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Top 10 tips when buying a used vehicle


1. Understand the risks:

Consider the risks of buying a used vehicle.

The Seller:

Always find out exactly who you are buying the vehicle from and never agree to meet on neutral ground, however convenient that may be for you.

For a private seller, visit the address recorded on the Driver Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) Vehicle Registration Document (V5C) document and ask to see proof of identity, such as a passport or recent utility bill, to ensure the seller is the keeper. It would be best to enter the premises if you feel safe to do so. Avoid doing a deal on the pavement outside the given address.

For a dealer, car supermarket or auction company, visit them to ensure they have commercial premises and are not selling from a public car park. A dealer usually has several vehicles on site for sale. They should supply you with a printed invoice giving all the company details, VAT registration number and full details of the vehicle. Never let them bring the vehicle to you, however far away they are and however willing they are to do so. Make sure that you enter the premises. Don't do a deal on the pavement outside the given address.

To help you avoid fraud follow these simple rules and you will minimise the risk factor involved when buying a used vehicle. There are cases of fraud in the market but if you take care you can reduce your risk. The basic rules to follow are:

  • AutoCheck the vehicle
  • Visit the seller - don't let them bring the vehicle to you and don't meet them halfway
  • Check their identity
  • Don't buy a 'bargain' - it may not be all it seems
  • Get an independent mechanical inspection


The vehicle must have a full DVLA V5C.

The front page of the V5C is now mainly red but it used to be mainly blue. The DVLA have advised that a number of the older, mainly blue V5C Vehicle registration documents have been stolen, and may be used fraudulently.

Although these stolen documents relate to the older mainly blue version of the V5C, unscrupulous people may still be using these documents hoping the potential buyer is unaware.

If the serial number on the V5C falls within the following ranges do not to purchase the vehicle but report the matter to the police:

  • BG9167501 – BG9190500
  • BG9190501 – BG9214000
  • BG8407501 – BG8431000
  • BG9282001 – BG9305000
  • BG8229501 – BG9999030
  • BI2305501 – BI2800000

The stolen certificates have a different background colour on the "Notification of Permanent Export (V5C/4)" tear off slip on the second page, which looks mauve on the front and pink on the reverse. On the legitimate older V5C documents they should be mauve on both sides.

The vehicle must have a valid MOT certificate where applicable. Check the status of a new style MOT Test Certificate on https://www.gov.uk/check-mot-status

Carry out an AutoCheck on the vehicle and compare the AutoCheck data carefully against the vehicle and the V5C.

Check that the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number), also known as the chassis number, on the VIN plate (found in the engine compartment) and the VIN (stamped onto the vehicle body shell) match the number recorded on the V5C. Make sure that you confirm the VIN on the AutoCheck site before you purchase the vehicle.

Check the service history carefully, and obtain confirmation that any warranty is still effective.

The Vehicle:

Question the reason for a vehicle being sold below the current market value. A 'quick sale' may not be all it seems.

AutoCheck cannot tell you:

  • If the vehicle has been damaged, unless written off by an insurance company.
  • If it is a 'clone' bearing false Vehicle Registration Mark (VRM) and Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). If it is a clone the data supplied will be for a different, but identical, vehicle.
  • If it was originally purchased in another EU country, not the UK.
  • If it is roadworthy.

Paying for the vehicle:

A cash sale is not traceable; always try to pay by electronic bank transfer, cheque or bankers draft. The AutoCheck Data Guarantee does not provide protection for cash payments which exceed £1000 or 10% of the purchase price of the vehicle (whichever is the lower).


If you believe the vehicle is covered by a manufacturer's warranty it is advisable to contact a franchised dealer or the manufacturer to check the validity of the warranty. A vehicle purchased outside the UK may have a shorter warranty period than an identical vehicle purchased from a UK dealer. Manufacturers' warranties are also conditional on regular servicing and other circumstances.

2. Decide where to buy:

Are you comfortable buying privately, from a dealer, from a vehicle supermarket or in an auction?

Car dashboard sat nav

Buying Privately:

This is often the cheapest option however; it can carry greater risks than buying from a dealer as you have fewer rights if something goes wrong.

A private seller must accurately describe the vehicle, must not tell you something about the vehicle which isn't true and must answer questions truthfully. However, it can be difficult to prove if a private seller has not met these requirements particularity if there has only been a telephone conversation or a discussion in person. Think about retaining copies of adverts that you have seen relating to the vehicle and any written documentation between you and the seller including e-mails and text messages. If the seller describes something to you verbally ask them to write it down or e-mail it to you before you purchase the vehicle.

