Buying a car? Give it the once-over first

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What Do Car Checks Offer?

There comes a time in every motorist's life where they choose to buy a used car. It may be an upgrade to their current vehicle, or even their first purchase. However, as with any second-hand purchase, finding the rose amongst the thorns can be a daunting prospect. And with 1 in 8 checked vehicles being recorded as an insurance write off, 1 in 10 having outstanding finance recorded, and 1 in 16 showing significant discrepancies in their recorded mileage, a vehicle checking service is not just a luxury when buying a used car; is it a necessity.

But what exactly do car checks offer?

Outstanding Finance Checks

When a motorist buys a car using a form of credit, such as hire purchase, they do not gain full ownership of the vehicle until the loan has been paid in full. Unless the owner has paid off the money owed, they are not in a legal position to sell the car. However, this does not stop the more unscrupulous from trying!

A full car check will allow you to see whether the vehicle has any finance outstanding on it, and in most cases also the financing company's agreement number and contact details. If any finance is outstanding, the person selling the car should be able to tell you how much still needs to be paid off (the settlement figure). This amount cannot be given by a car checking service, as the figure is personal data and thus protected by the Data Protection Act 1998.

In statistics from various car checking services, we see that up to 50% of new cars are bought with finance, and 25% of used cars checked still show some outstanding finance. Just because there is some outstanding finance on a vehicle does not mean you shouldn't consider buying it, but you should keep the cost in mind, and make sure you know how much there is left to pay on it.

Insurance Write-off Checks

As many as 1 in 8 vehicles checked are certified as 'write offs'. In many cases there is no obvious sign that the vehicle has been written off, and thus such problems can be hard to spot. There are a couple of reasons why insurers would write off a car or vehicle.

Firstly, they can be written off due to damage to the vehicle. This means that the insurer does not think it is economical to repair it, and thus should be scrapped. Bear in mind though that depending on the severity of damage, some write-offs can be repaired safely.

Secondly, vehicles can be written off due to theft. This means that the car was reported as stolen, and the insurance company has issued a claim payment for it. This also makes that insurer the legal owner. It is best not to buy a vehicle that was written off due to theft, as the insurer in question has the right to repossess it.

However, as with cars with outstanding finance, a written off car could still be a viable buy, as long as you affirm the legal owner of the vehicle, and are sure it is safe to run and operate.

Stolen Vehicle Checks

Around 160,000 vehicles are reported stolen every year, and each car taken without consent is stored in the Police National Computer, or PNC. Many car check services have privileged access to these records and may use them in their reports.

With their level of access, car check services can get any dirt on the vehicle you are interested in. If the car's details are present in the PNC, the company in question will let you know, and they will also get in touch with the police to find the full details pertaining to the legal status of the vehicle.

There is obviously no legal reason why you would want to buy a stolen car. Doing so means you have committed a crime and have no legal rights to the vehicle. Simply put, don't do it.

Mileage Clocking Checks

Despite being a rather old form of attempted fraud, the practise of trying to make it look like a car has done less miles than it has is still, or 'clocking', is still unfortunately in use, with around 1 in 16 of cars checked showing some discrepancy in mileages. Car check services have access to a number of databases of previous mileage records. They'll let you know if any mileage figures look off, or much lower than they should be.

Mileage can also be checked using servicing records and MoT certificates. Any dissimilarity might show that the car in question has had it's mileage tampered with - which is a sign that there may also be other points of interest with the vehicle. Mileage data is not available for all vehicles, but the majority of data suppliers will cover most cars.

Previous Owner Checks

It can help to know how many previous owners a vehicle has had, and when the car has changed hands. If there have been a number of changes of ownership in a small timeframe, this could be a sign that the vehicle has problems, whether they be mechanical or quality issues, and so the previous owner has wanted to get rid of it.

Names and addresses of previous owners are featured on the car's Vehicle Registration Certificate (V5C), but the name of the current owner is protected by the Data Protection Act 1998, and a car check service will not be able to supply you with this. However, contacting previous owners to ask about the quality of the vehicle is a good idea.

Third Party Traces

Car financing companies, as well as the police, maintain a database of high-risk vehicles, which may for example have been stolen or have outstanding finance. This is in order to share information with other interested parties. Nearly 190,000 cars feature in this database, and car check services can access this information for you, to check whether any third parties are attempting to locate the vehicle you are interested in.