There’s a wealth of things you have to remember to do and check when buying a used car. It can certainly be tricky to keep on top of, even for seasoned motorists. And ensuring you get all the right car documents is an essential part of the puzzle. So sit back and strap in, as we detail all the vehicle paperwork and documents that are integral when purchasing a preowned car.

We’ll look at the V5C car registration document, the MOT certificate, service history, and more. We’ll explain what they are and we’ll tell you what to look for too.

Logbook / V5C document / Registration document

Coming under a slew of names, the car registration document – also known as the V5C, the logbook, and variations thereof – is arguably the most important paperwork you need to check. Why? Because the V5 car document shows who the vehicle is registered to, including their address, and it holds the main details of the car, such as its make, model, registration, and colour. You want to check:

  • The car you’re looking at matches the details in the V5C logbook, including registration and colour
  • The seller’s name and address match the registration document
  • The logbook is genuine by holding it to the light and looking for the DVLA watermark
  • The V5C matches the car’s VIN – Vehicle Identification Number – typically found at the corner of the windscreen or under the bonnet on a metal plate
  • If the logbook serial number falls between BG8229501 to BG9999030 or B12305501 to B12800000, do a stolen car check to make sure the vehicle on sale is legitimate – that’s because a large amount of blank, blue V5Cs with such serial numbers were stolen in 2006

Whilst some people may forget to update their registration document, explaining why it doesn’t match their home address, you should get proof that shows the car is registered to them. If the car isn’t registered to the seller or they don’t have a V5C just walk away. It might not be theirs to sell. For more on VIN numbers and the logbook, take a look at our V5C document guide. It’ll give you even more info should you need it.

MOT Certificate

If a car is older than 3 years old, it must pass an MOT test and have a valid MOT certificate. This keeps a record of the findings and whether the car passed or failed. It also holds advisory notes from the mechanic in regards to issues or things that need fixing. Naturally, the MOT certificate will help you build a picture of the car’s past, highlighting any recurring faults and how it’s been cared for. It also does a lot more. Be sure to check:

  • When the MOT expires and when it needs a new MOT test
  • The car’s MOT details match the make and model and the V5C
  • If the car failed its MOT or if there’s any recalls for safety issues
  • The mechanics advisory notes and if they have been (or still need) attending to
  • The mileage recorded at every MOT – you can add this up to make sure it roughly corresponds with the car

Did you know you can check a used car’s MOT history at Gov.uk using just its registration number? It’s a handy tool that allows you to look at a vehicle’s MOT in advance. Best of all, it’s free of charge too.

Service history

Similar to the MOT certificate, the service history will give you a better idea of how the used car’s been looked after. It lists all the work done on the vehicle, so you want to make sure it’s fully stamped and serviced. Look for:

  • The mileage recorded at each service
  • Info on the garage that serviced the car: their name, date, and address
  • What work was done on the car
  • How much the work cost
  • And compare it to the MOT certificate – that way you can see if the owner has listened to the mechanics advisory notes and kept the car well maintained

If something seems suspect or amiss in the service history, you can always ring the garage to ask for more info. And if a second-hand vehicle is missing this car document, we’d suggest walking away from the deal – you’ll have little way of knowing how well it’s been looked after over the years or if there are any recurring issues.

Full car history check

On top of the service history, you can pay for a relatively inexpensive car history check from companies like HPI Check. This’ll give you a report filled with information that can save you time and money and help you avoid car scams. A full vehicle history check will tell you:

  • If the car’s stolen or if there’s potential mileage fraud
  • If the vehicle has any outstanding finance on it
  • If it’s been classed as an insurance write-off
  • It’s MOT status, yearly fuel cost, and tax cost
  • And a whole lot more

You can explore what’s involved in a complete history check with our guide to car history checks. It details why they’re useful, how much they roughly cost, and how you can do some of the checks yourself.

