You probably fancy yourself as a bit of an expert on car buying and indeed everything motor-related (if you’re honest!). I know that I do, or did,– until I had a bad experience.

And it just goes to show that even the most ardent car fan can get caught out sadly. I’d say it’s because we in the industry can overlook the patently obvious and focus too much on arcane motoring issues; for example how many of us know what the legal tyre depth is and so we know just by sight if that’s legal or not, but will YOU bother to verify if the vehicle’s VIN matches the one in the logbook, for example? Probably not.

There are plenty of ways to check out if a car is as-advertised before you buy, for example, FreeCarCheck offer the cheapest vehicle history checks. Or don’t forget also to consider the more-pricey market leader (HPI Check), and there are loads of other vehicle check services out there.

But some of us prefer to do the legwork manually.

General Logbook and seller stuff

  • Can the seller show you the V5C registration document? You won’t be able to tax the car without it.
  • Is the seller the registered keeper shown on the V5C? If not, why are they selling it for someone else?
  • Does the registration document have a watermark?
  • Any spelling mistakes on the V5 registration document (ie are they genuine)?
  • Do the VIN (vehicle identification number), engine number and colour match the V5C?
  • Does the number plate match the V5C?
  • Has the VIN plate been tampered with?
  • Do VIN numbers etched on glass or lights match the VIN plate and V5C?
  • Any sign of scratches on glass to remove etched-in marks?
  • Does the fuel cap look as if it has been forced or replaced?

What to check regarding locks/windows

  • Do all windows, including any sunroof, open/close normally?
  • Any signs of forced entry, damaged or different locks, suggesting they’ve been replaced?
  • Have you got all the right keys? Check the handbook to see which keys were provided when the car was new.
  • Modern keys are expensive to replace, particularly the coloured ‘master’ key provided by some manufacturers to programme new spare keys to the car.
  • Are locking wheel nuts fitted? Check that the special adapter required is included with the tool kit. Make sure it fits too.
  • Do all the minor controls operate correctly – heating, ventilation, air-conditioning, radio/CD, navigation etc?

Other quick checks

These are not the “usual”, but I think they’re worth it:

  • Do any warning lights come on, and can they be explained away easily?
  • Do the brakes work?
  • Is the flat tyre jack still in the car — if not, ask the seller why?
  • This one’s a bit embarassing, but check for the spare tyre also. And make sure the depth is the road legal amount — which we don’t need to tell you I’m sure is 3mm.
  • If the seller is not including winter tyres then make sure to check for prices first if you need them at Compare Tyres.

Make sure to check the vehicle is everything that it’s supposed to be, before buying. I know, I know, it sounds so bleeding obvious but let’s not go there. I’m too embarrassed to retell my story here, for fear of judgement, but let’s just say that in the end I got my money back from the scammer (but it took a long time). Be safe out there, do your due diligence on anything motor-related first.

My name is Ephraim, I am a consumer advocate and like motorbikes.

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