an excellent option if you want to sell your car for free. The site has introduced a new service called Sell My Car, and it's free to use for private sellers.
Just make sure you take clear pictures of all sides of the car and the interior, highlighting any damage: there's no point in trying to hide it as you waste your own time as well as the buyer's as they'll just be disappointed when they see it in the flesh.
If you have an unusual, specialist or modified car, you may get the best price by advertising it on the relevant forums or Facebook groups where people will better understand its worth and should be willing to pay extra for its specialist nature, or its modifications. The same goes for classic cars.
How to value a car
For years, Glass’s guide has been the go-to reference for used and new car prices, but Glass's shut down its website in November 2016. Parkers was always the guide you’d pick up at your local newsagent as a punter. Parkers and AutoTrader will give you a free valuation: you simply enter a car’s registration.
You need to register on both sites, but after entering your details, an email address and a password you’ll instantly find out the price ranges for a trade-in, a private sale and what a dealer would sell the car for.
A free valuation generally won’t take into account very high or low mileage - just the average - nor any options the car may have in addition to standard. You can pay £3.49 (Parkers) to adjust the valuation and get a more specific price for a car's options, condition and mileage, all of which can seriously affect its worth.
Autotrader does take into account mileage and will give you one price (based on good condition) for both a private sale and how much a dealer would give you in part exchange. (You can also use these tools if buying a car, and the dealer price would then be their sale, rather than buy, price.)
You can also get a free valuation from Confused.com, simply by entering a registration number and your email address. You can enter a mileage to get a more accurate estimate:
What Car? also offers a free valuation service which takes into account the condition of the car and the mileage to give a more accurate figure for the dealer, private and part exchange prices. You have to register, and you can’t opt out of handing over your details to third parties but you can unsubscribe at any time.
Which factors affect a car’s value?
Many things affect how much someone will be prepared to pay for a car, such as the mileage, optional extras, paperwork and service history.
Condition is obviously important, so it’s well worth getting it valeted or cleaning it yourself before a prospective buyer sees it. A valet can cost from around £30-50, so it’s worth tackling yourself if you can. Gleaming paintwork and a tidy interior can add several hundred pounds to the sale price.
Kerbed wheels can be fixed for around £50 per wheel, and that’s worth doing if your car is worth more than a few thousand pounds.
People care about a car’s history, and will appreciate a stack of receipts and a stamped logbook that shows it has been properly maintained.