Proof of purchase

The V5C logbook shows who the car is registered to, but it is not a proof of purchase. Also known as proof of ownership, this paperwork does exactly what it sounds like, it proves who owns the vehicle. This could be in the form of an invoice or a receipt from a dealership. If you’re buying a used car from a private seller, check their proof of purchase and make sure you get one in return if you buy the car. The receipt should include:

  • The full details of the buyer and seller (full name, address, and contact details)
  • The specification of the car (its registration number, make, model, colour, and mileage)
  • The date of purchase
  • Confirmation the seller has been paid the agreed car price and the method of payment
  • Two copies: one for the seller and one for the buyer

It’s unlikely you’ll buy a used car there and then. If that’s the case, the seller may ask for a deposit to secure the vehicle. If they do, be sure to get a deposit receipt that includes the above bullet points too.

Remember, keep your proof of purchase and deposit receipt in a safe place. And while you’re at it, be sure to keep all vehicle documents and future car receipts in a safe place too. They’ll come in handy if you ever decide to sell your vehicle, because they’ll show the buyer you’ve cared for your trusty auto.

Car handbooks

The car handbook is the instructions for your vehicle, specific to its make and model – whether that’s an Audi A5, a Dacia Duster, or a Mazda MX-5, and so forth and so on. It tells you how to work the car’s systems and when it needs servicing. And if a seller has the original handbook in good condition in its binder, then it’ll also tell you a bit about the owner: that they’ve likely took good care of their vehicle too.

Seller’s details

Whilst doing your car documents check, if at any point the seller’s details don’t match the paperwork tread with caution. Their name and address should match the V5C, which in turn should match the details of the car. If they don’t, you can ask questions to find out why. Just be careful of scams and motor fraud. In many such cases, it’s usually best to just walk away – especially if a deal seems too good to be true.

Documents and paperwork you should have with you

But what documents do I need to buy a car? Good question. When you go to buy a vehicle, you’ll need the following:

1. Driving License

You’ll need this on you when you buy a car to prove that you can actually drive a car legally. It’s also used to prove your identity, allowing the seller to match your details.

2. Insurance Policy

You’ll need to have the car insured to be able to drive it on UK roads legally. Check out insurance policies in advance, so you can set up the policy when you need it. Some dealers also offer driveaway insurance for an extra fee that’ll cover you for a few days.

3. Vehicle Tax

Vehicle tax is not transferrable. It doesn’t matter if you’re buying a new or used car, you cannot transfer paid road tax from one owner to another, or from one car to another. That means you have to get the car taxed before you drive it. It’s easy to sort out and you can do it online at Gov.uk. You’ll need the 12-digit reference number from the V5C/2 ‘new keeper’ green slip, which the seller will give to you.

4. Payment documents

You want to have all your payment documents on you when you go to buy the car, including loan or car finance details (if applicable). If you plan to get car finance at the dealership, you’ll need additional info too, such as employment details and history (usually over three years), bank details (including your branch address, sort code, and account number), and on occasions proof of income, such as accounting documents or financial records.

If you think you might opt for car finance, feel free to use our finance calculator. It’ll help you find the right option for you and your needs.

5. Other documents

You’ll also want to take additional proof of your identity and address. It’s a good idea to take your passport with you, a utility bill (such as gas or electric) dated within the last 60 days, and a bank statement from within the last 60 days. Of course, if you’re paying by debit card, credit card, or cheque, you’ll want to have those with you too.

What documents do I need to sell my car?

When you come to sell your car, buyers will look for the same documents we’ve mentioned throughout this guide. That means you want to have the following paperwork ready:

  • The V5C logbook
  • Your proof of purchase receipt
  • MOT certificate
  • The service history and car handbook
  • Parts receipts and any insurance repairs

You can also use our guide on how to sell a car. It’ll give you step-by-step directions and cover the pros and cons of the different sale methods.

At first glance, car documents can be a bit overwhelming. But when you break it down, it gets a lot easier. All you have to check is the V5C logbook, the MOT certificate, and the service history – making sure all the details therein are correct and that they match the car. And when you buy the vehicle, you want a proof of purchase, the car handbook, and the above documents too.

If you’re looking to purchase a second-hand vehicle, then see our buying a used car checklist. It’ll take you through every step of your car buying journey.