Best cars & vans

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.

What's the best way of selling your car?

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.

 Check out the latest used car deals on our sister site BuyaCar...

A-Z of approved used car schemes

Recommended

Buying a used car: your complete guide
Classifieds
Used Car Guide

Buying a used car: your complete guide

Buying a used car from a dealer or privately isn’t always easy. So here is our advice and tips on how to buy your dream second-hand motor
9 Jun 2021
How to sell your car
Ford Fiesta automatic 2014 rear
Used Car Guide

How to sell your car

If you want to sell a car quickly online or to a dealer, our guide will help you get the best price
9 Apr 2021
Infiniti Approved used car scheme
infiniti approved used
Infiniti

Infiniti Approved used car scheme

Everything you need to know about Infiniti's Approved used car scheme
1 Feb 2021
Used Toyota Aygo review
Used Toyota Aygo Mk2 - front
Toyota Aygo Hatchback

Used Toyota Aygo review

All you need to know about buying a used Toyota Aygo. Our buyer's guide covers the Aygo Mk2 (2014-date)
19 Dec 2020

Most Popular

New 2021 Vauxhall Astra teased for the first time
Vauxhall Astra teaser 1
Vauxhall Astra

New 2021 Vauxhall Astra teased for the first time

The new Vauxhall Astra will get electrified powertrains and a more premium image
8 Jun 2021
‘Our switch to electric will soon make driving manual cars a lost art'
Gearknob
Opinion

‘Our switch to electric will soon make driving manual cars a lost art'

Want to drive a manual car? You need to take your test in a manual car. So what happens once all driving-school cars are automatic EVs?
8 Jun 2021
New Vauxhall Astra prototype review
Vauxhall Astra prototype - front
Vauxhall Astra

New Vauxhall Astra prototype review

A new Vauxhall Astra is on the way and we've driven a prototype ahead of its official arrival
14 Jun 2021
'The hydrogen underdog disruptor is back in town'
Toyota Mirai opinion
Opinion

'The hydrogen underdog disruptor is back in town'

Mike Rutherford says hydrogen-powered cars could still be a frequent sight on UK roads
13 Jun 2021
UN report highlights ethical problems with electric cars
Electric car charging
News

UN report highlights ethical problems with electric cars

Analysis reveals lithium refining takes 65 per cent of Chilean region’s water, while 40,000 child miners dig for cobalt in DRC
14 Jun 2021
New Porsche Macan facelift prototype review
Porsche Macan prototype - front
Porsche Macan

New Porsche Macan facelift prototype review

We get behind the wheel of a prototype version of the facelifted Porsche Macan SUV
13 Jun 2021
Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport vs Cupra Leon 300
Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport vs Cupra Leon 300
Car group tests

Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport vs Cupra Leon 300

The capable Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport goes up against its new Cupra Leon 300 sibling in this hot hatch battle
12 Jun 2021
'Factories are at a standstill because they can’t get the parts to finish cars'
Car manufacturing
Opinion

'Factories are at a standstill because they can’t get the parts to finish cars'

Steve Fowler points out the fresh issues facing global car manufacturing
9 Jun 2021
New Nissan Qashqai production begins in Sunderland
Nissan Qashqai - front static
News

New Nissan Qashqai production begins in Sunderland

Nissan will offer every school child in the North East of England a place on the Nissan Skills Foundation course to mark 35 years of manufacturing in …
14 Jun 2021
Illegal car modification hotspots revealed
Volkswagen Polo exhaust
News

Illegal car modification hotspots revealed

Gloucestershire has the highest proportion of illegal car modifications, with altered number plates the most common breach
14 Jun 2021
New 2021 Tesla Model S Plaid launched with 1,006bhp
Tesla Model S facelift - front
Tesla Model S

New 2021 Tesla Model S Plaid launched with 1,006bhp

Range-topping version of the Tesla Model S officially unveiled, with a sprint time of 0-60mph in less than two seconds
10 Jun 2021
New 2021 Volkswagen T7 Multivan replaces Caravelle
Volkswagen T7 Multivan - front
Volkswagen Caravelle

New 2021 Volkswagen T7 Multivan replaces Caravelle

The Volkswagen T7 Multivan MPV switches to the MQB platform and adds plug-in hybrid technology
10 Jun 2021
New Skoda Enyaq iV 2021 review
Skoda Enyaq iV 80 Sportline - front
Skoda Enyaq

New Skoda Enyaq iV 2021 review

The new Skoda Enyaq iV is the Czech firm’s first bespoke electric car and we've tested the full range on UK roads
10 Jun 2021
New hydrogen-powered Land Rover Defender prototype in development
Land Rover Defender
Land Rover Defender

New hydrogen-powered Land Rover Defender prototype in development

The Land Rover Defender FCEV prototype will be assessed for off-road and long-range zero-emission motoring
14 Jun 2021