Buying a used car – check it don’t regret it

Someone once observed that if all the cars in this country were placed end to end it would probably be a Bank Holiday weekend.  As many as 7 million of them would have been bought and sold second-hand during 2012.


Buying a second-hand car can be a risky business although it doesn’t have to be. Between October 2012 and September 2013 Citizens Advice Bureaux dealt with over 70,000 complaints concerning second-hand car purchases. Much as our advisers like to provide helpful advice to clients on how to deal with the difficulties they encounter, we would prefer that the difficulties didn’t come up in the first place. This is why Citizens Advice is launching a month-long national campaign (with the catchy title Check it Don’t Regret It) to provide second-hand car buyers with a guide of  what to do when buying a used car.  Here are a few tips.


  1. Check the MOT.  You can check an MOT certificate is genuine on line (at GOV UK at ), together with the car’s mileage details and any advisory comments on work that might be needed before the car’s next MOT test. You will need the car’s registration number and the MOT certificate (VT20) or MOT refusal certificate (VT30).  You can also email the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) at or telephone 0300 123 9000.


  1. Ask to see the full service history, to establish any work done on the car and whether it has been serviced regularly.  Make sure that the mileage on the paperwork makes sense.  Does the most recent service show higher mileage than an earlier service?


  1. Check when the cam belt was last changed or when the change is due. .  Ask a garage or the car manufacturer when a cam belt should be changed for your make and model of car or check online.


  1. Ask to see the V5C registration document known as the ‘logbook’. Use the DVLA vehicle enquiry service to check the logbook details match the DVLA records.  You will need to know the car’s registration number and its make.


  1. You can also get information about the car by telephone on 0906 185 8585 or
    0906 765 7585 for the expiry date of the current tax disc only.  Bear in mind that these are  premium rate numbers


  1. Check the car doesn’t have an outstanding credit agreement or logbook loan or bill of sale.  There are companies that run data checks to find out if there are outstanding loans on the car.  If there is outstanding finance on the car it is likely that it will be the property of the hire purchase or loan company until any outstanding money is paid off. A data check will also tell you whether the car has been written off or stolen. Check your agreement with the company carefully, as they may not be responsible for the accuracy of the information they supply.


If you are buying from a dealer you can expect a data check to be provided by the dealer You can also obtain a data check from the RAC or the AA


  1. Finally, carry out a thorough physical inspection of  the car, including
  • Is the seating position comfortable?
  • Are you happy with the all-round visibility using the mirrors and windows?
  • Can you see any rust on the sills, wheel arches or door bottoms?
  • Is the paintwork bubbling or are any of the panels different colours? Either of these could indicate rust or damage repair
  • Can you see any signs of oil around the engine when you look under the bonnet? This might indicate the car needs some investigation
  • Are the tyres damaged, lumpy or worn? Is there damage to the hubcaps or alloys?
  • Are seat belts worn out? Do they have faulty mountings? Try all the seatbelts for yourself. If they don’t work properly this is a significant safety issue and would mean your car wouldn’t pass an MOT
  • Do door and window seals show signs of leaking?
  • Do any warning or engine management lights come on when the engine is turned over?
  • Do the headlights, brake lights and indicator lights all work?
  • When you close the boot does it catch first time? Are there any uneven gaps between the boot and the lid?

Bear in mind that this is not an exhaustive list and you might feel more comfortable getting an engineer’s report on the vehicle.

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