What to watch out
for Mechanical condition and safety
Assess the car in daylight. Take it for a test drive. Our checklist gives
an idea of what to look for, but take someone with you if you don't know much
If a car has been in an accident, it may be unsafe. Sometimes, two damaged
cars are welded together to create a new one. These are known as 'cut and
shuts' and are almost certainly unsafe.
There are companies that can tell you whether a car is an insurance company
write-off - you can usually find details of these companies in motoring magazines.
If you buy a stolen car, the police can take it from you to return it to the
original owner or the insurance company. You will not get any compensation
even though you bought the car in good faith. You can sue the seller for your
losses but this might be difficult if you bought privately and the seller
And if you bought the car on credit, you may still have to pay off the loan
it depends on the type of agreement you have.
It can be hard to tell whether a car is stolen. Its identity may have been
changed. For example, the identity number and number plate of a legitimate
car may be transferred to a stolen one. Vehicle registration documents can
be forged or obtained by fraud.
But there are tell-tale signs to look out for.
The seller can't produce the vehicle registration document (V5)
- a common excuse is that it has been sent to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing
Agency (DVLA) for updating. This may be true for example, the seller may
have changed address recently. But be wary: it means you cannot check the
car's ownership and identity details;
If the seller claims the car was bought very recently and the V5
is with the DVLA for the change of ownership to be recorded, the seller
should have a green slip (this applies only to cars issued with V5s from
There are spelling mistakes or alterations to the V5, or it does
not have a watermark;
the name and address on the V5 are different to those on the seller's driving
licence, passport, or recent gas or electricity bill;
The three main identifying numbers listed below don't match the numbers
on the V5: the vehicle registration mark (the number plate)the vehicle identification
number (VIN) - this can be found on a metal VIN plate, usually in the engine
compartment, and stamped into the bodywork under the bonnet and the driver's
seat. As a security measure some cars have the VIN etched on their windows
or lamps the engine number;
The engine and VIN numbers have been tampered with areas of glass
may have been scratched off the windows, or stickers may cover up etching
which has been altered;
the seller cannot show you the insurance policy for the car.
Use the checklist to help you spot the signs of a stolen car.
Cars still owned by a credit company
A car bought on hire purchase or conditional sale belongs to the finance company
until the payments have been completed. If you buy such a car, the lender
can take it back. You can sue whoever sold you the car, but only if you can
There are only a few exceptions to this. If you were not aware the car was
subject to an outstanding credit agreement and bought it in good faith, you
may be allowed to keep it. This does not apply to stolen cars or cars which
are subject to a hire agreement. You will need professional advice on this.
There are companies that can tell you if a car is clear of any outstanding
finance deals -you can usually find details of such companies in motoring
magazines. If you are buying from a dealer, ask whether this check has already
been carried out.
Low mileage can be a selling point, but the clock can be turned back to reduce
the number of miles shown. Sellers sometimes protect themselves by covering
up the mileometer or issuing a disclaimer saying that the mileage may be wrong.
To be valid, such a disclaimer must be at least as noticeable as the mileage
reading and as effectively brought to your attention.
If the mileage is low but wear and tear on the car looks heavy, the car could
have been 'clocked'. Clockers sometimes change pedal rubbers, steering wheels
and gear knobs to hide this. Another sign is that the mileometer numbers don't
line up correctly.
There are several ways you can find out about the history of the car: Check MOT certificates and service documentation for mileage readings
taken by mechanics;
Contact previous owners named on the V5 and ask what the mileage
was when they sold the car;
Get mileage information from companies that research the car's history
(you can find these in motoring magazines);
If buying from a dealer, ask whether the dealer has used trade-only
database companies such as IMVA and VMC to check mileage.
Sellers sometimes protect themselves by covering up the mileage reading
or issuing a disclaimer saying the mileage may be wrong.
To be valid, the disclaimer must be at least as noticeable as the
mileage reading and as effectively brought to your attention.