Used Vehicle Buying Advice

Man looking under the bonnet of a car by the side of the road

Buying a used vehicle can be a daunting experience, so we've put together a guide to help you understand the things that are important to check.

Buying from a private individual?

  1. Arrange to see the vehicle in daylight at the sellers home and not in a public place.

    This will help you both assess the vehicle's condition and an unscrupulous seller is less likely to invite you to their home (as you could easily inform the police of these details if there were any serious issues).

  2. The seller must have the V5C document.

    If they do not have this walk away immediately, as there is no way for you to verify the important vehicle details.

  3. Ensure all of the details on the V5C log book match the vehicle.

    It is important to check that the VIN, the engine number and the vehicle colour recorded in the V5C document match the vehicle. If they do not, the vehicle may be cloned. Read the advice, lower down on this page on how to find the VIN and engine number

  4. Ask the seller if they are the registered keeper.

    If the seller is not the registered keeper, have they satisfied you that they have the right to sell the vehicle? Otherwise, it may not be their vehicle to sell, and could even be stolen.

  5. Ask the seller for some ID, such as a driver's licence or passport.

    A genuine seller is unlikely to be concerned at this request, and it will enable you to check that the registered keeper is the person who is selling you the vehicle.

  6. It may be worth taking along a qualified vehicle inspection expert.

    If you do not know much about cars, they will be able to help you assess the mechanical quality of the vehicle.

Calculator laying on a paper document

What else is important to check?

There are other things that you should check to make sure the vehicle you are buying isn't going to give you any nasty surprises later on.

  1. Does the vehicle have a valid MOT certificate?

    If the vehicle is more than three years old it will have had to of had a MOT every year. You should ask for a copy of the latest MOT certificate to ensure it is legal to drive the vehicle on the road.

  2. Does the vehicle seem like a real bargain?

    If it seems as though the vehicle is being sold at a price that is well below the market value, you have to ask yourself why? Often criminals will price a vehicle below the market price in order to sell the vehicle quickly. Ask the seller why they are selling the vehicle.

  3. Always get a receipt.

    It's surprising how often people forget to get a receipt for the purchase of a vehicle. If the vehicle is being sold privately, ask the seller to sign the receipt.

  4. Does the car have a spare key?

    It can be very expensive to replace the key of a vehicle, so make sure you ask.

Vehicle Cloning

A very popular method that criminals use to sell stolen vehicles is to replace the number plates with those of a very similar vehicle.

This means that when you get a vehicle history check, you won't actually be checking the vehicle you think you are.

Fortunately, it is quite easy to notice if this has happened on a vehicle:

How do I find the VIN?

VIN location on a vehicle

You must ensure that the VIN number in this report matches that of the one etched onto the vehicle.

The vehicle identification number is unique and will never change. It's normally 17 characters and a combination of letters and numbers.

You will normally find the VIN on the passenger side dashboard facing out of the windscreen, its often located just underneath the tax-disc. Alternatively the VIN can be found by opening the driver's side door and looking at the door post (the part the door latches onto to close) for a metal plate with numbers on it.

Remember to check:

  • The VIN has the same value at each location it is stamped on the vehicle.
  • It has not been tampered with or altered, if it looks like it has been, ask why.
  • If the VIN begins with the letters 'SABTVRO' then walk away. It means the VIN has been re-stamped by the Ministry of Transport. This can mean it has a chassis or that questions remain over the true identity/age of the vehicle.

How do I find the engine no.?

It is important to check that the engine number in this report matches that of the one inscribed onto the engine.

Open the bonnet of the vehicle. Lean under the open bonnet of the vehicle and look at the engine. On top of the engine, your engine number should be engraved into the metal.

If the engine number does not match the one in this report, ask the seller why. It is possible that the engine has been legitimately replaced, but this is very rare and, it also means that the mileage the engine has completed is now unknown.

It may also mean that the seller is attempting to disguise the identity of the vehicle. If the seller cannot explain the differences you notice, walk away.

How do I find the V5C date?

Never buy a vehicle without an accompanying V5C log book.

The V5C issue date should be clearly marked on the second page of all V5C log books.

If the issued date on the V5C log book does not match the date on this report then you do not have the most up-to-date V5C log book. This could mean that the seller is attempting to hide some of the vehicles history. You should not buy a vehicle without the most recent V5C log book.

Stolen V5C log books

In 2006 2.2 million many blank V5C log books were stolen. Criminals have since attempted to use these to print their own.

If the vehicle log book has a reference number that falls within the ranges below, it is stolen and you should walk away immediately.

Stolen V5C Reference Numbers

If the reference number on the V5C log book starts with BG or BI walk away.

BG8229501 to BG9999030

BI2305501 to BI2800000