Checking a car’s identity and service history

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:

  1. Check the service book – has it been stamped at every service?

  2. Are the services at the correct intervals? The car’s service book should state how often services are required (miles and/or months).

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. Check that the description of the vehicle on the V5C matches what you can see – make, model and colour should all be the same.

  4. 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.

  5. If the car has a current MOT, check the details on the MOT certificate match those on the V5C.

  6. Finally, consider carrying out an HPI Check if the seller can’t provide one. This protects you against three main risks:

    1. Car has outstanding finance and could be taken from you with no compensation

    2. Car has been stolen – could be taken by police with no compensation

    3. 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.

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