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How to check your car’s history

Buying a used car can be risky but there is a simple and cheap way of finding out whether a vehicle has been looked after. Here’s how to check your car’s history.

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Man inspecting car for scratches

Why you need to check your car’s history

  • A car - whether it’s new or from a used car dealer or a private seller - is one of the most expensive things you will ever buy

  • A study by the Office of Fair Trading found consumers spend £425 each – a total of £85m a year – having to fix unresolved faults that are the dealers' obligation to correct

  • You may also want to check out what you are likely to pay car insurance before you go ahead and buy it; as a hefty insurance bill could wipe out any savings you hope to make

Check a car’s history - private history or data check

A private history check - also known as a ‘data check’ will cost from £20. Depending on what company you use a private history check can tell you:

If the vehicle is recorded as stolen 

A private data check will tap into the Police National Computer to check if the car has been recorded as stolen.

If it has been written-off

If a car has been damaged to the extent that it has been written off by the car insurance company as scrap, you'll want to stay well clear of becoming its next owner.

Service history check 

If a car has been declared a total loss it will have undergone a structural exam to tell if it is roadworthy.

Whether it has been clocked

A check with the National Mileage Register to determine the car’s true mileage.

Identity of the car

You can find out when the car was first manufactured, how many times it has changed hands, as well as confirming the exact make and model of the car.

If the V5 document is recorded as stolen

If this is recorded as stolen, it's likely the car has been stolen too.

Transferred number plate

A number plate transferred more than 3 or 4 times might indicate that someone has been trying to hide the car's past.

Matching number plate and VIN (Vehicle Identification Number)

If these don't match it could be a sign of the car being tampered with or having been written off in the past; a data check will verify that these numbers do match

Free car history check - DVLA

You can also check your vehicle’s history on the DVLA website.

  • registration number (on the number plate)

  • MOT test number

  • mileage

  • make and model

You can go online and used the DVLA’s free online vehicle information checker 

The information the DVLA holds should match the dealer’s/seller’s information.

MOT check 

Vehicles need regular MOT tests to make sure they are roadworthy you can check the MOT history of a car for free on Gov.uk.

If there are any gaps in the MOT history remember though that a car might not have needed a MOT if it was unused or registered off-road - statutory off-road notification or SORN.

Car history check - check the car’s logbook

The car’s V5C registration document gives details of the registered keeper and all the car’s previous keepers.

  • This is a red document issued by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) 

  • If the logbook - V5C registration certificate - doesn’t match the car on the DVLA records, you need to report this to the DVLA

Check your used car’s Vehicle Identification Number

When viewing a used car, look for its VIN (Vehicle Identification Number), which can be found at the base of the windscreen or under the bonnet, and stamped into the framework under the carpet by the driver’s seat. 

  • The VIN  should match the VIN found in the V5C registration document

Free car history check – look out for cut-and-shuts

A ‘cut-and-shut’ is where pieces of two or more vehicles are welded together. This is illegal, but you need to watch out for this. You can check by pulling up carpets and trims for signs of hidden welds and look paintwork that doesn’t match.

  • A full history check before buying a used car will show if the car’s been stolen or written-off – a cut-and-shut could be both

Car history check – get an independent report

You may want to get an independent report this will give you detailed information about the car’s condition and will cost around £100 to £200

The Motor Ombudsman will have advice on where to get an independent report in your area. The Motor Ombudsman is a government-backed self-regulatory body for the motoring industry.  

Whatever car you drive, make sure you find insurance that covers everything you need as cheaply as possible by comparing policies.