New research suggests that more than half (52%) of second-hand vehicles checked have a hidden history that could lead to problems for new owners.
A sample of RAC Vehicle History Checks covering more than 32,000 separate used cars for sale in the UK flagged up a multitude of possible issues that should make prospective buyers wary before handing over their cash.
The most common problem was a change of number plate, with more than one in four (27.5%) vehicles analysed having recorded such a change. While this may simply be a switch to or from a personalised number plate, it could also be a sign that an unscrupulous former owner has tried to hide the vehicle’s true identity.
Next was the remarkable finding that nearly one in five (17.6%) vehicles were still in the process of being ‘paid off’ by previous owners despite being advertised for sale. This is something that should be a huge red flag for any buyer – it is likely to mean the car is still being leased or is legally still owned by a finance company under a hire purchase (HP) or personal contract purchase (PCP) arrangement, and cannot be sold on.
A surprising 14.2% of vehicles checked were deemed insurance write-offs – not the sort of vehicle most buyers would want to be parting with their money for – while 1.9% were either imports or exports, vehicles that warrant closer inspection as they must always be sold with particular documentation.
A slightly smaller proportion (1.4%) of vehicles had had their colour changed at some point in their histories.
But perhaps most worryingly of all, a very small number for sale were either listed as stolen (0.2%) or technically scrapped (0.1%).
With used car values buoyant, the RAC is reminding drivers they need to be on their guard more than ever to ensure the money they are putting towards a car is cash well spent.
“Forewarned is forearmed, and drivers that do their homework on vehicles put themselves in a much stronger position to negotiate on price, or simply walk away from the sale if they feel they are taking too great a risk,” said RAC Motoring Services spokesperson Francesca Mann.
“This is particularly relevant this time of year, as the arrival of 19-plate vehicles sees a rise in drivers seeking a good deal on used cars.
“We recommend every buyer insists on a comprehensive history check for any car they are looking to buy – they should ask to see one if buying through a dealer, or get their own if trawling used car advertisements. Any concerns should be raised directly with the seller before parting with any money.”
RAC advice to a buyer whose vehicle history check flags issues:
- Number plate change – talk to the owner and check the documentation to ensure a plate change is legitimate, for instance with a previous owner swapping the plate for a cherished, personalised one. The car’s number plate must always match the one on the V5C
- Outstanding finance – be fully confident the seller has paid off finance on their vehicle in full, and ask them to re-run an RAC Vehicle History Check to prove it. Cars still being paid offer under Hire Purchase (HP) or Personal Contract Purchase (PCP) agreements cannot be sold on
- Insurance write-off – while most drivers might want to walk away from a car that has been written-off, unless they are specialists seeking parts, the write-off category will determine whether or not the car can be sold on legally. In some cases, a Category N write-off might be roadworthy but just have some cosmetic damage. In any case, it’s best to get a professional inspection if you are considering buying a write-off
- Imports – imported cars must be approved and be accompanied by specific government-required documentation
- Colour change – this might suggest a re-spray after an accident, although owners can change the colour of their vehicle if they tell the DVLA. Get a professional inspection before you buy to be sure