Perils and Pitfalls of Car Buying

Having been in our current housesit now for about 7 weeks (5 weeks to go), we’ve started to get itchy feet to see some sights further afield. We’ve been getting about on foot, by bus and train (see Teresa’s earlier post here), and while reasonably efficient once you’re on it, the system is not very well organised, in particular the buses which are run by at least three different companies, all using a different timetable and ticketing system. Of course trains and buses will only leave from their set stops and take you to their set destinations along set routes, which means a fair amount of time is spent actually getting to the transport hubs. Add in what locals are calling “a pretty terrible summer” and you can start to see why having a car here could be very appealing.

Being in a different country presents a whole set of different rules about car ownership and driving. So it’s taken me a couple of weeks to get my head around the UK systems, which are quite different from NZ. Where to find a car? Who you should buy one off? How much you should pay? What extras you have to pay (tax)? How does insurance work here…etc etc. It’s quite confusing in many aspects.

The where-to-find-a-car question is perhaps the easiest one to deal with. Cars here tend to be sold on web sites, similar to NZ’s Trademe. looks like one of the biggest ones and it’s the one I’ve been using the most. Car dealers and private individuals use this site. There is a plethora of information offered on all cars listed, as the web sites seem to extract information from a central database about a cars styling, performance, running costs, safety and features. This is all quite handy when you’re not sure about the various car makes and models in a new country.

Arthur Daley Car Deals
Arthur Daley Car Deals

Who actually owns the cars on these sites though, can be very confusing. There seems to a mixture of licensed car dealerships, private individuals, and then some weird category called “traders” who seem to be some intermediary between a licensed dealer and you, the unsuspecting buyer. I’ve viewed two cars that appeared to be on the market through individuals, but turned out to be through a trader. These cars are apparently trade-ins to dealerships. The dealerships have decided that they’re not good enough to put on their car yards – due to age, mileage, condition.  So the dealer has sold the car to a trader. The trader then tries to sell the car to you or me, a private person, looking to make a profit on what they paid to the dealer. One of the weird things about this is that this activity between a dealer and a trader does not appear to go on the cars ownership record. So  the ownership records still show the last private owners name, until it’s sold to you, the next private owner. It’s a little weird and give me the heebies. I’d like to know a cars full history thanks, including what dealerships it’s been sold by.

Car registration here is called tax. In NZ all cars pay the same amount, either on a six monthly or annual basis. Not so here! The amount you pay in tax is calculated on the amount of CO2 the car emits. I understand that parliament made a decision in the UK to try and lower CO2 emmissions and thus you pay more in annual tax if you have a bigger and/or older car as it’s likely to emit more CO2 into the atmosphere. So the tax can range from nothing, up to about 400 pounds per annum. Most small cars seems to pay something in the 100 – 200 pound range per annum. Someone told me that there are some new cars that actually pay no tax at all because their emissions are so low!

How much you should actually pay for a car is another confusing thing to get your head around. Prices for a beat-up old piece of junk seem to start from as low as 300 pounds. I assume that these will pass an MOT (annual vehicle testing warrant – called a WOF in NZ). There’s a huge amount on the market here in the 700 to 2000 pound range and this is the range that I was originally looking in. A few people told me that I should be able to pick up something reasonably decent for about 1500 quid. Having seen a few at this price level I’m not so sure! However, there are so many cars on the market here, one thing for sure is that if you don’t like something there will be another 5 of the same model car, just around the corner!

Finally insurance, one of those things you have to have but hate to pay for. I understand that it’s compulsory to have at least third party insurance here. That’s great. In NZ it’s not compulsory. There are a number of online price aggregators here and they have obviously done a deal with the car listing web sites. Once you’re interested in a vehicle you just click a button and it will transfer all the car’s details into the price aggregator, add in your personal driving history details and it will spit out five to ten quotes from different insurance companies.

First surprise here….it’s bloody expensive!  The lowest quote I could get was about 500 quid. That’s $1,000 NZ!! That’s about three times what I paid back in NZ for comprehensive vehicle cover. Holy shit! A friend told me that I should just deal directly with an insurance company. A big issue seems to be that I have been in the UK less than 12 months. This bumps the cost up. And the fact that I am still on a NZ driving licence. So I emailed my NZ insurer and got them to email me a copy of my car insurance record – no claims on file for 10 years of insurance cover. That should surely help.  It did. The quote dropped to just over 300 pounds, which apparently is about right for comprehensive cover here. Still sounds pricey to me, but as you can see I’m still stubbornly converting UK pounds to Kiwi dollars – not that helpful when the ratio is 2:1.

So after 2 weeks of getting my head around all this drama, getting to a place where I feel that I kinda know what I’m talking about and won’t get totally ripped off when making a purchase, I wake up one morning to the following message from a friend on Facebook:

Super Like

“Hi Tim. How is it going? I hope you are enjoying Scotland and that the summer is slowly arriving there too. I am going to come to the UK to sell my British car in the next week-10 days and, before I put it up for sale, I thought I’d ask you if you are interested in case you guys are planning to invest in a set of wheels in the near future. It is a silver grey Vauhall Astra 07 reg, 1.7L diesel, ~54000 miles. It is MOT’d until April next year and has been fully serviced in the same time as the MOT (about 2 months ago). It is pretty economical (approx 5.5l/100km for mixed and I have had it down to 4.2L on long distance driving). Nothing fancy but a decent car. Let me know if you are interested.”

Woh! All hail Facebook!


5 Comments Add yours

  1. Barbara Panettieri says:

    Hihi, life is funny like that sometimes! Sometimes things sort themselves out if you have time to ride it out… Great you did all that research though, certainly helped to get more of an insight into the different runnings in different cultures 😉 And good on you to give it a decent go with public transport first, sounds like that was a challenge in itself! Happy exploring and pushing boundaries even further, and I hope summer will live up to it’s name sometime soon for you to make it all a bit more pleasant. Barbara


    1. Tim says:

      Thanks B. Yes, without having done the research I wouldn’t have known that the car my friend offered was a good deal anyway. Oh… and petrol vs diesel… there’s a whole bunch more research in that! (I actually watched a Youtube video on how a diesel engine works. No spark plugs…who would have guessed! 🙂


  2. zenpunk says:

    In a funny way, there is divine providence. 🙂


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