A study using data from the RAC’s Vehicle History Check service, covering more than 32,000 vehicles has shown that over half (52%) of the vehicles checked had a history that could be a potential problem for any purchaser.
Some of these issues could be minor – like a registration change for example, but others were more serious – stolen, scrapped and outstanding finance were just some of the other problems found. Understanding what you’re buying has never been more relevant.
Whether you’re looking to find your dream car, a classic from a bygone era, or something more practical, finding the right car can be time-consuming, and if there’s some emotional attachment to it, you’re much more likely to overlook the odd blemish, running fault or bald tyre.
You may even view a vehicle history check as money for old rope; providing you know what you’re looking for, then it’s plain sailing, but not every problem is that obvious … 17.6% of the vehicles were still in the process of being paid off, so technically they weren’t the ‘owners’ vehicle to sell, a small percentage (0.1%) had been officially scrapped, some were even listed as stolen.
By far the largest discrepancy was a change of registration – 27.5% of vehicles weren’t on the original registration, but for the main part, that doesn’t ring alarm bells – cherished registrations are commonplace now, so providing it has been correctly documented, then there shouldn’t be a problem.
In theory, purchasing a car with hire-purchase, or PCP already registered against it is possible, some potential purchasers may even it see it as the finance company’s problem if their customer is selling the vehicle on, but the reality is that should they default on payment, the finance company could look to repossess the vehicle, regardless of whether it was purchased ‘in good faith’.
Another expensive mistake could be purchasing a car that has been written-off by an insurance company, as 14.2% of the vehicle checks showed. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, providing you’re aware of the situation, but some unscrupulous sellers don’t declare it, and they may not have had to prove the roadworthiness or quality of the repair afterward. This could mean that you’re paying over the odds, for an un-roadworthy or potentially dangerous car.
The importance of such vehicle checks cannot be overlooked; there have been numerous cases where a stolen vehicle was sold on to an unsuspecting or innocent third-party, and it’s only when they go to sell it on again does the identity of the vehicle and its history become apparent. In a case like that, the new owner would most likely lose the vehicle and any monies paid for it.
If you’re looking to purchase a used vehicle, there are a number of ‘good practice’ measures that you can use to help identify any potential issues. With that said, these aren’t infallible, and for the checking services that offer a guarantee against such issues, you need to adhere to strict guidelines if you stand a chance of winning any money back.
Turning detective will only get you so far – a good rummage through the accompanying documentation such as service history and MOT certificates can paint a pretty clear picture, as can a full mechanical inspection, but unless you truly know what you’re looking for, it may be worth having the inspection done by a professional.
Check that the VIN number looks to be original and matches the documentation; factory numbers don’t get ‘mis-stamped’, are at an even depth and spacing and are located in places that any ‘accidental’ damage is difficult to explain.
Check for unusually high wear patterns across the steering wheel, pedal rubbers and switches – pedal rubbers are easily replaced, steering wheels can be covered but switches are more difficult to disguise or replace.
Look for abnormal wear patterns across all four tyres – this could be an indication of poor misalignment or a geometry problem.
Remove the oil filler cap and look for white sludge – this could indicate a water/oil problem, although be aware that lots of short trips could also cause this.
Look to see if the panel gaps are consistent – a misaligned panel may be an indicator to body work replacement or damage.
If it’s a significant purchase, you may want to think about contacting the previous owner to see if they can add to the history, likewise, any dealer involved in the servicing of the vehicle will have full records of what was done and when (service history books can be faked very easily).
While these measures may not give you a definitive answer, they help to build up a bigger picture of the seller, their attitude toward the car, and how well it’s been looked after. This can be used in conjunction with your own judgement to help you decide if the car is ‘right’.
Have you ever been caught out with a bad car purchase? Do you have any other buying tips to share? Let us know in the comments.
Excellent site recently started up could help with these issues.
There are a number of sites that do a HPI check. Well worth doing, you can get a very basic one that gives plenty of information free of charge, if you are still interested in buying then pay for a more indepth one. I recently went to purchase a vehicle but found out the mileage was double the advertiswd 65,000, time to walk away.
http://www.vcheck.uk does more than just an HPI check. Amongst other things, it has a massive database of photos showing major damage to repaired cars being sold as having had a “slight scratch” . It’s really scary what some crooks are selling actually.
