How to avoid trouble when buying a used car

Citizens Advice and Trading Standards are urging you to ‘check it, not regret it’ when buying a used car during National Consumer week in November. A list of simple checks will help you make sure the car you buy is safe, legal and matches up to how it’s described.

The most complained about consumer issues for the Citizens Advice consumer service is around dodgy second-hand cars, with 6000 used car complaints reported a month. Faults are one of the most common problems.

There are some tell-tale signs that it might have been clocked. You should look out for these signs when you inspect a car:

  • the  mileage is low but wear and tear looks heavy
  • the  pedal rubbers, steering wheel or gear knob look newer than the rest of the car
  • the  numbers on the odometer don’t line up correctly

It can be useful to get an independent report if you are unsure about whether to buy a used car. An independent report can be expensive, so you need to weigh up the benefits against the cost to decide whether it is right for you. Getting an independent report can be expensive. If you are buying a cheap used car, it may be easier and cheaper to ask someone who knows about cars to inspect the car for you.

Getting a vehicle history check can help reduce your chances of buying a car that is being sold illegally. You can make several different checks through the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), a private history check and an MOT check (A good starting point would be the AA or RAC).

It doesn’t take long or cost much to confirm the car’s history. Doing some simple checks before you buy could save you a lot of money and distress in the long run.

The DVLA’s online database can tell you a car’s:

  • year of manufacture
  • date of first registration
  • engine capacity
  • colour
  • current tax disc expiry date
  • tax rate (known as vehicle excise duty rate).

If the details on the database don’t match the car or its registration certificate (V5C), the car may have been given another car’s identity. This is known as ringing and is against the law. You should walk away and report the seller to the police

As well as confirming the identity of the car, these details can give you useful information about how much the car will cost to tax.

The database is free to use. You will need to know the car’s registration number and its make.

You can make a vehicle details enquiry on GOV.UK website at

Telephone (premium rate): 0906 185 8585 for information about the car and 0906 765 7585 for the expiry date of the current tax disc.

A history check, sometimes known as a data check, can tell you whether a car:

  • has been reported stolen
  • still has finance owing
  • has suffered serious accident damage
  • has  a discrepancy between the mileage it shows and what’s held on a central  database.

You can find a company that carries out history checks in the telephone directory or on the internet. The company will charge you for providing this service. Check your agreement with the company carefully, as they may not be responsible for the accuracy of the information they supply.

You can check a car’s recent MOT history through the Vehicle and Operator Service Agency (VOSA). This can be useful if you’re not sure whether the MOT certificate is genuine.

You will need the car’s registration number and the MOT test number, which can be found on either:

  • the current MOT certificate (called the VT20)
  • the current MOT refusal certificate (called the VT30)
  • the vehicle registration certificate (called the V5C)
  • check a car’s history on GOV.UK at

VOSA history check service telephone 0906 120 9941 (premium rate)

So top tips for buying a used car


  • MOT  certificate check – indicates if car is roadworthy
  • Service history check – shows if car has been maintained
  • Registration document check (V5) – shows if car is stolen
  • Write off check – helps you know what you are buying
  • Finance history check – ensures car doesn’t have an outstanding hire purchase  agreement
  • Test drive and walk around check – for signs the car isn’t what it seems
  • Engineer’s  check – shows condition of car and any hidden dangers
  • Price value guide check – indicates reasonable price to pay
  • Car recalled check– shows if car was recalled for safety reasons by  manufacturer.

If you have a problem with a second hand car, you can get help from the Citizens Advice consumer service on 08454 04 05

For help from Salford Citizens Advice visit your local bureau in Eccles, Irlam and Cadishead, SalfordCity, Swinton, Walkden or at Salford Royal.

Telephone our advice line: 0844 826 9695 (if calling from a landline or if calling from a mobile 0300 456 2554).

For more details of our service visit our website at:

Tom Togher.