Beat the used-car fraudsters – How to check the car you want is legit

So you’ve found a used car you like, negotiated a fair price, and are about to hand over the cash when a voice in the back of your head asks, “but what if it’s stolen?” Well it’s no good sizing up the seller, who looks decent enough, but then what do you expect – a bandito moustache and prison tattoos? No, the only way to be sure that the car you’re about to buy is legitimate is to perform the right checks:

* Examine the Paperwork
* Examine the Car
* Get a Car History Check

Thousands of illegitimate cars (that’s stolen and illegal motors, and cars with outstanding credit) find their way to market annually, and if you unwittingly buy one, you have no legal right of ownership. What this means is that your car, regardless of whether it was bought in good faith, can be confiscated and returned to the rightful owner – leaving you potentially thousands of pounds out of pocket.

Examine the Paperwork

Registration Document

Check the registration document/certificate (V5C). If the vendor says they’ve lost it – run away! Check that both the car’s number plate and vehicle identification number (VIN) match what’s in the document (the VIN can be found on a small metal plaque under the bonnet). Also, if buying privately, ask the seller for some ID to ensure that he/she is the current registered owner.

Tip: if buying privately, always view the car at the owner’s home, and never in a ‘convenient’ car park or lay bye – that way, at least you’ll know where they live if things go wrong.

MOT Certificate

If the car has an MOT, check the details on the certificate match those of the car.

Tax Disc

Does the registration shown on the disc match the car’s number plate? A simple yet easily overlooked check.

Service History

A popular con is ‘clocking’, i.e. when a car’s indicated mileage is wound back to increase its saleability. Check the last stated mileage in the service history against what’s shown on the mileometer. If the current displayed mileage is less, the car has been clocked. If the mileage has increased by an unrealistically small amount, then it may have been clocked and further investigation is warranted.

Examine the Car

According to car history checkers, HPI, nearly half a million cars a year are declared write offs by UK insurers, and some of these find their way back onto the road. That’s why it’s vitally important to ensure that the seller is not trying to palm one of these potential death traps off on you. Most dangerous of all is the ‘cut and shut’ – where front and back halves from two different cars of the same model are welded together to make a ‘new’ one.

One way to recognize a ‘cut and shut’ is to check under the rug behind the front doors for welding marks.

Car History Check

If buying from a dealership or auction, ask what history checks have been carried out to ensure the car is legitimate. If a proper car history check has been performed – as more reputable car dealerships carry out prior to sale – ask to see the findings.

If the dealer hasn’t carried out a history check, or if you’re buying the car privately, you can run a check immediately over the phone or online. For around £20, companies like HPI will check to see if a car has been previously written off, damaged or stolen. They’ll also check to see if there’s any outstanding finance – the biggest risk facing used-car buyers. If you buy a car with outstanding finance, you won’t legally own the vehicle and it can be confiscated and returned to the rightful owner.

Therefore, to avoid becoming the victim of car fraud, carry out the above checks, and consider splashing out on a car history check – it could be the most worthwhile £20 you’ve ever spent.

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