pcp deals

Cheap Personal Contract Purchase

How to find the best deal for you

If you need a new car, but don't have the cash to pay for it, then car finance could be a way to get behind the wheel of one – though it's a big commitment. Here we've broken down the basics of personal contract purchase (PCP) so you can work out whether it's  right for you. 
 

What is personal contract purchase?

Personal contract purchase (PCP) is basically a loan to help you get a car. But unlike a normal personal loan, you won’t be paying off the full value of the car and you won’t own it at the end of the deal (unless you choose to pay the final balloon payment).

It’s one of the more complex financial products available to help you buy a car, but it can be broken down into three main parts:

  • The deposit (usually around 10% of the car's price). Dealers offering PCP finance will typically want around 10% of the car as a deposit. Some car manufacturers' finance arms offer valuable ‘deposit contributions’ of £500-£2,000 or more if you're buying a new car but only if you take their finance. The larger the deposit, the less you'll have to borrow. 

  • The amount you borrow. The amount you'll have to borrow is based on how much the finance company predicts the car will lose in value over the term of the deal (usually 24 or 36 months) minus the deposit you've put down. You’ll pay this amount off during the deal, plus interest. So you’re not paying off the full value of the car. Typical APRs start from around 4%.

  • The balloon payment (a large final payment you pay IF you want to own the car). Also referred to as the Guaranteed Future Value (GFV), this is how much the dealer expects your car to be worth after your finance deal ends, agreed at the start of your deal. You don’t have to pay this, as you get a choice of what to do at the end of the deal. But it is the sum you’ll pay if you want to keep the car.

Be wary of 0% deals - they can be too good to be true. Some dealers offer 0% interest. Take these deals with a pinch of salt though, as they are likely to try to recoup their losses somewhere else by, for example, inflating the balloon payment or making the ticket price more expensive than if you would have bought the car outright (where they could have been more likely to offer you a 'discount' on the price).

How does it work?

Ok, so this might sound a bit complicated so here's an example to explain how it works.

Let's imagine you sign up for a PCP over three years. The car costs £20,000 and the finance company calculates that the car will be worth at least £8,000 after three years. Here's how that would look...

  • You pay a 10% deposit, eg, £2,000 with a loan for the rest, so £18,000
  • You then owe £18,000. Though, as it's been agreed that the car will be worth £8,000 at the end, you only need to repay £10,000 (plus the interest on the entire £18,000) over the three year period
  • At the end of the agreement, you either pay the final £8,000 to keep the car or you can choose to hand the car back

Importantly, even if you hand the car back, you will still have paid interest for the full loan amount (£18,000) over the three year period.

What happens at the end of the finance deal?

We mentioned that you can buy the car at the end of the deal but you don't have to - in reality you have three options:

1. Buy the car by paying the balloon payment. Pay this then you'll own the car outright. Do note that most finance companies charge an added fee if you buy the car - this covers admin costs to transfer the car. It can be up to £500 but is usually lower, around £100 is standard.

2. Get a new car. This is the most common option for people taking a PCP deal. Usually at the end of a PCP deal, the car will be worth slightly more than the balloon payment. And if this is the case, your dealer will usually ask if you want to use that 'equity' as a deposit on a new PCP deal on a brand new car. For example, if the car’s actual value at the end of the deal in the example above was £9,000 and the balloon payment is £8,000, you’d have the difference of £1,000 that you could use as a deposit to roll into another deal.

Many go for another PCP, but you don’t have to. Sadly, you can't take the extra as cash - unless you buy the car and then sell privately (or get agreement from the finance company to sell it & then pay off the finance).

You don’t have to worry about the car being worth less than the balloon payment - that is if it's lost more value than was expected at the start of the deal. If that happens, the sensible course is just to hand the car back - the finance company takes the hit.

3. Hand the car back and walk away. This means you have nothing more to pay, though you could face damage and over-mileage charges...

What charges could I face if I hand the car back/trade it in?

You could face charges if you hand the car back, whether that's trading it in, or just handing it back and walking away. There are two main types of charges, but both are avoidable:

  • Over-mileage charges. At the start of a PCP deal, you'll be asked to specify how far you'll drive the car each year. This is so the dealer can accurately assess the car's worth at the end of the deal to set its future value. A car that's done 10,000s of miles will be worth a lot less than a car that's only been used infrequently.

