Car Buying Advice

This page is aimed to help inform those considering buying a used car to help minimise the risks involved.

Buying what is often somebody else’s automotive cast-off for whatever reason can be a risky business.

It is impossible to completely eliminate all the risk that your newly acquired pre-owned car will develop a fault in the near, mid or distant future.

What you can do, however, is aim to minimise the risk.

A lot can be done before you even get to see the car.

Good research into the asking prices of similar examples is a good start so that once you decide on a prospective purchase you know you’re not paying over the odds.

There are the usual common sense pieces of advice to follow like, for instance, don’t meet the vendor away from their business or home address from where they’re selling the car, ensure they have a V5C Vehicle Registration Document, that the car is MOT’d, is taxed and remember that if the deal seems to good too be true it probably is.

You can carry out some background checks that a car is taxed & MOT’d and obtain certain other information held on DVLA’s database youself online by using the following link and by entering the vehicle’s registration number and make:

The car’s MOT history can tell you a lot about a vehicle which is out there in the public domain at:

A car that’s failing its MOT Test, or passes with Advisories, can tell you an enormous amount about the car’s general mechanical & structural condition.

Don’t lightly dismiss apparently minor or easy to fix failure points because MOT failure for things like lighting defects, screen washers & tyres is an indication its owner is failing to carry out even the most basic checks that should be done every week or so to lights, tyres, windscreen wipers & washers and so is unlikely to be checking the Levels of engine oil, coolant, brake fluid etc.

You’ll need to ensure the vendor is the car’s legal owner because, irrespective that you might think you’ve handed over hard earned cash in a fair exchange for the car, it still might not be yours to own legally.

If a car was ever stolen, is owned by a finance company or an Insurer still has an interest in it you will not necessarily own it legally.  

Legal title can never pass from the vendor to the buyer if its legal chain of owership is previously broken.

If the car was ever stolen and never returned to the person who lost it they, or ther Insurer, will nearly always still legally own the vehicle.  However many times it was thought to have been “sold” you can be made to return it to its legal owner without compensation.

If the car is owned by a finance company, as it might be if under a HP (Hire Purchase) or other finance or lease agreement, and you buy it before the finance contract is fully settled, the finance company remains its legal owner.

Similarly, an Insurer who had settled a claim for an unrecovered car would still own the car and it is likely you’d have to hand it over to them without compensation, or buy it again from them.

There are a number of checks you can do yourself or arrange somebody else like me to do for you to interpret the documentation to help protect you from these pitfalls:

  • Examine and check the validity of the V5C – Vehicle Registration Document
  • Obtain a HPi or Experian data check
  • Check the validity of its MOT Test Certificate, and,
  • Evaluate the MOT History

Once you’re satisfied the vendor has legal title and so is legally able to sell the car and there are no adverse markers recorded against the car’s historical record it’s time to physically examine the car.

If you have no knowledge of cars’ mechanics, electrics or bodywork I would advise you let somebody who has such knowledge help you inspect the vehicle.  Even a family member with a little basic knowledge is better than taking nobody along to help if you’re inexperienced in this technology.  Often two pairs of untrained eyes and two minds are better than one!

If you have nobody who could do this, from around £150 depending on the sort of car, you should be able to buy a Pre-Purchase Inspection Report from somebody like me, other local independent Engineers whose details are to be found on the IAEA’s website or the AA, RAC and other similar organisations.

My Pre-Purchase examination is probably the most comprehensive on the market, includes the cost of a HPi-style Experian AutoCheck Report and consists of over of 200 check-points inside, outside, under the bonnet,  inside the boot and under the car.