• 2024-03-05 08:00:09
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How to Check a Used Car’s History Before You Buy


Whether you’re buying privately or from a dealer, there are a number of checks you should undertake before you buy a used car. These will help to ensure you’re buying a good quality car, that’s been well cared for throughout its life.

Below are the various checks you can do to look at a used car’s history.

Check the vehicle log book

The car log book – also known as the V5C – will have a lot of information about the car, including the current registered keeper, details about the make and model of the car, the car’s identification number, and if there has been any changes made to the car, such as to the colour. Every car will have a log book as this will show who is responsible for the car and for taxing it.

You can ask to see the vehicle log book before you buy a car. You won’t be able to take the document away, but you can check the details to ensure everything looks to be correct. You should ensure the log book has a ‘DVL’ watermark, as this will show it is legitimate.

If the car doesn’t have a vehicle log book, you should carry out a car history check on the vehicle (more on that below). It may be that the seller has simply misplaced the V5C, in which case you can ask them to request a replacement, which is usually sent out within 5 days.

Check the service history

Most people will keep a log of the services that have been carried out on the car in the vehicle’s service book. Here, you’ll see stamps from garages and signoffs for each service the car has had. A car that’s had regular services, at least one every year, will likely be in better condition than a car that has never had a service.

You’ll also be able to see who has carried out the services. If a vehicle has had regular services from the manufacturer, it may be in better condition than a service that’s been carried out elsewhere. However, a service by any reputable garage or mechanic will still mean the car has been well cared for.

Check the mileage

You should always check the mileage of the car you’re buying. Often, a car advert will include the mileage, but you should look at the dashboard yourself to verify the number. A car that has a smaller mileage will typically be in better condition than a car that has a very high mileage. This is because the wear and tear will be less, so there will often be less damage and less risk of having to replace parts.

Some sellers might try to make their car more valuable by turning back the mileage on the odometer, which is known as clocking. This practice is illegal and rare, but it can still happen. You can verify the mileage yourself by checking the service booklet and/or by using government platforms (below).

Check the details with the DVLA

You can check the car details with the DVLA. By inputting the car’s licence plate number, you can verify details about the car, including the make and model, the engine type, fuel type, export status, as well as when the MOT expires and when the vehicle tax will be due.

This can be an easy way of ensuring the car you’re buying matches what the seller says you’re getting. If any details are incorrect, you should raise it with your seller. Remember, if anything feels wrong, you should always walk away from the sale.

Check the MOT history

You can check the car’s MOT history on the government website. You can also see here if the vehicle has a valid MOT. Using this platform, you can ensure that the vehicle you want to buy has always had the necessary MOTs as well as any advisories that it has received in each test.

This platform will also tell you the vehicle mileage that was logged at each MOT. This can help verify the vehicle’s current mileage – if the seller says it’s lower than what has been logged at a previous MOT, they may have clocked the odometer.

Check if the vehicle has been recalled

The government has another platform to check a car’s history – the safety recall check. Here you can input the car’s registration number to see if it’s ever been recalled due to a safety issue. You’ll be able to see if the issue was ever checked and/or fixed. If the vehicle looks to have been recalled and the issue not rectified, it’s best to walk away from the sale.

Utilise a car history check

Companies like the AA and RAC will offer car history checks for a small fee, which can range in price depending on the size of report you need but can be less than £10. These checks will give you extra information that you might not be able to find on the government website, such as if there’s any outstanding car finance, if it’s ever been reported stolen, and if it’s ever been written off by insurance. These checks can also verify information you may already have, such as from the V5C log book and the vehicle identification number.

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