- Jon Reay
MT Expert - Avoiding the dangers of used car buying
Used car buying can be a bit of a minefield at times. From whether the car's stolen to whether it's still owned by a finance company, there are dozens of things that need checking out before you hand over your hard-earned cash - and that's all before you consider whether or not there's anything mechanically wrong.
With that in mind, we asked our in-house expert to give us his top tips on buying a used car - all gathered from years of experience working in the motor trade - and a few useful links to boot.
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Eye-up the location
First and foremost, give the place a good eyeing up. Does the car match the location? Is the owner of a year-old BMW X5 likely to have a burned out Escort in their front garden, for example? Does the seller look like they a) actually own the car, and b) actually live in the house you're standing outside. Just little things like that are always a good start.
Check the address
Secondly, verify that address. Does it match the location of where you're looking at the car? If it doesn't, there needs to be a very good reason - because one way or another the car isn't registered there, and an incorrect address on the V5 is an offence in its self.
Is the seller who they say they are?
Thirdly, ask for some identification from the seller. Note too that the car's registered keeper isn't necessarily its owner - and the latter needs to be aware of the sale too. Ask for a bill of sale or any confirmation of ownership, and compare with their ID.
Check it's been looked after
Fourthly, give the service history a rifle through. Not just the service book - ask for the invoices. Check they're all there, and while you're at it take a look at the billing addresses - again, do they match where the seller says he/she lives? After all, stamps in the book don't confirm when the car was serviced or by whom - just that someone, at some point, has had access to a rubber stamp.
Give its history a once over
Finally, HPI check it - no excuses. They'll check whether the car still has finance outstanding, whether it's been stolen, whether it's been written off at any stage in its life, and whether it's been cloned. It pays to get a professional opinion in person, too - companies like The AA & RAC offer vehicle inspections for just over £100, which might seem like a fair chunk of cash but could easily save you ten times more than that in repairs.
Beware of traders selling their cars privately, too - regardless of who the seller is, you'll have little to no legal protection unless the deal is done officially through the business its self.
Personally - and this is just personally - I tend to bypass private buyers altogether. At the minute, trade prices are so close to those of private ones that it's almost not worth bothering with the latter at all. That's not to say I'd disregard anything that isn't sitting on a forecourt, but given a choice between the two that's where I'd head.
Buying from trade
Buying from trade premises might give you the added protection that comes with buying from a place of business, but that doesn't mean you can be blasé when it comes to checking the car out.
Just as you would were you buying privately, give the place its self a good looking over. Take a look at what else they're selling, Google them, and pay attention to where it's located. You may well have legal protection, but let's be honest - you don't want to have to use it in the first place.
Again, rifle through the service and MOT invoices to check everything's there, and give the car an HPI check as a minimum.
Buying from a main dealer is safer still - you'll pay more, but there are minimum preparation standards for each car, and there's more at stake for them if they're up to anything they shouldn't be.
DVLA's MOT history check
Reveals data about any MOTs carried out on the vehicle since 2005 - including failure and advisory notices
DVLA's tax disc vehicle enquiry
Reveals the date of first registration, date of liability (when it next needs taxing), colour and a few other details about the car attached to a specific number plate. Put in the V5C reference number too and it'll a) check it against the plate, and b) give you the date the last log book was issued.
Handy for a quick check of the car's plates. Reveals the make, model and trim level for free, or more can be revealed for a charge.
About the best car history check you can carry out - £20 per check, but I wouldn't buy without it.