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Approved used car schemes: your ultimate guide

We reveal how appoved used car sales schemes work, with an A-Z of which car manufacturers offer what

Every year in the UK, more than seven million used cars change hands. Some will be on their last legs; many will be as good as new. The problem for most buyers is that they don’t have the budget to purchase a new car, and don’t have the knowledge to buy a used model with confidence. In short, they’re worried they’ll land a banger rather than a minter.

For more than a quarter of a century, there has been a solution: the approved used scheme. Vauxhall offered one of the first with its Network Q programme, launched in 1990. And rivals quickly jumped on the bandwagon; the Ford Direct scheme followed in 1994. 

The beauty of these manufacturer-backed set-ups is that they offer a vehicle that comes with most of the benefits (including the peace of mind) of a new car, but at a lower price. Car makers have the confidence to do this because any vehicle offered through an approved used scheme will have been cherry picked and carefully inspected to reduce to a minimum the chances of its new owner having problems.

• Best used cars to buy now

In most cases, approved used cars are low-mileage, one-owner examples maintained by an official dealer from new. As a result they’re the most expensive route to a car after buying a new one – but there are still big savings to be made. And makers now have a ready supply of these mint cars thanks to the rise of the Personal Contract Plan (PCP). Most new car buyers aren’t really buyers at all; instead they lease their cars using a PCP. These schemes come with annual mileage limits and penalties for handing back a car that needs significant refurbishment before it can be sold on.

skoda approved used

Most PCPs run for three years, but there’s now a tendency for those who sign up to be offered a new car for the same money, part-way through the term – say, after 18-24 months. Getting a brand new motor for no extra cash appeals to many drivers, even though they have to sign up to a new three-year deal. They hand back their 18-month-old car that’s probably done little more than 10,000 miles, and it should still be as good as new. Soon after, valeted and inspected, it’ll be on a franchised dealer’s forecourt as an approved used car.

Another steady supply of low-mileage, nearly new cars is from dealers and manufacturers themselves. Staff typically get a new car every few weeks or months, with their old one finding its way on to a forecourt soon after disposal time. Mainstream companies such as Ford, Vauxhall, Volkswagen and Jaguar Land Rover have huge workforces, and many staff will be able to take advantage of such schemes. Throw in the trade-ins from new car purchases and some pre-registered examples, and there’s no shortage of forecourt stock.

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All manufacturers cherry pick the cars they put into their approved used programmes, but they still have to go through them with a fine toothcomb to minimise the chances of problems cropping up. While all companies thoroughly inspect a car before selling it on, some are more complete than others. Most say their inspections are just ‘comprehensive’ or ‘stringent’, while others do it differently. BMW puts its approved used cars through a 120-point analysis; Ferrari’s process covers 190 stages, but a more usual figure is 100, including areas such as a history check to include mileage verification.

Toyota Approved used cars

If after such comprehensive checks a car is deemed not up to scratch, it might still make its way on to a franchised dealer’s forecourt, but not as part of the approved used scheme. Sold without all the warranty benefits of the cherry-picked models, the car should be just as reliable but the asking price will be correspondingly lower. It’s also worth bearing in mind that franchised dealers don’t have to stick to one marque within their approved used schemes; some will mix and match as long as the car fulfils the necessary criteria in terms of history and condition.

Buying a used car: your complete guide

While your local dealer will have a selection of approved used vehicles in stock, most car makers allow you to get the national picture by looking online; ideal if you’re after a specific model. We scoured these various websites and found prices were often well above what you might expect, according to the trade guides. So before assuming you’re getting the very best deal, check online to see what else is available; you might find you can save a few thousand pounds by shopping around – enough to buy several years’ worth of breakdown cover, routine servicing and repairs. 

Also don’t be afraid to haggle on the finance – dealers don’t always offer the best rates and some hard bargaining before signing up might just save you a load more cash.

A-Z of approved used car schemes

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