Checking a car's history is easy, you can do this online at the HPI Check website with just the car's number-plate or VRM (Vehicle Registration Number) to hand.
One check costs around £20 but this will be money well spent to know for sure that the car is eligible for sale, and that you won't be contacted by the police if the car is stolen or end up driving a car that is an insurance write-off.
A HPI check will check the following things:
Outstanding finance on the car. If money is yet to be paid on a car and you buy it, you could lose the car as well as the amount of money outstanding on the car
Recorded as stolen. The HPI check will tap into the Police National Computer to check if the car has been recorded as stolen
Written-off. If a car has been damaged to the extent that it has been written off by the insurance company as scrap, you'll want to stay well clear of becoming its next owner.
Inspection report. If a car has been declared a total loss it can then undergo a structural exam to tell if it is roadworthy, and the HPI check will confirm whether this has taken place
'Clocked' cars. A clocked car is one whose odometer (showing how many miles the car has travelled) has been forcibly turned back in order to make the car appear more valuable than it really is. A HPI check will check with the National Mileage Register to determine the car/s true mileage.
Identity of the car. The HPI check will perform an in-depth investigation on the car's true identity, looking at when it was first manufactured, how many times it has changed hands, as well as confirming the exact make and model of the car.
V5 document recorded as stolen. The V5 document is a registration document issued by the DVLA which lists the name and address of the car's current owner as well as the details of the car's previous two owners. A HPI check will check that this isn't recorded as stolen because if it is, 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; a HPI check will determine exactly how many times it has been changed and any potential problems with that.
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 HPI check will verify that these numbers do match
Helpfully, a HPI check will also provide you with a valuation of the car you're interested in based on current market value so that you can see whether or not the price you've been quoted is fair. You'll also be given a CO2 rating for the car to see how environmentally friendly it is.
Alternatively, you can buy an AA data check if you prefer, which will essentially check the same things for around £20 for one car.
Plus, you can also check the details of a car held by the DVLA for free on the Gov.UK website, although this is unlikely to be as comprehensive.
Whatever car you drive, make sure you find insurance that covers everything you need as cheaply as possible by comparing all of the policies out there.