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Used car precautions - Buying a Car

Whether you're buying from a dealer or private seller, make sure the used car you're considering is, in fact, what the seller says it is.

Independent traders sometimes pretend to be private sellers. When phoning about a car you've seen advertised as a private sale, you should always say: 'I'm phoning about the car you have for sale.' If they ask: 'Which car?', you should be on your guard.

Ask the seller questions about their time with the car, why they are selling it, and check that they're actually the owner, or that they have the owner's permission to sell.

If the price looks too good to be true, it probably is, so be suspicious.

Ask for the car's registration and VIN (vehicle identification number) before you view, paying for a vehicle history check is a good idea, because it will reveal if there is any outstanding finance on the car, if it has been written off, etc. It's vital that you carry out this check before deciding if it is the right car for you.

If buying privately, arrange to view the car at the seller's house – this way you can be more certain the car isn't stolen. Never agree to meet in a remote or quiet location and always bring a friend with you. Don't take large amounts of cash with you, and ask the seller to show you an accepted form of identification, such as a passport, to verify they are who they claim to be.

Check the V5C registration document (the vehicle's logbook) with the DVLA on 0870 2400010 to ensure it's genuine. Don't even think about buying a car without a V5C.

Compare the data from your research and the V5C with the car itself – make sure it all matches. Most cars have the VIN stamped onto a chassis plate under the bonnet, or directly on the chassis, as well as a visible etching on the bottom-left edge of the windscreen. Some manufactures also use tamper-proof VIN stickers inside door apertures and on large body panels. If some, or all, of the numbers don't match, you could be looking at a stolen car.

Examine the service history, and note the locations of the garages that have carried out work. Does this data match the rest of the car's history? Also, check invoices to see if any other work has been carried out.

Don't agree to let the seller post missing spare keys to you at a later date – a spare key can be used to steal your car when it's parked at home.


More tips on buying a car: Car Payment | Buying Online | Cars for Disabled Drivers | Contracts | Delivery Times | Finance | How a Showroom works | How to Haggle | How to reject and complain | How to test drive | New or Used | Paperwork | Setting a budget | Test drive checklist | Understanding your needs | Used car buying scams | Used car inspections and tests | Used car precautions | Where to buy | Your part exchange  

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