Just to add, I have no links or association to this web site
buying tips,,, there is a long list, from mechanical checks to visual checks..No doubt I will miss some, always best to make a paper check list. Mechanical,,oil filler cap off look for white substance means heas gasket gone, is engine running smooth. is there blue smoke at start up which also means expense, test the clutch,,all gears smooth,,full service history,,with reciepts,,and verified,,does wear on steering wheel brake pedal and accelerator match the mileage,,tyre wear, uneven wear could mean wheel alignment or worse bushes track rods or a car out of alignment by an accident look for oil leaks, power steering leaks and caliper leaks,,. Are the fluids clean, ie brake clutch power steering. Has it a recent MOT has it any advisories. All models have weak points to look for,, google this. Accident damage look for masking tape marks, proper fitting panels,,paint finish and colour, check inside boot lift carpet and look for rear damage. Front inside engine bay look for damage. get the car onto a lift and look carefully everywhere underneath. check all electrics work lights stereo.horn wipers washers everything. check lenses for cracks and water ingress.test drive it let go steering wheel if it veres off ,, could be tracking or at worst out of line after a bad accident. to eliminate the second get the seller to drive up a straight road if you see the car crabbing then it is the worst scenario,, walk away. test driving look for clutch slipping. look for warning lights still on on the dash board. If the engine is pristine look very carefully for oil or other fluid leaks. Best to see a dusty engine will show leaks easily. check condition of the discs and pads. when on a test drive if there is brake judder it probably meand new discs needeed. Musty smell inside means water ingress, water in boot water ingress als rust in boot without water means water ingress. Internal wear should also match the mileage..crunching gears means gear selector going or syncromesh. look for scores on the window means a new screen . Check the heated rear window all elements working..does the AC work properly..wipers worling seatbelts working not frayed..re body work ;ook carefully at all the panel spaces between doors wings boot bonnet wings etc. if sunroof installed check it works and no staining re leakage. leaking shock absorbers and broken springs,, rust , HP check, is it cat registered repaired carI know this is a mixed up list but I am going from memory. I AM SURE I HAVE MISSED MANY POINTS THAT OTHERS WILL POINT OUT… finally take a note of the faults estimate the cost of fixing, this should be used as a bargaining tool to negotiate a price that you are happy with. Anything Major walk away there are plenty more cars for sale..
Some things are well hidden. I bought an ex Police LDV van from a reputable garage. Low mileage, in excellent condition and it had only been used as a community van. Two years later the head gasket went – fair enough, these things do happen. When my garage started the repair they found that this had obviously happened before as the cylinder head had been skimmed. They managed to repair it but it was never the same again.
It was fixed and done properly incl a head skimmed what more could they do. Give a lifetime gtee on the repair. You had 2 years out of it, If it was done badly , the original repair it would have gone soon after you bought it.
I think the issue here is it’s unlikely that you would have a skimmed head on a low mileage vehicle (although possible if the driver ignored all signs of overheating). It’s also unlikely that police forces ever sell low mileage vehicles, they are normally high mileage but well maintained.
agreed now looking at it again you are right re low milage from a ? Reputable garage. I believe it was clocked. I have recent experience of well known reputable garages. claiming cars needed discs and pads and a neighborough the same discs and pads.. A great scam when they do not and when confronted with the evidence BIG RED FACES. BUYER BEWARE from Reputable to back street sellers it is the car you are buying not the reputation of the deler
Tarbet, where are you based at with your motorhome?
April 2018 when my car was serviced by a well known Citroen dealer in Birmingham told me my brakes and discs need changing at a cost of £490 and I had a second opinion and a small garage near to where I live told me they where ok and being a automatic I use the brakes a lot and they are still ok
I feel the headline “Half of used cars have a hidden history, warns RAC” is a tad scaremongering.
The data used for the survey was from RAC’s Vehicle checking service – The age of vehicles that get checked via their service will be biased towards newer vehicles, as vehicles get older potential buyers are less likely to use the RAC vehicle check service (they may well use a garage or mechanic).
Out of the 52% with “hidden history”, 27.5% were due to registration changes, no indication as to how many of that 27.5% were an issue and not just due to replacing a personalised number plate. If most of the 27.5% were not legitimate ie cloned vehicle etc. then I’m sure that number would have been included in the article, so I feel it’s safe to assume a small number.
A more accurate tittle for the article might be:- “Half of used cars checked under the RAC’s vehicle checking service have a hidden history, warns RAC”.
