You know what make and model you want, and you’re scouring the classifieds looking for just the right car for you. But whether you buy privately or from a dealer, there are plenty of rogues out there. So how can you tell you’re getting a bargain, not an old banger? We’ve put together five must-dos for buying any used car.

“1 in 5 vehicles inspected in 2017 uncovered faults with repair costs higher than £500”

ClickMechanic figures


1. Get your V5C paperwork in order

Make sure the seller has the right to sell the vehicle. Their name and address should match those on the V5C log book. The V5C paperwork also includes a ‘VIN’ (Vehicle Identification Number), which you should be able to find on the vehicle. The driver side door and the base of windscreen are the easiest places to access this. Ensure the VIN matches up, so that you know the paperwork is for the car you’re buying. Under no circumstances should you buy a car without a V5C logbook. If the seller doesn’t have one, they can apply for a replacement from the DVLA (costing £25).


2. Get a history check

Every year, thousands of consumers buy a used car, only to find out it has finance outstanding or has previously been stolen or written off. If finance is outstanding, the original car finance lender can try to lay claim to the vehicle and you will often have no right to recourse. If it turns out your vehicle has previously been written off, its future value will be affected and you might find the car difficult to sell, or worse, that it can’t legally be driven.

“Buying a used vehicle should be exciting but is fraught with risks. For a tiny percentage of the overall purchase cost, you can significantly reduce that risk.”

Mark Bailey, Head of

A history check can be done for as little as £1.99. It will tell you if the vehicle has been registered as written off or stolen, or if it has outstanding finance on it. It should also include the MOT history – make sure it matches what the seller has told you, and ask to see the relevant MOT certificates and records of regular services.


3. Conduct a mechanical inspection

About 2.7 million used cars are sold privately in the UK every year. In almost all of those cases, the customer has little idea about the working condition of the vehicle, beyond a short test drive. A mechanical pre-purchase inspection will give you peace of mind, especially if buying privately or from an independent dealer.

“Would you take a gamble on safety? 1 in 6 used vehicle inspections reveal an issue with the brakes.”

Andy Jervis, CEO, ClickMechanic

ClickMechanic offers comprehensive pre-purchase inspections across the UK through a network of independent mechanics. You can book a mechanic to carry out the inspection at a time and place that suits you. They will complete a thorough check and give you a call to talk through the condition of the vehicle. You will also receive a detailed report by email.

Of course, no used car will be faultless. You should expect the report to point out some minor flaws, such as scratches, which may not have a serious impact on the car. However, if it finds a major flaw, you’ll save yourself a great deal of time, money and stress.


4. Get a receipt

Avoid any disputes over how much was paid and when by getting the seller to provide a signed and dated receipt. You can also use it as evidence of the sale if there are any issues with updating the paperwork and registering the vehicle with the DVLA. If you then decide to sell the car in future, it’s always good to have your original receipt on file too.


Get your tax and insurance in order

Don’t leave getting insurance and tax to chance. The police won’t be understanding if you drive away in your new car without insurance and you’re in an accident. If you’re uninsured for any length of time, they can confiscate your vehicle. These days, insurers can swap the insured driver details very quickly – normally you can change the vehicle over in advance of collecting it. Alternatively, if you need short-term insurance, there are companies specialising in this kind of thing.


5. Pay your road tax

The rules on road tax changed in 2016 so that tax is not transferred to the new owner. It’s your responsibility to tax the car as soon as you buy it. Taxing is easy online, but you will need the 12 digit reference from the V5/2C. This will need to be done before you drive your new car home – there is no grace period.

Always be sure to check the associated cost of insurance and tax, which can inflate the price of any vehicle. Find out your road tax charges here:

Here’s a checklist you can use when you buy your next used car:

✓ V5 paperwork
✓ History check
✓ Mechanical inspection - Get a 10% discount off bookings at ClickMechanic
✓ Signed receipt
✓ Tax and insurance quotes
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