When I bought my first secondhand car, I had only just passed my driving test. I knew next to nothing about all things vehicular - a fact that became painfully apparent when I tried to put petrol in it a couple of days later... and didn't know how to.

Fortunately, I was saved by my risk-averse dad, who insisted a very nice AA man came out and did an inspection of the car before I bought it. There are also plenty of steps you can take yourself - for free - when buying a secondhand car...
Secondhand car salesmen go into January discount mode, just like everyone else. Before you try to snap up a bargain, however, the DVLA is advising you take certain precautions to make sure you're getting what you pay for.

Here are eight top car-buying tips:

1. Watch out for adverts only giving a landline number, with a specific time to call: It could be a phone box. Also beware of sellers only giving mobile numbers, as they could prove hard to trace.

2. Find out the market value of the vehicle before you commit any cash. If it's being sold for much less, ask yourself why.

3. Find out where the vehicle's stamped-in Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) is, so you can check it against the Vehicle Registration Certificate (V5C).

4. Arrange to see the vehicle in daylight, at the seller's home - not in a public place like a service station, pub car park or petrol forecourt.

5. Ask to see additional identification.

6. Check whether the vehicle has outstanding finance issues, as this could affects your rights to it.

7. Ask to see proof of existing ownership - like a bill of sale.

8. Ask to see all vehicle service records, and the most recent MOT certificate.

In more general terms, the DVLA's corporate affairs director urges us to use our common sense. As David Evans explains: "Our advice is to trust your instincts - if a deal seems too good to be true it probably is."