The Importance of Car Checks

Who doesn’t like the thrill of buying a new car? The chance to upgrade your existing model and hopefully walk away with a bit of a bargain too.

But how much do you really know about the car you’ve just bought? Are you certain it hasn’t been previously written off? Stolen? Or is it a clone?

The fact is that unless you’ve carried out some background checks on your new purchase, the car could be confiscated leaving you seriously out of pocket.

Potential problems

Buying a used car is just like buying a house; you can’t just go on the appearance. No matter how well kept and immaculate it looks on the outside, there could be something very wrong.

When it comes to cars, there could be several potential problems. Here’s just a few of the main issues you might have to contend with:

Unpaid finance: if the HPI has not been paid off before the car is sold to you, technically the lender will still have the right to claim the vehicle at any time. If the borrower defaults on their payments – which they may well do if the car has been sold – then you could find the lender turns up to confiscate the vehicle, leaving you with no car and no money either.

Stolen: a vehicle must be lawfully yours in order for the sale to be valid; if a vehicle is stolen then the law will not recognise you as the legal owner, even though you may have paid a considerable amount of cash. If a stolen vehicle is traced to you, the police can confiscate it, once again leaving you with no car and no refund either.

Cloned: more sophisticated car thieves will attempt to disguise the identity of the vehicle to make it less easy to trace. Popular tricks include changing the number plates or in particularly complex cases, changing the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) too.

These types of fraudsters are very cunning; the new number plates are typically for a car with the same make and model, and the same colour as well. It’s therefore not immediately obvious that a crime has occurred if only a basic check has been run. More detailed checks need to be carried out to identify vehicles which have been cloned.

The VIN plates can usually be found on a metal plate on the inner frame of the driver’s door, or on the passenger side of the dashboard facing the windscreen. These numbers should match and be untampered with. They should also match the VIN number on the log book (V5C).

Written off: ringing is the practice of quickly botching a repair on a vehicle that has been written off by insurers and selling it on to unsuspecting buyers. Although it may look in good shape, the integrity of the car may be seriously compromised and could be incredibly dangerous to drive.

How to avoid problems

The good news is that there are several steps you can take to avoid becoming a victim when you buy a use car:

  • always insist on attending the address stated on the V5C to make the purchase
  • ask for ID of the seller (in private sales) such as a utility bill
  • check all the details match on the car and the V5C
  • if the VIN has been altered or tampered with, walk away instantly
  • If the VIN begins with ‘SABTVRO’, don’t proceed with the purchase. This means the vehicle’s VIN has been re-stamped by the Ministry for Transport as being of questionable identity, integrity or age.
  • In 2006, more than 2.2 million blank V5C log books were stolen. If the V5C documents begins with either ‘BG’or ‘BI’it could be stolen and warrants further investigation. The batches of particular concern are BG8229501 to BG9999030 and BI2305501 to BI2800000.

All of the above measures will help you to avoid buying a car which has been previously stolen, written off or cobbled back together. However, some frauds are more difficult to spot. In addition, visual checks won’t identify a car which has outstanding finance.

That’s why no matter how carefully you look over the car yourself, you should also arrange for some background checks to be carried out by the experts. With access to databases from the DVLA, the PNC (Police National Computer) and the ABI (Association of British Insurers) it’s possible to scrutinise a vehicle in great detail, providing you with peace of mind.

Don’t risk buying a car without checking it out first; it’s not just your money which could be in jeopardy, it could be your safety too.


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