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Making sure used car buy checks out

08:45 29 November 2015

Check it out: Part of an RAC Car Passport used car check.

Check it out: Part of an RAC Car Passport used car check.

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Buying a used car doesn’t need to be a gamble, particularly if you do your research and make some simple checks.

Carrying out a car history check is vital, but it’s worth knowing what information you will receive and where to find out other important details about a car you want to buy.

When you know which car you are interested in, you can tap its registration number in to a variety of car history checkers. These vary in price from a couple of quid to more expensive ones at around £20. Generally, the more expensive the check, the more detailed the information on the car and its previous life.

Alarm bells

Even so, a low-cost check should tell you if the car has been stolen, written-off or has outstanding finance still to be paid off. If one or more of these items is flagged up by a search, it should ring alarm bells.

If a car shows as being stolen, you should report it to the police as the seller may well be a criminal. Equally, it could be the car has not been properly registered as being stolen and returned to its rightful owner who is now selling it, but better to be safe than sorry.

There are different categories of write-offs, with D and C category cars allowed to be sold on, but the seller should declare this. If not, ask yourself why the seller is trying to hide the information.

As for outstanding finance, it means the car is effectively owned by the finance company and not the seller, so they should not be trying to sell it in the first place. The worst case here is you buy the car and the finance company reclaims it from you to settle the debt, leaving you out of pocket and with no car.

Checks, checks, checks

Clearly, a history check is hugely important for any used car you consider. However, there are other sources you can use to check a car’s background.

The DVLA’s website lets you check a car’s details using its registration number and make. This will confirm the car’s registered details, such as engine capacity, emissions and colour. It will also tell you when the current MoT test is due to expire.

Also using the DVLA’s website, you can look at previous MoTs of many used cars. This will let you know if the car has had any major faults that have caused an MoT failure and you can use it to tally the mileage at each MoT with what is displayed on the car for sale.

Using this information, you can also cross-reference it with the history and service file from the car. While this is not a definitive check, it is one that costs nothing and helps to confirm a car is genuine and not being sold by a dodgy criminal.

There are also some free car history check websites, but be aware they are not as thorough as the best paid-for services. Using these along with common sense should keep you clear of any iffy used cars.

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