Buying guides

The Paperwork

Never buy a car until you've ensured all of the paperwork is in order

Before you can make a decision on buying a car you need to ensure that the paperwork is in order. The key pieces of paper you need are:

Don't buy a car without one of these and make sure it's genuine by looking for the watermark. The V5C tells you how many owners the car has had and who it's registered to, but that person isn't necessarily the legal owner of the car. The name on the V5C is the person to whom any fines will be sent; not telling the DVLA of a change in vehicle ownership is an offence. If there's no V5C to hand, you can apply for a new one – but why isn't it available? If it's been mislaid, the vendor should have applied for a replacement before selling.

All cars need an MoT roadworthiness check from three years after their date of first registration. With the system now fully computerised, everything is logged centrally and can be looked up instantly at If a car isn't MoTed it can't be taxed – and neither will it be insured. You can put a car through an MoT at any time.

There's no requirement to display a tax disc and the DVLA no longer issues them. When a car is sold, the vendor has to cash in the road tax so you'll have to buy your own. Current rates are listed at

Ideally the car will have been maintained by the supplying dealer from new, but what you're after is proof of regular servicing. You can also ensure the mileage goes up in the right stages. If there's no service history, you've got no evidence that the car has been maintained.