Buying a used car can be a stressful experience, but if you head into a purchase with all the information you need it can take away a lot of the worry.

Knowing a car’s history before you buy puts you in a position of power and allows you to make an informed decision on whether to purchase.

We’ve put together a checklist of what you should know about a car and how to find it out, so take note for a stress-free buying experience!


How to check a vehicle’s history


The DVLA offers a free service that tells you a lot of basic information about a car, which is a quick and easy way to tell whether it’s even worth going to see a car.

To use the service, all you need is the registration number and the vehicle make. Enter this information and you’ll receive details such as the date of first registration, engine size and fuel type.

Cross-checking this information matches the advert description allows you to ask questions that may uncover issues. For example, if the car is registered as yellow but the photographs show a red car, there may be a reason it was resprayed.


What is an HPI check?


For a more comprehensive history check, you can pay for an HPI Check. These guys have been in the business for nearly 80 years and have built a reputation as the industry standard for vehicle history checks. The downside is you’ll have to pay £19.99 (at the time of writing) for the report.

Provide the registration number and in return HPI will tell you if the car has been reported as stolen, if it’s an insurance write-off, if there’s outstanding finance and loads of other useful information.

According to its own records, one in three cars checked have something to hide, so if you’re at all dubious about a car it’s worth the money.


How to check a car’s MOT history


Don’t just trust the paper MOT certificate. Data is stored digitally now, and the DVLA offers a free service that shows MOTs from 2005 onwards. This is the quickest and easiest way to check that the car’s roadworthy.


What documents should I check before buying a car?


When you arrive to look at the car, the most important thing to ask for is the V5C registration document. Only the registered owner should have this, so if the person showing you the car doesn’t match up you’ll want to find out why they’re selling on behalf of someone else.

Never buy a car without the V5C. If the seller doesn’t have it there’s a chance the car is stolen, plus you can’t tax the car without it.

To check its authenticity, look for a DVLA watermark by holding the paper up to a light. You should also check the serial number, which is printed on the top right corner. In 2006, two million blank log books were stolen; if the V5C has a serial number between BG8229501 and BG9999030, or BI2305501 and BI2800000, then it could be stolen.


How to inspect a car for damage or other tampering


Cars are complex machines with thousands of moving parts that could go wrong. It’s one of the risks inherent to car buying – even new cars develop faults – but you can decrease the risk by knowing how to spot the signs a car has damage repair or has been tampered with.

Use simple common sense to decide if the condition of the car matches the mileage. Modern cars make it much harder to tamper with the odometer, but it’s worth questioning if a fairly tatty car is presented with low miles on the clock.

Checking the bodywork carefully can give away even the best damage repairs. Check for inconsistent gaps and inspect each panel from different angles to see if the paint matches across different parts of the car. These can be signs of hidden repairs.

During the test drive, be aware of anything that might hint at a problem. For example, a disconcerting noise from the engine or the car pulling to one side. You should also check the electrics are in order by trying the radio and windows.


Check vehicle insurance – before and after buying


Once you’re serious about buying a car, you need to check insurance. First of all, can you afford to insure the car once you’ve bought it?

When you go to look at a car, you should double-check you’re insured before test-driving it. If you’re buying from a dealership they’ll probably have their own cover. If it’s a private deal you should check your existing car insurance covers you to drive other cars, otherwise you can organise short-term cover.

Now you have all the information you need for a trouble-free car-buying experience. If the world of car dealerships seems a little alien to you, though, check out our article about dealership regulation for everything you need to know before heading to the forecourt.

Jack Evans


After completing his university studies in English and Creative Writing in Cardiff, Jack is now a full time motoring writer at Blackball Media. His love of cars stems from his childhood years when he began to live and breathe all-things automotive.

September 2, 2016