Money Advice Service

A personal contract purchase (PCP) is the most popular way of financing a car. It’s often seen as a way of buying a car over three or five years but most people don’t go on to buy the car. Here’s an overview of PCP, including how it works, what to be aware of, what to do if you need to end the contract early, and what to do if you’re having money problems.

What is a personal contract purchase (PCP)?

A personal contract purchase (PCP) is a complicated way to pay for a car. It’s like long-term rental, allowing you to use the car until the contract ends. At the end of the contract, you can:

  • Return the car.
  • Pay the resale value and keep it.
  • Use the resale value towards buying a new car.

Here’s what you need to know about how a PCP works:

  • The agreement lasts three to five years.
  • You will need to pass a credit check.
  • You have to pay a deposit upfront.
  • The total amount you will pay over the entire length of the contract is often higher than Personal Contract Hire.
  • You won’t own the vehicle at the end of the agreement. You can buy it by paying a final payment or ‘balloon payment’, which is normally a few thousand pounds.
  • You can also end the deal without buying the car outright.
  • There are strict terms in the agreement, like limits to the miles you can do.
  • You’ll often need to stay with the same dealer to be able to use any remaining equity in your car as a deposit for a new car through PCP.

How does a personal contract purchase (PCP) work?

Here’s what will happen when you finance a car through a PCP:

1. First you’ll need to pass a credit check.

Your ability to make the monthly repayment will not be checked though.

This means before you sign up for a PCP deal, it’s important to make sure you’ve worked out that you can afford to meet all payments over the whole term of the contract. Are there future costs that might affect your ability to keep up repayments in 4 years’ time? Use our Budget Planner to help.

2. Then you’ll need to pay a deposit, usually 10% of the value of the vehicle.

3. You’ll then be able to use the car, but remember you don’t own it yet. You’ll also need to make your payments for the duration of the contract.

Make sure you stay within your mileage restriction. There will be charges if you go over your limit. Be extra careful not to damage it too as you may be charged at the end of the contract. If you think you may go over the allowed mileage it may be worth considering getting a deal with more mileage.

Top tip

If you’ve taken out a PCP plan and intend to buy the car at the end of it, start saving up the balloon payment now.

People save money faster if they have a definite savings target, so find out how to set a savings goal.

4. When the contract is up, you’ll need to decide if you want to keep the car, return it, or use its value to act as a deposit on a new PCP.

If you want to keep the car, you’ll need to make a final payment, often called a balloon payment. This is based on what the dealer thinks the car is worth now - its Guaranteed Future Value (GVF). This can range from a few hundred to a few thousand pounds, but will be much more than the normal monthly payments. If you haven’t got this money saved, you may have to take out another loan to pay it off.

5. If you’re not going to keep the car, you can hand it back without any further payments.

6. Alternatively, you can use the car’s value after paying off the GVF as a deposit on a new PCP.

You may need to stick with the same dealer if you want to do this.

Important points to be aware of when getting a personal contract purchase (PCP)

Because PCPs are complex and often poorly explained when you’re buying cars, there are some things you need to know that might not be clear:

  • Always check your contract and the terms and conditions. There’ll be fees you’ll need to be aware of, and you’ll need to know what happens if you need to change the agreement later.

Be aware

Almost one in five people who take out a PCP deal say they can’t afford the final payment, and then feel they have to get a new PCP deal so they’ve not wasted the investment made into the first car. Be careful and check how big your balloon payment would be. Source.

  • Check how much you’re paying back, both monthly and in total – often you’ll pay more with a PCP than with other types of car finance.
  • Check how far your agreed mileage is, and what the fees are for exceeding it.
  • Excessive wear and tear and damage, such as scratches, can mean you’ll receive additional charges. Ask for written examples on how they judge what counts as excessive wear and tear and damage.
  • To end the deal early or cancel it, you must have paid half the value of the vehicle. If you haven’t, you’ll need to pay the difference before you can get out of the contract. The car will need to be in good condition too, or you might be charged for repair costs.

Alternatives to personal contract purchase (PCP)

Top tip

Four out of five people with PCP plans don’t opt to buy the car at the end of their contract (Source: the Finance and Leasing Association).

The most important thing to decide, before you take out a PCP, is whether you’re likely to keep the car at the end of the PCP or not. If you’re not, leasing a car through personal contract hire (PCH) might work out cheaper for you.

Non-fuel running costs as part of a maintenance package are often included with a PCH, giving you things like annual car tax (commonly known as road tax) and routine servicing.

If you are planning to buy the vehicle outright so you own it, there are also cheaper options.

Your rights if you want to cancel a personal contract plan (PCP) plan

Choosing the right PCP term is important. Go for a long period and you’ll end up paying more for the car. But if it’s too short, you’ll have higher monthly payments and could risk not being able to meet them.

  • If you can’t keep up your payments or simply want to cut costs, you have the right under the Consumer Credit Act to return the car as long as you’ve already made half your payments. This is called ‘voluntary termination’.
  • To find out more about voluntary termination of PCP plans, read our guide Cut your car finance costs.

What to do if you’re getting behind on car finance payments

If you’re struggling to meet household bills as well as your car payments, you can get free, confidential advice from a debt advice organisation or charity.

You could also consider:

Returning the car

You have to have paid half the value of the vehicle to cancel or end the PCP early. If you haven’t, you’ll need to pay the difference before you can get out of the contract. The car will need to be in good condition too, or you might be charged for repair costs.

Talk to the finance company

They might offer to extend the length of the lease, which would lower your monthly payments, or come to some other arrangement to help you out.

You can read more about ending lease agreements early on our Cutting car finance costs page.

Early repayment

You might be better off paying a settlement figure to the finance company, which would be one final larger payment to end the agreement. You can then keep the car or sell it.

This article is provided by the Money Advice Service.