    It's important to be as accurate as you can, as if you go over the agreed mileage limit, the finance company can charge for every mile you are over, often around 10p per mile. Be careful as this can soon tot up. For example, at that price, an extra 1,000 miles would cost you £100. 

  • Damage charges. Just like when you rent a car, the finance company will check it for damage when you hand it back. Normal wear and tear is acceptable, but the car needs to be in a sale-able condition, which means you'll likely be asked to pay to put right any large scratches or damage anywhere on the car.

You can avoid these charges by agreeing a sensible mileage, and taking good care of the car. If there's damage, it's worth going to an approved service centre to see if it'll cost less to fix than the finance company will charge - it may be worth getting it fixed yourself.

Quick question
  • Simply put, dealers calculate this by predicting the value of the car after depreciation - the value the car loses over the contract term.

    How much it will lose depends on several factors:

    • The make and model you’re buying. Some lose value quicker than others
    • The length of the agreement, eg, a car will usually be worth less after three years than two
    • Your agreed annual mileage, eg, a car with 40,000 miles on the clock after three years will be worth less than one with 20,000

    Car finance companies often use specialist car valuers such as CAPParkers and Glass's Guide to help predict what a car's future value will be, by looking at previous depreciation of similar car makes and models.

    Finally, the finance company can apply its own risk assessment on top, so balloon payments vary between finance providers.

Is PCP the right option for me?

If you want to change your car in a few years’ time, PCP could suit you. If you are going to keep it for longer than that, you may be better off with hire purchase or a personal car loan.

These will cost more each month as these payments work to clear the full balance, but you will own the car without taking a big balloon-payment sized hit at the end. If you do opt to keep the car, PCP is generally more expensive than hire purchase.

Only around a fifth of people with a PCP deal actually go on to buy the car. If you know you won't buy it from the outset, it's also worth looking at car leasing, as it may be a better option. You don't get the chance to own the car, but it's often cheaper per month. Essentially, you’re just renting the car for an agreed period, so it’s worth contrasting this cost against PCP.

Here are the pros and cons of PCP:

Pros

Monthly payments are generally lower than a personal loan or hire purchase.

You don’t need to worry about the future trade-in or resale value of the car, as the lender guarantees your car will be worth a minimum sum at the end of the deal (though you could be charged for any damage deemed to be outside normal wear and tear).

It's relatively flexible. You've several options at the end of it, including the option to buy the car.

Dealers will often throw in service and maintenance packages, warranties and insurance so you can get your total cost of motoring down to one payment each month (though check these are free, or if not, represent good value).

A PCP may let you buy a more expensive car than you might otherwise be able to afford but with monthly payments to suit your budget.

Cons

You won’t own the car during the contract period – and will only own it at the end if you pay the balloon payment.

Interest rates are generally higher on PCP than on personal loans.

If the predicted future value is set very close to the actual value of the car you will have little equity to roll onto another deal. If there isn’t any, you will have to get your hands on another deposit for a replacement car elsewhere.

Extra charges of around 10p per mile if you go over the agreed set mileage.

The future value is based on keeping the car in good condition. You’ll be charged extra to put right anything that’s not down to normal wear and tear.

Different car finance options compared

Broadly speaking, there are six different ways to pay for a car. The table has the key differences at a glance.

Finance type Typical length of agreement? Initial deposit required? Who owns the car? Mileage restrictions?
None – cash savings N/A N/A You No
0% credit card Up to 20 months No You (though you'll still need to repay the debt) No
Personal loan 1-7 years No You (though you'll still need to repay the debt) No
Personal Contract Purchase 1-5 years Yes (i) The finance company, unless an optional final balloon payment is made Yes
Hire purchase 1-5 years Yes (i) The finance company, until the final repayment is made No
Leasing/Personal Contract Hire 1-4 years Yes (i) The finance company, at all times Yes

(i) In most circumstances, though sometimes you can get a deposit contribution from the dealer or structure a lease deal to pay nothing upfront.

So which wins?

Sadly, there is no one-size fits all answer to this (as much hangs on whether you want to own the car and other factors). However, we've included more information on each option below, to help work out which is right for you.

  • The outright winner if you want to fully own the car from day one, as you'll avoid paying any interest and be debt-free. Though if you're looking to buy a brand new car – which on average loses about 40% of its value by the end of the first year – and are likely to change it in the next few years, it's worth considering a leasing or personal contract purchase deal below as the overall cost of ownership can work out cheaper.

