Useful Tips Before Buying A Second Hand Car
What to Watch Out For:
Even if you don't know anything about how a car works, there are things that you can look out for before you buy your car, to check that it is safe, legal and in a reasonable condition. Hopefully the checklist below will make sure that the car you are looking at is worth buying - and if not, don't be afraid to walk away.
Mechanical Condition and Safety:
Assess the car in daylight as rust spots and dents might not show in the dark. Take it for a test drive. Take someone with you if you don't know much about cars.
If a car has been in an accident, it may be unsafe. Sometimes, two damaged cars are welded together to create a new one. 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. It is not an offence to sell a car that has been in category C or D write off and the trader doesn’t have to volunteer this information so make sure you ask.
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 has disappeared.
Also, 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 numberplate of a legitimate car may be transferred to a stolen one. Vehicle registration documents can be forged or obtained by fraud.
Telltale warning 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 March 1997).
There are spelling mistakes or alterations on 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 marks (the numberplate).
- 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.
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 find them.
There are only a few exceptions to this. If you were not aware the car was subject to an outstanding hire purchase 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. Contact Consumer Direct for professional advice on this subject.
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 mile-ometer 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
mile-ometer 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.
Run through the checklist below when deciding whether a used car is worth buying. If you find yourself answering 'yes' to a lot of questions in one or more sections, it may be best to walk away. If you don't feel confident about carrying out these checks yourself, get an expert's opinion.
The car's condition:
Are sills, wheel arches and door bottoms rusty?
Is paintwork failing?
Are there oil leaks or damaged hoses/drive belts under the bonnet?
Are tyres damaged or worn?
Are seat belts worn out? Do they have faulty mountings?
Do door and window seals show signs of leaking?
Are electric’s (lights, dashboard warning lights) faulty?
Has it been in an accident?
Have body panels been repaired?
Is colour/texture of paintwork patchy or different on certain panels?
Has welding been carried out on the engine/boot?
Does the boot close properly all the way round?
Have repairs been carried out on the boot (check under carpet)?
Has the car's identity been changed?
Has VIN number been tampered with?
Have areas of glass been scratched off windows, headlights, taillights, and sunroof?
Are windows etched with incorrect VIN?
Do stickers conceal altered etching?
(Make sure you are insured for the test drive)
Are brakes defective?
Does car pull to one side when you brake?
Do brakes squeal?
Are there other unusual noises?
Is hand brake defective?
Does steering wheel shake/vibrate?
Does car pull to one side?
Is changing gear difficult?
Does gear lever skip when you brake or accelerate?
Does clutch grab or slip?
Does engine sound different if clutch is pressed when car is idling?
Is there a strong smell of petrol or oil?
After the test-drive:
(Open bonnet and let the engine idle)
Does engine rattle or make other noise?
Are there water or oil leaks?
Is there blue or black smoke from the exhaust (indicating a badly worn engine)?
Is there Grey smoke from the exhaust (indicating water leaking into engine)?
Has the car been clocked?
Are the mile-ometer numbers out of line?
Is wear and tear heavy, given the mileage?
Have pedal rubbers/gear knob/steering wheel been changed?
Does the mileage on last MOT certificate contradict the mile-ometer reading?
Does the mileage on service documentation contradict the mile-ometer reading?
Does the mileage when car was last sold contradict the mile-ometer reading?