Motors Know How: Top five checks buying a used car

motors-logoWhen you need to buy a car (or a van or motorbike) but can't stretch to a brand new model, buying a used vehicle is a fantastic option.

However, while you can save yourself a few pounds on buying a second-hand vehicle, don't rush into buying anything until you are absolutely sure it is roadworthy and can be sold legally.

The general rule of thumb is: if it seems the deal is too good to be true, there's probably a good reason for that.

So, what should you do to ensure the vehicle you have your eye on is safe and legal? Here are our top five tips.

  1. Check if it's stolen
    If you unwittingly buy a stolen vehicle, then the police can take it from you. While it can be difficult to tell if a car is stolen, there are some safeguards you can make: ensure that the vehicle identification number (VIN), which is usually stamped on the bodywork under the bonnet or is etched onto the windows, matches that on the V5C documentation. If they do not correspond, then it is likely that the car is stolen. You should inform the police if it is a private seller; if it is a dealer, contact the local trading standards department.Other warning signs are: no vehicle registration document (V5C) or a fake document; the name and address on the V5C does not match the seller's driving licence, passport, or recent utility bill or the the seller not having car insurance documents.
  2. Make a finance history check
    Did you know that one in four vehicles still has outstanding debt against it? If you buy a car that still has hire purchase outstanding from the previous owner, then the car legally belongs to the finance company. You could have the vehicle taken away and you may also end up losing the money you paid for it. For this reason, it is worthwhile paying a few pounds for a full car history data check as it could save you thousands of pounds in the long run.
  3. Engineer check
    Unless you're a car mechanic, it's easy to miss potential problems with a second-hand vehicle. As well as checking service documents, it's good to get a really good look under the bonnet to see if there are any leaks. If the engine has been cleaned, it might disguise a possible issue. If in doubt, you can get an independent report about its condition.
  4. Check documentation
    Make sure you see all the original documents relating to the car: the V5C registration document, which shows you who the registered keeper is; the MoT certificates (make sure the seller has consecutive years of these, to prove that it is roadworthy); and service history. Do they also have other documentation or receipts that relate to repairs?You can also check online for the vehicle's MoT records and history back to 2005 if you have the vehicle's registration number and the document reference on the V5C. Go to for details.
  5. Check exterior of the vehicle and test drive
    Always inspect the vehicle in good daylight and in good weather conditions. Look in particular for rust patches, bubbling paintwork, bulging tyres, damage repair, warning lights on the dashboard, worn or damaged seat belts. Take the car for a good test drive (making sure you are insured to do so) – are there any noises or rattles that cause concern? Does the car veer when you drive or brake? Are the brakes in good working order? Is there a strong smell of petrol or oil? If you're unhappy with the answers to any of the above questions, don't buy it. There are plenty more cars available.