    • Pay something towards your car on a credit card, and you get powerful extra protection if something goes wrong down the line. This is because you're then covered by Section 75.

      Provided that the total cost of the car you're buying is between £100 and £30,000, paying anything towards it by credit card means the card company (or finance company in some cases) is equally liable along with the dealer if things go wrong.

      However, this isn't always straightforward. Some dealers don't accept credit cards and some may only allow you to pay a limited amount by card. So figure out how important this is, and ask your chosen dealer if it can accept cards before deciding how to pay.

  • Depending on the price of your new car, a 0% spending credit card could be the next cheapest way to borrow. Like paying in cash, you'll own the car outright, plus you'd be covered by Section 75 protection. However, you'd need to check whether the car dealer accepts payment by credit card, as not all do.

    Sadly you usually won't know what credit limit you'd get before applying, and you should budget to pay it off before the 0% period ends as the interest rate rockets. The current longest offers 20 months at 0% – see our 0% Spending Cards guide for more information.

  • This usually allows you to borrow higher amounts than a 0% credit card would offer, though you'll pay interest. However, repayments will be structured to clear the debt at the end of the term, which is usually between one and five years.

    Once approved you'll receive the funds into your bank account, which you can then use to buy the car, so you'll own it outright. See our Cheap Loans guide for best buys and full help.

    • Pay something towards your car on a credit card, and you get powerful extra protection if something goes wrong down the line. This is because you're then covered by Section 75.

      Provided that the total cost of the car you're buying is between £100 and £30,000, paying anything towards it by credit card means the card company (or finance company in some cases) is equally liable along with the dealer if things go wrong.

      However, this isn't always straightforward. Some dealers don't accept credit cards and some may only allow you to pay a limited amount by card. So figure out how important this is, and ask your chosen dealer if it can accept cards before deciding how to pay.

  • A popular way to get a new car, especially if you frequently change car and want to pay for it monthly. It's basically a loan, though usually cheaper each month as you won't be paying off the full value of the car. You also won't own it at the end, unless you choose to.

    You set a term for the agreement and pay a deposit (eg, a three-year term with a £2,000 deposit). The finance company then provides a final value that the car will be worth at the end of the agreement (eg, £6,000). These are then subtracted from the cost of the car to work out how much the loan will be (eg, you'd owe £12,000 over three years for a £20,000 car).

    There's usually a mileage allowance (eg, 8,000 miles a year), but provided you stick to that and don't damage the car, you can return it and walk away at the end of the agreement. Alternatively, you have the option to pay the final value to own it, also known as a balloon payment.

    As the dealer will be making money from the finance deal, you may find it offers larger discounts or contributions to the deposit on new cars. For used cars, it may mean you can haggle more off the sale price. Always be careful and make sure to calculate the total cost you'll need to repay after all interest has been added. This will then show the 'true' value of the discount.

  • This works in a similar way to a loan – as you're borrowing and paying off the full cost of the car – though you won't own it until you've made the final payment. Instead the car is owned by the finance company as it uses it as security against the loan (like a mortgage), so if you fail to pay it can seize the car.

    This can mean it's easier to get than normal loans, though you'll usually need to pay a deposit (often 10% or more of the car's price). You'll therefore need to consider how to fund that. However, if you're buying a brand new car from a dealer, it's worth checking if it offers a promotional contribution towards this.

    As the dealer will be making money from the finance deal, you may find it offers larger discounts or contributions to the deposit on new cars. For used cars, it may mean you can haggle more off the sale price. Always be careful and make sure to calculate the total cost you'll need to repay after all interest has been added. This will then show the 'true' value of the discount.

    See our Hire Purchase guide for full information.

  • This is a way to get a brand new car for a monthly payment, though this is essentially a long-term rental, so you'll never own the car – or ever have the option to buy it.

    Instead you'll pay an initial deposit followed by a monthly amount for the duration of the contract, which is usually over one to four years. As with PCP, you'll need to choose a mileage allowance (eg, 8,000 miles a year) and you're responsible for its upkeep.

    At the end of the agreement, you simply return the car (though you could be charged if you've exceeded the mileage or damaged the car).

    To help find a cheap lease deal, there are a host of lease comparison sites, such as Leasing.com and Lease Loco, which scan hundreds of offers from dealers across the UK. See our Car Leasing guide for full information.

