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Drivers gambling on unchecked used cars

Just 10% of second-hand car buyers bother to check a vehicle’s history before purchasing, according to new research.

Vehicle history data from the RAC Car Passport service reveals that nine out of 10 motorists are taking on unnecessary risk when it comes to vetting the next car in their life.

Out of a sample of over 21,000 checks, a quarter (23%) highlighted serious issues with a vehicle’s history that should be of significant concern to any buyer. These included outstanding finance, insurance write-offs; colour changes and marked as stolen.

With some 2.8m used cars sold privately every year that means that over 2.5m are being bought without checking into their past history.

And with the average value of a car up for sale privately at £2,465, that means that buyers are spending over £6.1bn each year on used cars that may have nasty secrets lurking in their pasts.

A separate study of drivers who had purchased an RAC Car Passport data check found that one in three (33%) decided not to purchase the car they were looking at based on the information they received in the report. These savvy buyers potentially saved thousands of pounds by avoiding buying a ‘lemon’ – the term used to describe a vehicle with a pre-existing fault or suspect history – simply by running the 60-second online check.

Here’s a list of typical car data check alerts and advice on how to address them:

  • Outstanding finance – make sure the seller has paid off the finance in full and ask them to re-run a vehicle history check, such as the RAC Car Passport, to prove it
  • Written off – here you need to know your ABC (and D!). There are four classes of ‘write off’ – category A and B shouldn’t be on the road and are illegal to drive – avoid and report it! C and D mean that it wasn’t financially worthwhile for an insurance company to repair the damage – you may grab yourself a bargain but proceed with caution and get a professional vehicle inspection first
  • Colour change – this may just mean a change in fashion – but more often it means a re-spray after an accident. Again, get a professional inspection before you buy
  • Imports – while only one in 200 cars checked by the RAC Car Passport were identified as imports, they require a much closer inspection of the paper trail as imported cars require specific documentation.

“These figures reveal the risks used-car buyers are taking by not obtaining a simple car data check to uncover any suspect history their intended purchase may be hiding,” said RAC Car Passport’s Robert Diamond.

“Buying a car can be a stressful experience because of the sums of money involved so it makes sense to find out as much as you can about a car’s history as it may just save you thousands of pounds.”





Outstanding finance



1 in 8

Insurance write off



1 in 10

Change of colour



1 in 100




1 in 1000




1 in 2000

Number plate change



1 in 4

Mileage discrepancies



1 in 20




1 in 200

No issue/clean car



2 in 5





About Gareth Herincx

Gareth is a versatile journalist, copywriter and digital editor who's worked across the media in newspapers, magazines, TV, teletext, radio and online. After long stints at the BBC, GMTV and ITV, he now specialises in motoring.

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One comment

  1. These are worrying statistics!

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