IT'S that time of year again, when the motor industry flaunts its firm grasp on the alphabet and a penchant for appalling puns. If, however, you can resist advertisements promising 'Loads of L-plate Limos', there is an alternative. Now is the moment to take the pre-owned route to happy motoring.

The motor trade is a seasonal business, and a study of the Automotive Almanac reveals that in August, thanks to the coincidence of a number of factors, the auguries are excellent for buying used. Let us examine the opportunities this month presents.

1. The August used-car glut. The simple principle of supply and demand applies here, as many thousands of cars are part- exchanged against new L-plates. The increase in the number of used cars for sale drives down their prices. Of course, certain models will not be affected, but mass market and older cars will be negotiable.

A good place to start is at the bottom of the banger barrel. With many manufacturers offering minimum exchange deals combined with easy payment schemes, a lot of people are tempted to trade in, and the resulting glut goes to auction, or direct to cheapie dealers. At the Car Bargain Centre in Slough, there was a raft of motors under pounds 1,000 - everything from a 1979 Ford Capri, minus MOT, at pounds 60, to a Jaguar XJS coupe from the same year at pounds 800. Further west, at Spey Road Cars in Reading, there were several useful saloons - a Volvo ( pounds 525), a Rover ( pounds 450) and a Renault ( pounds 250). On those and several other forecourts, everything was negotiable - thanks, I was told, to the August bonanza.

You can cut out these middle men by approaching a main dealer direct with an offer to buy one of their part exchanges at a trade price on trade terms, so no comebacks. Last year I paid a dealer pounds 50 more than would a small dealer, and picked up as a runabout for a friend a Volvo 340 with four months' tax at just pounds 200.

Some dealers prefer to recycle their own exchanges, and advertise them without warranty. Forest Motors in Walthamstow felt that the 10-year-old Mini and Sierra on its forecourt, both at pounds 995, were too good to go to auction - though not too good to be sold for pounds 150 less if I had the readies.

By no means all August bargains are bangers. Large dealers will offer discounts to shift all those cars clogging up their forecourts - but you must shop carefully. One dealer's offer of 25 per cent off previous window prices appeared less generous when one realised that the discounted cars were now selling at - rather than above - their normal retail price.

2. The July preregistration scramble. The ancient automotive practice of registering cars as sold, to massage national sales figures, hots up at quiet times such as July. While everyone waits for the new letter, the motor industry keeps busy by feigning sales activity, registering cars to itself. Sometimes the manufacturer does it, then farms the cars out for dealers to sell. Sometimes the dealers themselves do it, to achieve their targets and earn bonuses. Provided you do not mind acquiring what is, on paper, a 'used' car with the old registration letter you should be able to drive a hard bargain on such models.

At Warwick Wright in Chiswick I was offered a Peugeot 405GR automatic, one of 20 acquired from Peugeot UK and registered in June. The asking price was pounds 10,995, some pounds 3,500 less than the car would normally be on the road. The most spirited negotiations on a similar L-registration model would still leave the buyer adrift by a four-figure sum.

The central London Alfa Romeo dealer Lombarda had a delivery mileage 33 1.7iE on offer for pounds 9,950, against the normal retail price of pounds 11,210. This was not, however, quite such a bargain, bearing in mind its preregistration and the fact that the 33 struggles to make an impression in the marketplace anyway.

If you don't mind a used car with a few more miles on the clock, you can buy a close relative of the preregistered car, the demonstration model.

3. Discounted demonstrators. That car you test-drove is called a demo. Dealers get a discount for putting them on the fleet, which is passed on to the buyer. A demo will have clocked up anything between 1,000 and 5,000 miles. With the Alfa 33 still in mind, I checked out SGT in Taplow, Bucks, who had a 4,000-mile ex-demo, with alarm, for pounds 8,995. The Volvo agents Barkingside Motors were having a clear- out of demo cars across the range. The smallest saving was on a 460Xi saloon, down from pounds 11,290 to pounds 10,495, while at the other end of the scale a 960 saloon was reduced by pounds 2,495 to pounds 24,995. Over at Normand in Hammersmith there were deals to be done on Audis, and pounds 18,495 would buy a 2,000-mile 100 2.6E, usually pounds 20,460.

4. Seasonal oddities. In August, the sun should be out, the sky should be blue, so the last vehicle you consider buying is a 4 x 4. That, anyway, is the theory - although as 4 x 4s increasingly become fashion accessories, off-road style becomes an all-year-round business. If, however, you stick to the seriously useful mud pluggers - Land Rovers, Troopers and Shoguns - you may catch the dealers who want to perk up sluggish sales, or the private sellers who bought on a whim last winter and now want a change. The Falcon Garage in East Ham had a very nice Range Rover at pounds 8,000 - pounds 1,500 below normal retail price - which the salesman attributed to 'the time of year'.

August is also a time for holidays and the response to classified motoring ads is low. Phone round and see who sounds the most desperate to sell. Mainly it will be private individuals. I made a few calls, and found many who were willing to admit that they had had little or no response, and who might have been persuaded to drop the asking price significantly. What a shame I wasn't a serious buyer]

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