Importantly there is no legal requirement for a vehicle to be of satisfactory quality or fit for purpose if purchased from a private seller.

Buying from a Dealer:

This is usually a more expensive option than buying from a private seller but you have greater protection when buying from a dealer.

When buying a used vehicle from a dealer you have the right to expect the vehicle to meet any description provided to you when you were buying it, in the advert or in conversations prior to purchase, the right to expect the vehicle to be of satisfactory quality, and the right to expect the vehicle to be fit for purpose. If the used vehicle does not satisfy these requirements, you have the right to claim against the dealer.

Buying from a Car Supermarket:

This is often cheaper than buying from a dealer as a car supermarket will usually buy vehicles in bulk and pass on savings made to the buyer. However, choice of spec and colour is usually less wide ranging than from a dealer as a car supermarket will look to purchase vehicles with standard spec in the most popular colours. In addition, aftersales such as repairs and serving may not be as comprehensive as that offered by a dealer, if offered at all.

Buying from an Auction:

This can be one of the cheapest ways of buying a vehicle but beware that you probably won't have the legal protection that you would have if you purchased from a dealer. Ensure you read through the terms and conditions provided by the auction house.

3. Do an AutoCheck:

Make sure you check the vehicle's history; it will alert you to specified issues including whether the vehicle has been reported stolen, has outstanding finance recorded against it, has been written off by an insurance company and if it is being traced by a third party. You can buy multiple reports for £9.99 (that's as little as £2.00 per report if you check 5 vehicles), so you can check several vehicles on your shortlist.

4. Ask Questions

Ask more questions

Think about the right questions to ask the seller. If you don't ask, especially when buying privately, you may have little comeback if there's a problem later.

Consider asking the following questions:

  • What is the condition of the vehicle?
    • An important question to ask, especially if the seller has not made any comments about the condition of the vehicle.
  • Has the vehicle been in an accident?
    • If the vehicle has been in accident ask about the extent of the damage and what repairs have been carried out. Ask for receipts or invoices to see what work has been done. An AutoCheck cannot tell you if a vehicle has been in an accident unless it has been 'written off' by an insurance company.
  • Has the vehicle been written off?
    • An AutoCheck can tell you if a vehicle has been 'written off' by an insurance company. The value of a vehicle that has been 'written off' can be significantly reduced.
  • Does the vehicle have a service history?
    • It could be a concern if the vehicle does not have a service history as you will not know how the vehicle has been cared for. If the vehicle does have a service history look to see how often the vehicle has been serviced and if there are any comments about the state of the vehicle. Considering asking for receipts or invoices as evidence of any services or repairs having been carried out.
  • Is the vehicle subject to finance?
    • An AutoCheck can tell you if a vehicle is subject to finance. If the vehicle is subject to finance then the finance company will retain a legal interest in it until the loan is repaid in full and they may repossess it. You may believe that as an innocent purchaser you would retain good title on a vehicle in this situation. However, you would have to prove your status as an innocent purchaser to the finance company which, in practice, is an extremely difficult and lengthy process.
  • Does the vehicle have a V5C?
    • The vehicle must have a V5C. Check the details on the V5C match those of the vehicle.
  • Does the vehicle have an MOT certificate?

If the seller is a private seller consider asking the following questions:

  • Why are you selling the vehicle?
    • If you are not satisfied with the response be wary.
  • Are you the registered keeper?
    • You must purchase the vehicle from the registered keeper as stated on the V5C. It is a requirement of the AutoCheck Data Guarantee to buy the vehicle from the registered keeper if you are buying the vehicle privately. Ask to see proof of identity, such as a passport or driving licence, to ensure the seller is the keeper.
  • Are you the owner of the vehicle?
    • If a vehicle is subject to a finance agreement then the finance company retain a legal interest in the vehicle even if the private seller is recorded as the registered keeper. An AutoCheck can tell you if a vehicle is subject to finance.

5. Check the vehicle:

Think about inspecting the vehicle thoroughly to spot any repairs needed or signs that it’s been in an accident. Look at the VIN too.

