Car History Checks

Car History Checks

When buying any used car even from a garage it is imperative that you get some car history checks done.

Initial  information is available from DVLA for free. It’s not all you will need but can be handy as a preliminary check before you go to view a car.  It can provide you with make and model details(ie its the right model,not just a badge), year and date of first registration(useful info for traders and exporters) , Co2 rate of vehicle, Tax class and cost of taxing for 6/12 months.

Also from DVLA you can check a cars mot history online which will show recent MOT’s, any failures or any listed advisories, in this instance though the owner of the car will have to provide you with the mot number.

If you have decided to buy a car then you need to get a check done. This is known as a HPI check ,although that is not strictly correct. HPI is a brand name and they where originators in the industry, much like people say Hoover instead of vacuum cleaner.  HPI checks are  good, they are however expensive and if you are looking at a few cars costs soon add up. There are several companies now operating in this field so you should check around and be happy with what you are buying.

If I am at an auction and just want to check a cars model or Co2 there are two I-phone apps I can use that are both free. I am sure similar apps are available for android phones. There is a comparison website called which appears to list what you are getting for your money, you don’t have to buy from them but the info is free.

I don’t want to advertise any product but Experian do a car check service which is 5 checks for £25 .This doesn’t seem bad value to me, as you will probably check 2-3 cars before you buy, and it comes with insurance. The checks are valid for 2 months so you could always pass on unused checks to friends and family. Whatever check you use what you are looking for is: A police check to show the car has not been stolen, An insurers check to show the car has not been registered with them as an insurance loss(write off) and a finance check to show the car is not listed with any finance companies as having any outstanding finance.

Now it is important that you get a report done, but only as an extra bit of information on a car that you have definitely decided you want to buy. It is only supplementary information, it does not tell you everything you need to know and you should check over a car and its paperwork, service history and mots or receipts minutely before you are happy to move on.

Now I want to have a quick word about the facts. You will have heard lots of stories about how most cars have a hidden history etc. This is the industry trying to sell you their product, they are allowed to do that the same way sports drinks can advertise that they will make you train longer. It’s not a crime but it’s not necessarily true. I get lots of car checks done monthly and true to form many come back “with revealing history” about the car.  Usually that revealing history is that the car has had a plate change (worth checking out but just means someone’s had a private plate on the car at some stage). I also regularly come across cars with outstanding finance showing but when I ring the finance company it turns out the records have just not been updated.

That’s the good news not every car out there has a sinister story. The bad news is that a lot of cars that have sustained accident damage, will never be listed on the register if they have not been handled by the insurance company directly, so yet again I reiterate check the car with due diligence ,consult my buying guides and be happy before you go ahead with an extra check.

This applies to all advice that follows: Anything that comes up negatively on a report will affect the future resale value of the vehicle you are buying ,so if there are mistakes they need to be rectified and if there are issues you are aware of but still want to proceed then this should be reflected in the price.

What is likely to come up:

If the car has come back listed as being previously stolen: I don’t like stolen cars. If you had to hear this from a report and not from the owner then I am inclined to distrust them. I have heard of cars that were stolen and returned undamaged within 24 hours and therefore should be fine(I doubt it) . I would rather buy an honest car that’s had a small crash than a dishonest car that’s been stolen. Very rarely a car is stolen undamaged and parked in a warehouse until it is recovered, in most cases it has been ragged around before the wheels were stolen and it was left abandoned on its undercarriage at the back of some estate. A good car can be damaged irreparably in ten minutes by a vindictive thief. So I have walked away if you still think the car is worth buying and you believe the seller 100% that’s your business, but as I stated above the car you are buying will one day be the car you are selling and will always be a stolen car so you need to be get a serious discount to even consider it.

If the car comes back as being subject to an insurance claim total loss: As above I would have hoped to have heard this from the owner first and as above when reselling your price will be affected greatly so proceed with caution. However a categorized car does not always get a straight red card from me. I could write a long and boring tale about this subject but to surmise as best I can. If a car comes back as a total loss it means the insurance company chose to replace the car rather than repair it. There are complicated reasons why this is so but just because a car is an insurance total loss does not necessarily mean the car was hit by a truck. Category D means the car was perfectly repairable. I have seen three year old cars written off for very minor damage, ie a bit of vandal damage to paintwork or very light cosmetic work required. I have also seen cat D cars written off because they were hit hard, so unless you have some expert knowledge its best to leave alone. The categories get worse so Cat C means it was mushed and Cat B means it was mushed so bad you would be lucky to salvage useable parts from it. So general buyer best walking away. Car enthusiast happy with what you are buying can see exactly what the damage was (or the seller has photographic evidence) if it’s very cheap and you plan on keeping it for a long time it might be fine for you.

Car comes back as finance outstanding: This shows up on reports more than it should. You should notify the seller and they should be able to get clarification in a letter or faxed copy from the finance company that the car is clear of finance. If you want you can speak to someone direct in the finance company. If the seller says “oh yeah I owe £3500 on the car I’m going to clear that when I get paid off you”  some people think like that and 90% are honest in their intentions, however it does not work like that . If you are buying a car with finance owing, liaise with the finance company and you arrange to clear the debt with them. For example if you are buying a car for ten thousand and there is 3500 owing, then you agree with the owner to pay him 6500 and the finance company 3500 so you get clear title. If the owner is not happy to do this they have one last chance to clear the finance themselves before you proceed and if they don’t then walk away. There is discussion that a buyer is protected if you get a proper receipt and that the finance company can only pursue the client who took out the loan and not you etc, this is all rubbish. You do not buy a car knowingly with outstanding finance even if you can fight it legally you have better things to be doing with your life so leave it behind.

Free check ?: you have Googled and have come across a raft of sites offering free checks? Don’t bother there is no such thing they will only slowly bring you to a paysite. You will have to pay for a check it can be as little as £2.99, or £5 with the finance checks. No genuine freebies out there I’m afraid.

Car is coming back with mileage irregularities? This is an add on to some checks and may provide additional information. However as stated in my buying guide you should have checked the service records of the car, any receipts and old mots, if a discrepancy comes back that raises eyebrows then discuss it with the owner and try to get to the root of the problem. In my experience many of these irregularities come back due to human error ie wrong mileage listed on a service etc. I have an old Toyota that I use as a workhorse if I have to drive a thousand miles in three days. When it got its last mot the young lad that filled in the info took down the mileage that was on my trip meter not my actual odometer so when I sell the car I will have mots that show 85K, 105K, 130K, 7K, 155K.  Now when I sell the car it will be close to worthless anyway but will flag as a mileage discrepancy. Now a bit of light investigation will show up an obvious mistake. I could contact the mot centre and get this rectified but its just an example the sort of thing that can come up so don’t be immediately frightened off. The service records that come with the car should show the true story.

As with all my buying guides I like to highlight the real world normality of buying and selling and try to strip away the drama. Of course you can investigate further if you want to scare yourself. But if you stick to my guidelines and use a good check service after you have found the car you want, it is a supplementary tool that will help you avoid the wrong car and will add value when you go to resale.