AFTER 14 carless months I have finally replaced my written-off vehicle - and what a journey it’s been.

I say ‘written off’, but in fact my beloved 15-year-old VW Polo is back on the road. I got a shock when I typed the registration number into an MOT-checking website, to find it had been re-born.

“You can buy them back after they’ve been written off, you know,” I was told a couple of months after the relatively minor bump that led to it being hauled away on a trailer.

Had I known, I wouldn’t have been left struggling to navigate the used car market. It’s an ordeal I wouldn’t want to repeat in a hurry.

I started out full of hope and optimism. That quickly faded: the first car I went to see was sitting on the forecourt of a main dealer at £1000 higher than I’d seen it online. “Oh we’ve just reduced that one,” said the salesman. I’d been looking at their website long enough to know it was a blatant lie.

And even if it had been a bargain buy, the rust-caked exhaust and loose interior door handle were enough to put me off.

One thing you learn about buying a used car is to never rely on the description. Yet during lockdown a raft of restrictions at dealerships meant that even viewing a car was problematic, let alone taking one for a test drive.

Many opted to buy online. I was never brave enough. That you can click and collect a car in the same way as you would a sack of bird food is to me, unthinkable. No matter how sleek the pictures look, there is no substitute for seeing a car in the flesh, and, vitally, driving it.

I travelled 50 miles to a reputable main dealer for a test drive. No sooner had I set off than the car made a noise like a Boeing 727 on take-off. It was so loud it hurt my ears. The car didn’t feel stable, so I hurriedly drove it back.

The salesman took it out himself and agreed it needed workshop attention, but as it was bank holiday that wasn’t possible for two days. After rejecting the car I received a call to say the cause of the problem was down to “rust on the wheels, from it standing on the forecourt for too long” (I’d previously been told it had just come in), then, bizarrely, another manager told me the car been fine and had sold two hours after I left the garage.

Experiences like this can seriously knock your confidence when looking.

One dealer excitedly told me a car had “just come in today - one lady owner.” When he sent me the details I recognised the vehicle from Autotrader’s website, where it had been sitting for several months.

Previous car ownership is a major sticking point when you’re buying a used car. ‘Don’t buy ex-company or lease, beware cars with more than two owners,’ I was repeatedly advised, yet others told me that companies maintain cars well and regularly, whereas one owner could be a boy racer.

Lockdown hasn’t helped. In the past few months fewer cars have come on to the market, causing prices to rise. And some dealers literally force finance upon you, even if it’s not wanted. Some make it clear they don’t really value your custom, unless you take a loan from them.

I admit, I wanted a certain make and model, and I was quite fussy as to the colour so I probably hindered my own search.

There have been times when I didn’t think I’d ever get a car, but last weekend I finally did. I broke my own rules and bought from a large car supermarket. The salesman was lovely, the test drive went well and the experience couldn’t have been better.

Fingers crossed.