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How to apply for a car loan

How to apply for a car loan

Want to apply for a car loan? Buying your first car is a huge milestone. Now, you need to finance it. So, unless you can pay cash upfront, you’ll need to find a car loan. What options are out there, and how do you boost your chances of applying successfully first time around? 

Here’s our guide to applying for a car loan and our top tips to boost your chances of making a successful application.

The main types of car loan

There are various loan types available, but for car finance, there are four main options.     

1. Personal loan

Rather than apply for a car loan, you can take out a personal loan with a bank, building society or other independent lender. 


  • You can use the loan to pay for the car, so you’ll own it outright.
  • It may be possible to spread the loan over a longer period of time.


  • The interest rate could be high unless you have a really good credit score.
  • You might incur penalties if you want to pay the loan off early.

2. Hire purchase (HP)

HP lets you hire a vehicle with the option to purchase it at the end of the loan term. Once you’ve paid off the loan, the car is yours.


  • Interest rates can be flexible.
  • You only need a 10% deposit.   


  • Short HP agreements (such as 12-24 months) can be pretty expensive in the long run. 
  • The car isn’t yours until it’s paid off. 

3. Personal contract purchase (PCP)

Think of a PCP like a long-term rental. You pay to rent the car and you hand it back once the loan period ends. When you hand the car back, you can apply for a car loan for another vehicle and start a new PCP. 


  • Low deposits, such as 10%, are possible.
  • Flexibility over loan duration (from 12 to 60 months).


  • You’ll pay more than a hire purchase agreement.
  • You can’t keep the car unless you pay the outstanding balance.

4. Leasing

With leasing, you essentially rent the car and pay the car dealer a fixed monthly sum to use it. You hand the car back once the agreement’s over. 


  • Servicing and maintenance costs are usually included.
  • Flexibility over lease duration (12 to 60 months).


  • Monthly costs can be high because they include the maintenance costs.
  • You need the equivalent of three months’ rental for a deposit. 

How to apply for a car loan

Ready to apply for a car loan? Here’s what to do. 

Create a budget

This is crucial: before you apply for a car loan, be realistic about what you can afford to spend on repayments each month. 

Figure out your down payment

Unless you’re buying the car outright, you need a down payment. This payment is usually around 10%, so set this aside before applying.

If you can pay a bigger deposit, it may make it easier to get credit or manage monthly repayments.

Consider your credit history

Credit score a little on the low side? You could still apply for a car loan, but the interest rate may be higher than you want to pay.

Remember: if your credit score is low, think carefully before taking out any more credit. You don’t want to take on more debt than you can afford to repay! 

If you don’t have much credit history, you can still apply for a car loan, although it might take longer to find someone willing to lend you the money. You could start off by approaching lenders who specialise in loans for people with no credit history.  

Decide where to apply

The main places to apply for a car loan are with your bank or a car dealership. 

A dealership has a wider range of flexible finance options, but you won’t own the car. If you take out a bank loan, you can own the car right away, but you’re still paying back the personal loan and the interest rate may be higher. It all depends on what you’re looking for. 

  • Think about what you want from your loan before deciding where to apply for a car loan.
  • Visit multiple dealers before committing to a loan agreement.
  • Don’t be afraid to negotiate if you’re unhappy with the interest rate or the loan duration – take along a friend or family member for support if you’re unsure.  

Apply for a car loan and get approved

When you apply for a car loan, improve your chances of approval by following these steps: 

  • Check your credit score first 
  • Be clear about how much you can afford to spend
  • Put down a deposit of at least 10%
  • Shop around before making an application – failed applications can damage your credit score 

Only apply to finance providers regulated by professional bodies like the FCA

What next?

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