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How to Stay Safe when Buying a Used Car

Car scams, motor fraud, spot a car scam


HPI is here to make buying a used car less stressful, and we like to be positive, but we’re not going to lie: you really need to have your wits about you at purchase time, because there are lots of people out there intent on stitching you up. Every day we perform thousands of vehicle history checks and what we discover is often pretty frightening.

For example, last year we identified 27,062 stolen cars, which works out at an average of 74 every day. A third of the vehicle checks were still subject to outstanding finance, while almost 1800 cars were found to be insurance write-offs. That’s not over the year by the way – that was the daily average. Yep – nearly 1800 cars every day had been deemed a total loss by an insurance company.

Then there were the mileage discrepancies; on average we encountered almost 1300 cars with a mileage discrepancy, every single day. It’s estimated that the value of the number of miles wiped off all of those used cars is around £800m each and every year.

At the risk of scaring you further (we’ll get to the good stuff soon, promise), if you buy a stolen car or one that’s got finance owing on it, you could lose your money as well as the car. A stolen car is owned by the insurance company that paid out when it was pinched, while if it’s still subject to finance, it’s owned by the finance company that lent the previous owner the cash to buy it. If it’s a write-off or has been clocked you may be able to keep the car – but it could be worth much less than you paid because of that hidden history.

In the past we’ve brought you blogs that explain write-off categories and what happens when your car is written off. We’ve also spilled the beans on the dangers of buying a car on finance and we’ve also explained car clocking to you, so for much more on those topics click on the relevant link.

Now the good stuff

OK, so enough of the scare stories – what can you do to protect yourself when buying a used car? Plenty, is the simple answer. The first one has to be to get an HPI Check. We’re not just saying that because we’re HPI; we’re saying it because we’re the market leaders in vehicle history checks, which is why we’re the first port of call for many traders before they buy their stock. That’s quite a recommendation.

Also think about how the vendor is going about trying to sell their car. A genuine seller won’t pressure you into making a quick decision, they’ll be flexible with how you pay and they’ll have all of the car’s documents to hand, including its V5C (registration certificate or logbook) and lots of service history. They will also have priced the car realistically; if it seems unusually cheap you should smell a rat. The key thing is to trust your instincts – the world is full of second-hand cars, so don’t feel pressured into acting rashly because you’ll only regret it.

When viewing a car make sure it’s at the vendor’s address – which should be the one on the registration document. That will tell you plenty about what they’re like in terms of looking after things, because if the house and garden look like a bomb site the chances are that the car hasn’t been cared for any better.

You don’t have to be a qualified mechanic to be able to tell if a car is on its last legs; worrying sounds or smells, part-time electrics and brakes that pull to one side all point to a car that needs attention. The same goes for warning lights on the dash, a really baulky gear change or steering that feels odd. You don’t need to be a master mechanic to spot any of these things.

The two key things that should give you some peace of mind are a comprehensive test drive and putting the car through an MOT. If the vendor is set against either of these just walk away. You can get an MOT on a car at any time and before buying any car you should take it on a long test drive (at least 20 miles) on as many types of road as you can. Only then are any faults likely to show.

Meanwhile, an MOT will flag up if there are any problems with the car’s brakes, emissions, bodywork, seatbelts, electrics and far more; you can learn more about how the MOT works by reading our blog on the subject.

There are plenty of ways that unscrupulous sellers will try to con you out of your cash; our blog on the most common car scams explains all. Before you start shopping you should also read and digest the information in our blog on common V5C scams. Our article on the key checks you should make is essential reading too.

None of this should put you off buying a used car at all. Just use the information available to you, remember that forewarned is forearmed, and when the stakes are as high as this you need to make sure that you’ve done as much research as possible. Buying a used car can be a scary experience, but if you do your homework first the whole process will be a lot more enjoyable.

Richard Dredge
January 2018