General tips when buying a used car

Dealers and private sellers alike will seek to persuade prospective buyers that a car is in good condition and genuine. Most of the time, purchasers can rely on honesty – but sometimes, sadly, they can't.

To be sure that the car isn't stolen or a dangerous "cut and shut job" (i.e. two different car halves taken from write-offs and welded together), buyers must look out for the following:

Check the Registration Document

Never be shy to ask for the vehicle's registration document (V5C). If the registered owner has a completely different name or details to the private seller, it's not unreasonable to start wondering why.

The V5C also lists previous owners and it may be worth contacting them to ask about the vehicle's past if suspicions are raised. Unlike the seller, they have no particular interest in persuading a purchaser to part with any money and they may provide information the seller would prefer buyers not to know.

Check the service history

Check the vehicle's service history. It should record all the work done on the car since it first hit the road. If there isn't one, or the book has noticeable gaps in it, ask why. Keep an eye open for recurring problems; if they haven't been properly solved, they're likely to come back to haunt (and annoy) the new owner.

Check the MOT history

Cars over three years old should also have a continuous MOT history from their third birthdays onwards. Ideally, choose a vehicle with a recently completed MOT otherwise another bill will shortly be necessary on top of the purchase.

Consider an HPI check

Purchasers worried about stolen cars and cut-and-shut re-welds can approach a checking company (the most established one being HPI) to find out any untoward background history, although a fee will be necessary. Remember, cut-and-shut jobs can be death traps if involved in a collision because the original integrity of the car has been breached; a small fee is infinitely more preferable to running this risk.

Clones and loans

Be aware of cloning; this is a scam whereby a car is given another vehicle's identity. Usually, this is done either to pass on stolen vehicles or to dodge speeding and parking fines.

Finally, ensure that the current owner has paid a finance agreement for the car in full or has settled all outstanding loans for which the car may have been used as security. Finance companies can come after new owners for the previous owner's unsettled loans and repossess the car.