How to get the best deal on a new car

If you’re thinking of buying a new car, these seven expert tips can help you make sure you get the most suitable model for you for the best price available...

A couple talk to a car dealership employee

Buying a car can seem like a daunting process, but it doesn’t need to be stressful. Simply follow our seven steps to bag your perfect car with the minimum of fuss.

1. Decide what type of car you need

Make a list of all your most important requirements to help you decide what class of car will suit you best. Think about how often you carry passengers and how many, and whether or not you cart around bulky or heavy kit (pushchairs, golf clubs and so on).

If you need seven seats, there are a number of options: an MPV, a large SUV and some big estate cars. It's worth noting that the current popularity of SUVs means you might get a bigger discount on an estate or MPV. If you need space for three child car seats, check out our best cars guide – it features models in various vehicle classes. 

Next, consider whether you’d prefer a car with a petrol or diesel engine, or a hybrid, plug-in hybrid (PHEV) or electric vehicle (EV). Generally, if you do lots of motorway miles, you’re better off with an efficient diesel, but hybrid and electric vehicles are improving all the time, and can be cheap to run if they suit your lifestyle and the journeys you do.  

Find the best type of car for you with the What Car? fuel comparison tool

2. Choose a new or used car

Car showroom

Your budget might dictate whether you go for a new, nearly new or second-hand car, but there are other considerations too.

If you buy new, you’re more likely to benefit from tempting manufacturer-backed deposit contributions and low-interest finance deals. On the minus side, your car might lose value more quickly than an older model, which has already taken a depreciation hit.

If you want the latest safety technology, you’re more likely to find it on a new car, but if you want a car in a hurry and want to choose from a large pool of potential vehicles, nearly new will be the better option.

Find out all the pros and cons with our full new or used car buying guide

3. Set your budget

How to get the best deal on a new car

As well as working out how much you can afford to pay in monthly instalments (unless you're buying with cash), calculate how much you are able to pay as a deposit, and what you'll have left to pay for servicing and maintenance. 

Whether you plan to buy new or used, you’ll still want the best deal possible, so spend some time online looking at similar cars on offer. You don’t have to buy online – although a growing number of people do – but browsing adverts on the internet is a great way to get a feel for prices and discounts. It also helps you to narrow down your options to two or three potential models.

If you’re buying new, visit our New Car Deals service to get your new car at a great price. It uses our Target Price – that's the most our team of mystery shoppers think you should pay for a new, factory-ordered car based on their everyday haggling. Dealers using our system are encouraged to match or beat the Target Price. If they don't, we'll highlight it to them and you, and if necessary do all we can to find you one that will.

If you’re buying used, check out our Used Cars listings. All the cars there are sold with a warranty and are less than eight years old with a mileage of no more than 100,000 miles. That means you can pick your perfect car with confidence. 

If you have a car to trade in, you can get an instant valuation on the What Car? Valuation page. If you're buying used, you can also use the valuations tool to see if the asking price is competitive. 

4. Choose how to finance your car 

Very few people pay for a car in cash, especially if it’s an expensive new one, but there are lots of different financing options.

Personal contract purchase (PCP) deals are the most popular form of finance with private buyers because the monthly payments are lower than those of any other form of finance. That means you can afford a more expensive model. Thanks to low interest rates and manufacturer deposit contributions, they are sometimes the cheapest way of buying a car outright, so it's worth checking out the deals on offer before you buy. 

You can also buy a new or used car on hire purchase or by taking out a personal loan. Find out more about all the options on our Car Finance Explained page

5. Go for a test drive

Once you have a shortlist of cars, it’s important to give each one a try. Offset pedals, a clunky infotainment system, limited head or legroom, and a poky boot are just some of the things you'll quickly spot when you experience a car at first hand. (What Car?'s expert road test reviews will give you an idea of how good each model is too.)

BMW X7 Neil Winn playing with iDrive system

A test drive at a local dealership is also an opportunity to haggle with the sales staff for a discount or extra equipment on the car. If you’ve done your research beforehand, you could even print off the best deal you’ve found online and ask the dealer to match it.

6. Secure the deal

Make sure you fully understand all the documentation about the sale before you commit to buying the car. Because of Covid-19, it's now common for buyers to have the relevant paperwork emailed to them or sent in the post to reduce contact and the time spent in the showroom. That also means you'll have more time to read through it all before signing it.

The next thing to do is agree on a delivery date that suits you, and to get it in writing in case there’s a delay.

It’s also important to arrange car insurance in advance. In fact, arranging cover three weeks before you want it to start could cut the cost by hundreds of pounds, as our car insurance saving guide shows. You can also take out gap insurance to cover the cost of a replacement vehicle if yours is written off or stolen in the first three years.

7. Take delivery of your new car

car transporter

Taking delivery of your new car is exciting, but it’s also a time to stay level-headed and check that the car’s specification matches what you ordered. It’s far quicker and easier to get any omissions rectified straightaway than to have to go back to the dealer later on.

Even if the car is new, check the bodywork and wheels for scratches or small dents because it might have been damaged as it was being prepared for sale.

Finally, don’t forget that buyers are required to purchase car tax (VED) for any vehicle they own, so be ready to do that.

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