Where can I get a PCP deal?

There are two main options here. The most common is to get the finance through the dealership you're buying from. However, before you start, there are some online brokers that have decent offers when you're looking for a PCP deal. It's worth getting quotes elsewhere first so you're able to compare the offer from any dealer, plus if you take a copy of the cheapest quote along you can ask it to match or beat it. 

Whichever you opt for, remember the finance provider will own the car throughout unless you opt to pay the final payment. If you choose instead to return the car, you could face additional charges for any damage (above normal wear and tear) or if you've exceeded the agreed mileage allowance. The finance provider will usually appoint someone to inspect the car when it's returned to advise if anything further is owed.

Online car finance providers

PCP deals can be found from a handful of lenders and brokers. These are handy to get an idea of the prices and repayments you might be looking at on your ideal car. Brokers offer a wide range of deals, including those for buyers with a tarnished credit history. They simply supply the finance through a variety of lenders.

If you are asking for a quote from any of these brokers, check whether they will do a hard or soft search of your credit file to give you a quote. If it's a hard search, be wary, as this is fully visible on your credit file to other lenders as an application, even if you then don't take out the loan. Too many of these in a short space of time is a red flag, so think carefully.

Some brokers will also be able to source vehicles for you, as well as finance. But you can still get your car from any dealer in the UK, and just use the broker for the loan. Funds will be sent to the dealer after the finance agreement's signed. Here are a few to compare:

  • Halifax (for existing current account customers only). Halifax offers a Flex Car Plan PCP deal, with a rep APR of 6.4%. It doesn't credit check you, though you need to have had a current account with it for at least three months and will need to pass its affordability checks. 

  • Admiral. Best known for car insurance, Admiral also offers PCP for nearly new and used cars, with a rep APR of 7.9%. It has its own eligibility calculator which will show you if you'll be accepted before applying.
  • Zuto. Broker site Zuto* also has its own eligibility calculator, so you can see if you'll be accepted without marking your credit score. Its rates start at 9% though, with a representative APR of 19.8% (and some could get much higher) so always check if you can get cheaper credit elsewhere.

Dealer finance

Sometimes known as forecourt finance, or just car finance, it's offered by almost every dealership in the UK - and PCP is one of the options they offer. Dealerships come in three main types: franchised (tied to one or more manufacturers, eg, BMW garages), independent (not tied) and car supermarkets. Sites such as Car Wow and Drive the deal are useful here, as they allow you to compare deals from dealers nationally. This means you may find a much cheaper offer from a dealer 200 miles away from you (eg, it has stock to clear), which you may otherwise have missed. 

Getting a PCP through the manufacturer's finance arm

In a franchised dealership, finance deals are usually arranged through the car finance arm of a manufacturer – so Ford Credit, for example, or Volvo Financial Services. It's definitely worth looking at what these dealerships can offer you on a finance deal, especially if you're buying a new car.

If this is the case, it's not uncommon for the manufacturer to give £500-£2,000 to you as a deposit contribution, and also offer 0% finance. If you don't qualify for 0% finance, you'll usually get an advertised APR offer from around 4%, though this is representative, so if you have a poorer credit history, you could be offered a much higher rate.

It's worth saying that if you know you want to own the car at the end of the deal, PCP will give you low monthly payments, but, once you include the balloon payment you need to pay at the end, PCP is often more expensive than a personal car loan or hire purchase.

Getting a PCP through an independent dealership or car supermarket

Many independent dealerships and car supermarkets get their finance from big banks' consumer arms, allowing them to be able to offer the same range of deals as the manufacturer-tied dealers. Blackhorse (part of Lloyds) and Santander Consumer Finance, for example, supply finance deals to non-franchised dealerships.

These finance providers aren't tied to manufacturers, and therefore often can't offer the heavily subsidised 0% finance or deposit contributions that the car companies' finance arms can on their PCP deals. If you go to one of these dealerships, expect a representative APR of somewhere between 5% and 10% - or more if you've a bad credit record.

It’s a competitive market out there – check what’s available online and from dealers, and ask yourself what you can really afford. It’s vital you can afford the repayments before you commit. With all these types of finance, if your application is accepted, finance is sent directly to the dealer.

Personal Contract Purchase Q&A

  • No. If you’ve found a car that's a couple of years old you can usually finance it with PCP. However, interest rates tend to be less competitive. This is because cars have largely lost a large chunk of their value, meaning there's little chance of the dealer getting much back on the car.

