What documents should I get when buying a used car?

December 09, 2022 by

Buying a used car can be a great way to save money, but it can turn into a costly exercise if you get taken for a ride. To avoid getting conned we have put together a guide that will walk you through the documents you need to ensure your used car is a peach instead of a lemon

1. V5C registration document

The V5C log book is a document the Driver and Vehicle Licencing Agency (DVLA) issues to the registered keeper of a vehicle. It is red with blue stripes and has four A4 sides to it. It is needed whenever the address the vehicle is kept at changes, or if the vehicle is sold.

It contains the following information:

  • Detailed description of the vehicle (VIN, make, model, colour, engine specifics)
  • The name and address of the registered keeper – this is the person responsible for taxing the vehicle but not necessarily the owner. If the car is financed, the finance institution is the legal owner

When buying a new or used car through a dealer, they usually sort out the V5C document. When buying a used car privately you will need to deal with the V5C yourself. This is what you need to look out for:

  • Make sure that no sections of the V5C have been tampered with or removed
  • Look for the ‘DVL’ watermark on the V5C document
  • The V5C was blue until 2012. It was then changed to a red colour as a number of blank blue V5C docs were stolen. If you are presented with a blue V5C document with serial numbers ranging between BG8229501 and BG9999030 or BI2305501 to BI2800000 then do not purchase the vehicle. 
  • Ask to view the vehicle at the address listed on the V5C. This will minimise the risk of an unauthorised person trying to sell you the car
  • If there is no V5C available for the vehicle, then walk away. A replacement can be ordered from the DVLA for £25 and it is the responsibility of the registered keeper to do this before selling the car

 2. Service history

A car’s service history gives you an insight into whether it has been properly maintained. The service book will contain all the information about each service the car has had. There should be a dealer stamp and date under each relevant service. If a car has a digital service record, you should get a printout of it.

Look out for the following:

  • Missing service book stamps – this may mean that the car has not been properly cared for 
  • Discrepancies with mileage – Check the date and mileage of each service, see if this correlates with the MOT information and the car’s actual mileage
  • Proof of work done – If the car has been privately maintained, insist on receipts and invoices to show that the claimed servicing and maintenance items were actually done

3. MOT status

Once a car reaches three years of age, it will require an annual MOT test. This is to ensure that it is in a roadworthy status. During the test the garage will check for things like dashboard warning lights, tyre wear, brake and steering functionality as well as emission levels. You can check the car’s MOT status online

It can provide you with a lot of information about the car such as:

  • Whether it has received passes, advisories or fault notifications at each MOT
  • The mileage at each MOT test – great for comparing with the service history and the car’s odometer
  • When the next MOT is due – if there are several issues that were picked up at the last MOT and the next test is now due, you may want the current owner to rectify these problems before the sale

For a comprehensive guide on MOT tests, read our guide here.

4. Proof of purchase

Once you have purchased the car you will need a receipt detailing the transaction. 

A copy should be made for both the buyer and the seller and should contain the following information:

  • The date of purchase
  • Buyer’s name
  • Seller’s name and address
  • Vehicle’s specifics (Make, model, mileage, VIN number and registration number)
  • Written confirmation that the vehicle has been paid for 
  • Signatures of both parties

Is there anything else I should ask?

Even if the car has a valid MOT, full service history and a V5C doc, you may still want to carry out a few further checks or you can pay a small amount to get a car history report for peace of mind.  

Get a Vehicle History Check done

A vehicle history check can reveal whether the car has been involved in any accidents or is still financed. It will also confirm the specific of the car such as its make and model. You can get an HPI check (Hire Purchase Investigation) done on a potential purchase for as little as £10. More comprehensive checks can cost up to £50, but give additional info like mileage discrepancies, number of owners and details of any outstanding finance deals.

Transfer the warranty

If the car is still under a manufacturer warranty, make sure that the seller has transferred it into your name. Not all warranties are transferrable, but it is worth asking the question. 

This may also apply to any existing service or maintenance agreements or third-party warranties. While warranties on new cars are pretty clear cut, used car warranties can vary. Buying from a used car dealer affords you some protection through the Consumer Rights Act, but private used car sales fall under the Sale of Goods Act. Take a look here for more information on your rights when buying a used car. 

Ask to have the car inspected

Aside from getting all the documentation in order, a visual inspection of the vehicle is essential. The owner should be open to this if they have nothing to hide.

Look out for the following:

Tyres – look out for uneven wear, insufficient tread or damage. Cheap or mismatched tyres are a sign that the car has not been cared for

Brakes – check the discs for scoring and see whether the brake pads still have enough material

Exhaust – excessive smoke or oily residue on the exhaust tips can indicate engine issues

Warning lights – look out for any warning lights on the dashboard. An OBD scanner can reveal additional error codes 

Service schedule – Check whether any large services are imminent. Some cars require expensive major services at higher mileages, make sure you aren’t saddled with a big bill just after having bought the car

Car handbook – every car comes with a handbook that details how every system works and when servicing is required. Make sure it is provided with the car. A missing or damaged book may give some insight into how the owner has treated the car

If you are not mechanically minded, ask the owner if you could have the car inspected by a third-party. This could be the AA or a garage that you are familiar with. 

Ask for a test drive

Never buy a car without having driven it first. You may need to take out temporary insurance or inform your insurance company before you can do so.

Look out for the following:

  • Hesitant acceleration
  • Odd sounds emanating from the engine bay
  • Noises from the suspension over speed bumps
  • Grinding between gears in a manual car, or delayed gearchanges in automatics
  • Pulling to one side or steering wheel shaking at motorway speeds
  • Steering wheel vibrations under braking

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