When buying a used car, it’s very important to try to make sure that it is what it appears to be. There are two main elements to this – click on one of the links below to get started:
Understanding a car’s service history
I believe that a good service history is one of the most important factors when purchasing a used car. Modern cars are generally pretty reliable if they are correctly serviced – it’s that simple:
- Check the service book – has it been stamped at every service?
- Are the services at the correct intervals? The car’s service book should state how often services are required (miles and/or months).
- Is the car due for a service? Cars often are when sold, so this isn’t necessarily sinister, unless it’s hugely overdue. If buying from a main dealer, try to get them to include any overdue servicing in the price.
- Look through any bills or receipts for other work done to the car. If it is more than a few years old, you may well see bills for tyres, brake pads or discs, a new exhaust, a new battery – all of this is normal and not a cause for concern.
- Has it had its cambelt replaced on schedule? This is a service item and the manufacturer’s replacement requirements should be listed in the service book. However, most garages do not automatically include it in a service, due to the cost. If it has been done, you need a receipt to prove it – otherwise you can’t be sure and should consider having it done yourself. A failed cambelt will destroy the top of your engine, resulting in a costly (£1000+) bill for repairs.(Some engines have cam chains instead of belts; these may never need replacing).
Checking a car’s identity using the V5C and a HPI Check
In addition to verifying the car’s service history, it is very important to verify its identity. This requires a careful check of the V5C registration document:
- Find the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) on the car. Ask the seller to show you if you can’t find it. Compare it to the VIN on the V5C – it must be identical. Look for any signs of tampering around the VIN plate.
- Check the engine number, this should also match the one on the V5C. If not ask why. Even if the engine has been replaced, the documentation should have been updated.
- Check that the description of the vehicle on the V5C matches what you can see – make, model and colour should all be the same.
- If you are buying privately, check that the seller’s name and address are the same as those on the V5C. If not, ask why and be very suspicious.
- If the car has a current MOT, check the details on the MOT certificate match those on the V5C.
- Finally, consider carrying out an HPI Check if the seller can’t provide one. This protects you against three main risks:
- Car has outstanding finance and could be taken from you with no compensation
- Car has been stolen – could be taken by police with no compensation
- Car has been accident damaged or written off by an insurance company – repairs may not have been safe or legal.
Never consider buying a car without a correct registration document (V5C). The seller may come up with all sorts of convincing excuses but 99% of the time they will be hiding something and you should always walk away.