    Therefore, the interest is the only place dealers can make money from a PCP deal on a used car.

  • You’ll pay a deposit at the outset. You may be able to find no-deposit deals, but these are usually rarer. The interest rate (APR) you’ll pay should be fixed and clearly displayed on any agreement.

    Often car finance deals will give a fixed rate of interest on them – ignore this, you’re looking for the APR as this includes all interest and charges. Legally, the APR has to be stated so look for it, and ask if you can’t find it.

    Most finance companies charge an arrangement fee and a purchase fee if you buy the car at the end - these are often around £100-£500, depending on the car.

  • Don't overstretch yourself, so go for cheaper car if the repayments are too high. Alternatively you can pay a bigger deposit, and spread repayments out over a longer period.

    You’re financing the depreciation of the car, so choosing one that holds its value well is another opportunity. Also, pay attention to the annual mileage you set – the lower this is, the lower the repayments (though don’t set it low if you won’t stick to it, as over-mileage charges can be hefty).

  • Usually, yes, but you may have to pay extra. Remember that the finance company only guarantees the value of the car at the end of the agreement. So if you want to sell your car two years into a four-year deal, you’ll have to pay the difference between it’s worth and what you still owe.

    Say, for example, at the point you want to repay your car is worth £15,000 but your finance settlement figure is £17,000 - you will have to pay the extra £2,000 to the dealer to clear your 'negative equity' before you can get out of the deal.

    Some finance providers will charge you an extra fee on top to settle early, some won’t. Check the fine print before you sign up if you think you’ll want to do this.

  • If you choose to purchase the vehicle at the end of the contact you’ll also pay an 'option to purchase' fee, typically around £150, on top of the balloon payment. This is to transfer ownership of the car from the finance company to the customer.

    However, the dealer cannot ask you for more money than the guaranteed future value if you're buying the car. Likewise, if you return the car it can’t ask you for any more money. The exceptions are if you're over the mileage limit, or there's damage to the car. You'll be expected to pay to put this right.

  • These deals are big business for dealers and represent a popular way for people buying new cars. 

    The final balloon payment means that customers will probably buy another car on PCP rather than pay a big chunk of cash to own the car. So a customer could be visiting the same dealer for decades swapping one car for another, with it earning interest each time. 

    You don’t have to visit the same dealer – but many buyers will, particularly if they always buy the same make of car.

    The dealer is also guaranteed to get the car back in a condition that it can easily sell on (or it’ll charge big penalties if it doesn’t), so it’s win-win for the dealer. Plus the lower monthly payments mean that more of its customers can afford more of its cars.

  • When you apply, the lender will do a credit check to decide whether to lend to you, and this check will appear on your file as an application for credit.

    Credit checks for PCP aren't usually as stringent as those for personal loans. This is because all car finance is secured on the car - if you don't pay, they can just come and repossess the car, whereas for loans there's no security, so they'd need to chase you through the courts.

    Pay the finance off on time each month, and it'll help your credit record. Fail to pay on time, and you'll be marked as in default, which could affect your ability to get a mortgage or other credit. See our Credit Scores guide for more info.

  • If you find you're not able to make repayments, always contact the lender - ideally before the next payment is due. If it knows you're struggling, it should help you by offering an alternative and affordable repayment plan.

    If you miss a payment, it's likely the lender will contact you to see what's wrong. If you keep missing payments, they'll mark you as in default. Once this happens, they'll usually take back the car quite quickly, as to leave it with you while they chase payments risks the car depreciating in value.

    As well as taking the car, if you fail to keep up repayments, you'd get a default mark on your credit file, which could affect your ability to get a mortgage or other credit. See our Credit Scores guide for more info.

  • There are three main types of gap insurance policies, but they all have the same general aim. If you have a crash, or your car's stolen, your insurer will usually only pay out the amount the car is worth at that time.

    Gap insurance is a policy you can buy which pays out an amount above this, either to get you back to the original sale price of the car, to the amount you have outstanding on finance (which can, at times, be greater than the car's worth), or to the amount it would cost to buy the car new now.

    It’s offered because cars depreciate really quickly - on average new cars lose 60% of their value within three years.

    It's not mandatory, so you need to decide if it's worth it. Always compare policies as those sold by dealerships tend to be expensive. See our guide to Gap Insurance for full info and cheap providers.