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Consumer advice and protection

Buying a used car? Check it don't regret it!

Used cars poster
  • Is it safe?
  • Is it legal?
  • Is it what you want

Make a few simple checks before you buy or you might regret it later and look at our 15 point checklist before buying a second hand car.

More information from Citizens Advice Bureau.

Budget carefully

Get insurance quotes and check car tax rates before signing on the bottom line. Remember to add the cost of any work that might be needed.

If you're going to borrow money to buy the car get loan quotes before you view any cars. That way you'll know what you can afford and will be able to tell whether any finance offered is good value or not.

Do your homework

Check price guides and compare similar cars in the classifieds so you know as much as you can about the value of different cars to avoid being overcharged.

Websites like Honest John and discussion sites on makes of cars can be a useful source of information on 'common' faults and 'what to look for' tips, but remember that those who've had a poor experience are likely to be more outspoken than satisfied customers.

Don't view a car in the rain, in poor light or at night

You won't be able to check the condition of the car properly if it's wet - water hides scratches, dents and other problems. Make sure you can see the vehicle clearly and from all angles.

Ask about service history

Most cars need work at some stage so there is often garage bills for work or parts as well as previous MOT certificates, and records of regular servicing that should be available.

  • If there's no history then ask why?
  • Does it look like there might be a regular fault that still may not have been fixed?
  • Does the history tell a full and believable story?

V5C registration document

Insist on seeing the V5C vehicle registration document - this shows the registered keeper and not the legal owner.

Is the present keeper the person selling you the car?  If not, then unless they are a dealer why are they selling the car for someone else?

The V5C gives details of previous keepers too. Consider contacting them to find out more about when they owned the car, what work was done and how many miles they covered?

Previous keepers have no vested interest so you should be able to rely on their comments.

  • Did they service the car regularly?
  • Did they do much mileage?
  • Did they have any major servicing work done to it?
  • Did they alter the vehicle in any way?


If the car is three years old or more make sure there's a continuous series of annual MOT 'certificates'.

If you know the vehicle's registration number and the document reference on the V5C check online a vehicle's MOT status and history (back to 2005).

You can also contact the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency's (VOSA's) MOT status line on 0870 330 0444.

Recorded mileage should increase steadily with age and be consistent with the service record. If it doesn't then you'll want to hear a good explanation as to why not.

Buyer beware

Be wary of anything that seems like a real bargain, or has a very low mileage for its age. There are bargains to be had but in general, if a deal looks too good to be true then it most likely is.

If you know what you're doing then use the AA DIY inspection checklist to help make sure you look the car over thoroughly.

Failing that and to help you avoid making a mistake, get an AA Car Data Check and consider getting the car looked over by AA Vehicle Inspections.

Other things to look out for:

Cam belt

As well as regular (usually annual) servicing there are major items like brake fluid, antifreeze or cam belt renewal that car manufacturers say should be done at a certain age or mileage.

If a cam belt breaks the resulting damage is likely to run into several thousand pounds and often a new engine is the most economical option.

Some engines have a chain instead of a belt which normally last the life of the vehicle but if your car does have a belt you must make sure it's replaced when due.

If a belt change was due but there is no evidence to confirm it has been, be warned that you might need to get this done as soon as possible for peace of mind.


Make sure the car has a handbook as they can be expensive to replace if not.

Look how the security system works and check that it does. Find out what keys were provided when the car was new. Modern car keys can cost £100+ to replace so if you need more than one key and there's only one available you'll need to bear that cost in mind.

Coloured 'master' keys provided by some manufacturers to programme new spare keys for the car are even more expensive to replace.

There's no legal requirement but cars are generally sold new with at least one spare key.  If there's not a spare now ask why not.

Test drive

Insist on a test drive - this is your only opportunity to check the car's general mechanical condition and to find out for sure that it meets all your needs:

  • Is the driving position comfortable?
  • Can you reach/operate all the controls easily?
  • Do the child seats fit?
  • Does the golf bag or pushchair fit in the boot?

A test drive should be more than just a short drive around the block. You will want to go through all the gears, including reverse and drive throughout the legal speed limits.

Look carefully

Misaligned panels or mismatched colours on doors, bonnet and tailgate can show that the car has been repaired after a bump.  Traces of spray paint on door handles, window seals and mouldings can too.

If the engine bay looks like it has recently been power-washed clean the owner could be trying to remove evidence of fluid leaks. A check under the bonnet after a lengthy test drive should reveal any problems.

Seats and carpets

Seats and carpets can always be cleaned, or even replaced, but stains on internal fabric head-linings are impossible to remove completely.

If seat covers have been fitted, check underneath them for signs of damage.  You can get seats replaced but this can be very expensive, particularly if they contain electric motors or airbags.

Locking wheel nuts

Adaptors for locking wheel nuts have a habit of going missing. If locking wheel nuts are fitted, check that the special adaptor is included with the toolkit and that it fits the nuts.

Don't be pressured into buying

There are always other vehicles out there so if this one doesn't feel right in any way it's time to walk away.

Be wary of and don't be swayed by  'sob stories'  like change of job, break-up of relationship, moving aboard, new baby on the way and so on.  The bottom line is that you're buying a car to help yourself, not anyone else.

Before you hand over any money

  • Agree collection/delivery arrangements.
  • Confirm exactly what's included in the price.
  • Confirm any work that the seller has agreed to do.
  • Make sure you get a receipt showing vehicle details, price, terms of sale and the seller's details.
  • Don't agree to do a deal in a car park or similar location.

If buying from a trader and on finance, check the credit agreement carefully. Don't sign it if the figures don't match what you have been told or reflect truly the amount of any deposits or part exchanges given.

You are also allowed to ask for a draft copy of the Consumer Credit Agreement before you agree to buy. It is a legal requirement for this to be provided so that you can take it away with you to allow you to compare the agreement with other finance options that may be available to you, such as a bank loan. If your request is refused, WALK AWAY from the deal.

Don't be pressurised to sign anything on the day unless you are completely satisfied with everything.

Trading standards - consumers

(via Citizen's Advice consumer helpline)


Tel: 03454 040506


Telephone lines open Monday to Friday
9am to 5pm (except bank holidays)
Calls to the helpline cost up to 9p per minute
from a landline. If you're calling from a mobile,
it'll cost between 3p and 40p per minute - if you
have inclusive minutes
it's the same as calling a

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