Or better still if the article indicated how many of those vehicle checked actually had an issue to be concerned about. Hence a tittle:- “??% of used cars checked under the RAC’s vehicle checking service have an undesirable hidden history, warns RAC”.
I’d be interested to know what percentage of vehicles that were checked by the RAC turned out to have issues that made the potential buyer walk away.
But when all said and done, if you’re buying a used car you need to know what you are buying and not want to get caught out. Weigh up the risks with correct and not misleading data. If buying an older car, do you really want to spend a large proportion of its value on a full RAC vehicle check? Perhaps a local mechanic is more appropriate. You can check the vehicle is currently taxed and its MOT history, inc advisories for free on the Gov vehicle checking service.
Too many attention grabbing misleading headlines.
I prefer to do my own checking of the car rather than spend money on a RAC check, I believe I am more thorough re my check list.. One can never be 100% sure things happen to cars even after checked. Things fail that were perfectly OK when checking the car at purchase. for instance,, bought a motorhome, 8500 miles, warrented and full service history, fully checked over by me,, no issues at all a mint purchase,, within a few weeks the flywheel pully the rubber bushing sheered, then the CD stopped working, then egr valve, air con, starter motor, reversing light switch, Leaking skylight, the list goes on and on..That is the way vehicles go at times. I have to accept it and move on and fix as things go wrong
So many scare tactics these days, I know a few of my friends have been conned when buying a second hand car, they also used a check list and used HPI checks.
I would strongly recommend an independent vehicle check by a professional person, many local independent insurance accessors would carry out a vehicle check for you.
My old man always buys ex demo car, gets a “new” car cheaper and not really had a banger. He always says your buying someone else trouble when you buy second hand, why are they selling it? If they appear to have more money than brain power your probably ok because they just want a new car. If like me they look skint walk away, specially if it was an expensive car new an has 3 quid a corner tyres on it they can’t afford to run it.
Before you go look at the MOT history on the internet. When you get there (which will be in daylight, and you MUST drive the car a decent distance, often you can go on your own) don’t be shy to ask questions. Decent sellers/dealers should answer willingly, sit you down with the (reasonably complete) paperwork and a cup of coffee and leave you to it. Make sure the papers make sense, i.e. tell a sensible story. There should be a guarantee of some sort. If not ask why. If you want to talk to the last owner DO IT. Don’t pussyfoot around. Its a lot of money, usually more than most of us can afford at the time. Above all DO NOT BE AFRAID TO WALK AWAY. You owe the seller NOTHING.
If you buy a used car then it will be bound to have a hidden history. Proper scientific ‘research’ carried out by a company (RAC) that wants you to pay them £15 to check it out for you. Just don’t buy your next ‘pre-owned’ car from Arfer Daley
In 2016 my wife upgraded her SUV to a saloon of same manufacture, but found after a few months this car was not for her so returned it. The dealer searched for a second hand suv (again same make) which was 2 years younger than her original SUV, which she accepted. However over the next year, it became apparent there was something not quite right about the car, as it seemed “weak” on its near side, plus the car was retaining water. Several visits to the dealership, nothing was resolved. I then took it up with the manufacturer, who arranged for an inspection of the water ingress issue, and the problem was resolved. However, I am still unable to establish if or not the vehicle had had at some time, some form of repair. The previous suv did NOT have problems.
Does anyone know if this can be traced back, since it is unlikely the previous owner would declare details.
I have owned many secondhand cars over the past fifty odd years, the most trouble free car was a MK2 Vauxhall Caviller 1.8i hatchback, fast and economical. The worst was the Hillman Imp, they should gone straight from the factory to the scrap yard. Fallowed by the two Peugeot 405 estates my wife and one each.
The last car I purchased was a brand new Skoda Superb estate, not a single fault after four years from new.
I bought a RAC approved car from a RAC garage most of the checks had not been done and the starting/fuel system is horribly hit and miss wish I had never bought it
I purchased my 2014 Citroen C4 Grand Picasso in 2017 from a well known dealer in Birmingham and had trouble with it from the start the glass roof leaked after it was fixed the panel between the front window and the Glass roof came off doing 70mph down the M1 and cracked the widow and the glass roof, when they had fixed the leak the broke the lugs that holds the center panel in place and silicone it down. some time later a car side swiped me and taking it to the repairers told me it had been in a rear end accident before I said it is impossible as I have had the car Cheeked out before I purchased it. It had been a mobility car and the person who had it before me had had a rear end shunt and had the car repaired privately.
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