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Buying a secondhand car : Watch out for hidden history

26 Jul 2012 at 11:57

Buying a secondhand car can be a minefield. Simply finding the right, spec, colour, age and mileage is hard enough – without having to worry about whether your potential new vehicle is hiding a dark secret too.

However, a car’s potentially dubious past is a very real concern reveals new data, According to vehicle history checkers HPI, it’s a one that should be at the forefront of all our minds when shopping around for a new used car – because more than one in three of all vehicle’s on the UK’s roads hit HPI’s “at risk” registers.

Luckily, there are a few ways in which a used car can set alarm bells ringing…

Outstanding finance

Many potential punters don’t realise that outstanding finance stays with the vehicle, not the person who took out the lease policy. If that debt goes unpaid, you could have the finance company – or, even worse, the bailiffs – knocking at your door to collect the balance. If you can’t pay, they’ll take your car instead.

Mistaken identity

According to HPI, over 6.2 million cars on the roads could have had a change of number plate. Fraudsters can change a plate, or even clone an existing one to alter the identity of a stolen car or a car insurance write-off.

A good way to check this is to find the chassis number (if it’s not been ground away – if so, instantly walk away!) and cross-reference it against the details on the V5 document.

Clocked odometers

5% of cars in the UK have had their odometers’ tampered with, which equates to a staggering 1.5 million vehicles.

Unscrupulous secondhand sellers use this practice of “clocking” to reduce a car’s indicated mileage and therefore increase its market value. Not only is it a deceitful practice, it’s also highly illegal.

Insurance write-offs

There are four types of insurance write-off: Category A and B cannot be used on the road again, whereas Category C and D write-offs can be repaired and re-used on the road.

While buying a Cat C or D write-off isn’t illegal, you need to watch out for bodged repairs making it unfit for road use. Areas of shinier paintwork or oddly spaced panel gaps are both indicators of sometimes poorly repaired cars. Shadier owners, of course, don’t declare a car is a Cat C or D write-off: they’re worth less, so make sure you…

Get a vehicle check

There’s one way to avoid buying a lemon, however. Before you commit to putting your hard earned down, get a car data check – it can help you with all the above points. For just a few pounds you could save yourself thousands in paying off debts and repair costs, or even losing your vehicle altogether. You can use our HPI Check comparison table to find out more about how these services stack up against each other.