  • It is best to look at the vehicle in good daylight. Avoid inspecting the vehicle at night or in the rain as issues will be more difficult to spot.
  • Don’t be afraid to spend time inspecting the vehicle. For many people, purchasing a vehicle will be the most expensive purchase they make.
  • General Condition:
    • Look at the general condition of the vehicle. Are there gaps that differ in size between the body panels? Is the paint work uneven across the vehicle? Look under the carpeting, if possible without causing damage, is the colour different to that of the main body of the vehicle. If the answer is yes to any of the questions above the vehicle may have been repaired following accident damage.
  • Engine:
    • Look for any damage or corrosion. Are any of the rubber like parts perishing? Look for any leaks from any parts in the engine. Look at the ground too for any signs of leaks. Check the oil by using the dipstick to check if the level is correct.
  • Tyres:
    • Are the tyres in good condition and do they meet minimum requirements?
    • Is there a spare tyre and is that in good condition and meeting minimum requirements?
  • Electrics:
    • Check all locks, windows (including the sun roof if the vehicle has one) and electronic controls. Does the key unlock and lock everything it should? Check all of the lights to make sure they work; including lights built into the doors and in the boot or tailgate. Do the windscreen wipers and wash work properly? Check the radio, sat nav, if the vehicle has one, and anything else on the control panel and any other gadgets. Check the warning lights. Usually they will come on with the ignition and then go off.
  • Safety:
    • Do the seatbelts operate correctly and is there any sign of damage?
    • If the vehicle has airbags fitted check the warning light to see if the air bag is not working.
  • Check the VIN:
    • The VIN will be documented on the V5C registration certificate issued by the DVLA, and usually in the service book. You can find it in several places on the vehicle:
      • It is engraved on a metal plate usually found in the engine compartment. Be suspicious if it shows signs of having been tampered with, such as rivets having been disturbed or if it has been removed.
      • The VIN is also stamped in several places on the chassis of the vehicle, often under the bonnet or in the floor panel on the driver's side. Check the surrounding area for signs of any alteration, the 17 digits should be evenly stamped. If you cannot find the stamped VIN, contact a franchised dealer for advice.
      • The VIN on the registration certificate, and held in our data, does not contain the alphabetic letters I or O, these are always shown as numbers one and zero.
      • Carry out an AutoCheck and make sure that you confirm the VIN on the AutoCheck site before you purchase the vehicle.

6. Go for a test drive:

We've got a checklist of things to look out for on your test drive. Don’t forget to make sure you're insured!

  • Before you start:
    • Can you easily adjust the driver’s seat to find a comfortable position?
    • If you will be fitting a child car seat take yours with you to see if it will fit.
    • Is there enough space for passengers particularly if you often make long journeys?
    • Is the boot space large enough for your needs?
    • Ensure the engine is cold before you start? Starting an engine from cold is more likely to uncover an engine starting problem.
  • On the road:
    • Try driving in different road situations such as in built up areas and on open roads to see how the vehicle performs.
    • Does the engine make unusual or excessive noises?
    • Is there excessive smoke emitted from the exhaust?
    • Are the gear changes smooth?
    • Does the vehicle veer to one side or the other?
    • What is the suspension like on humps and around corners?
    • Do the breaks work effectively and bring the vehicle to a halt in a straight line?
    • If possible, try the handbrake on a hill.

7. Get the price right:

Think about having a budget, and sticking to it. We've got tips on haggling, to help keep the price down. Consider how you want to pay for the vehicle.

  • Do your research. Look at dealer websites and vehicle valuation websites to understand what sort of price you should be paying for the vehicle you are interested in.
  • If there any faults or issues with the vehicle, and you are still interested in buying the vehicle; then consider using these as bargaining points to reduce the asking price.
  • It may be best not to let the seller or salesperson know what your budget is or they may be tempted to go straight to it.
  • Consider starting at a lower amount than your budget as it will give you room to move gradually closer to your budget, if necessary.
  • If you decide to make an offer; the seller and sales people may not respond straight away. It would be best not to fill the silence but wait for the seller or salesperson to respond.
  • Think about keeping to your budget.
  • Be prepared to walk away if you are unhappy.

8. Take delivery:

Remember to notify the DVLA, sort out insurance, and remember to get an MOT when needed.

9. Act quickly if there are any problems:

You may only have a short time to reject a vehicle if there are problems. So it will probably be best to take action as soon as possible.

10. Enjoy!

Hopefully, you'll get years of trouble free motoring from your vehicle.

Peace of mind