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Checking used car documentation

Checking used car documentationThe documents that accompany of used car that’s for sale are important to tell if the car you’re looking at is owned by the seller, how well it’s been looked after and also it’s road worthiness. All of the documents should be carefully checked before agreeing to buy a used car, so here are some tips on what to look out for:

Registration Document (V5C)

The V5C registration document shows who the registered keeper of the vehicle is (not necessarily the legal owner) and also records the last two keepers. It’s vital to check this over before you buy and to ensure that the seller is the keeper and therefore legally entitled to sell it, you can ask for a second form of identification to check, e.g. a driver’s license or other official identification. If they aren’t the registered keeper, ask why they’re selling the vehicle on behalf of someone else.

  • Ensure that the form is an original with an official watermark with no over-writing or attempts to modify its details, e.g. if the forms serial number has been over-written or covered in any way. One useful tip is to take a V5C from another vehicle if you have access to one and compare them to make sure the fonts and alignment are all correct to reduce the risk of receiving a forgery.
  • Check whether the address on the V5C is the same as the address of the seller, i.e. where you’re viewing the car (except in the case of a car dealer). Vehicles being sold away from the keepers registered address should result in more questions being asked and avoid buying from pub car parks without very good justification.
  • The V5C has a record of the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) and this should match the car including a metal plate in the engine bay, stamped into the vehicles chassis under a small carpet flat inside the car and on newer vehicles, etched into the bottom of the windscreen. Check that these all match each other and the Registration Document.
  • The V5C shows the details of previous keepers and as the previous keepers can be a useful source of information a vehicle, it might be worth getting in touch to ask some questions, e.g.
    • Did they service the car regularly?
    • How many miles did they do in it?
    • Did they have any mechanical issues with it?
    • Was the vehicle modified in any way?
  • Match all of the vehicle details on the form to the car e.g. engine size, colour, fuel type and rough mileage. There may be some slight variation on the colour which can depend on the viewpoint of the manufacturer or a previous owner – but it’s important to make sure that all of the other details are as they should be.
  • In order to by road tax for a car, you’ll need the V5C document so make sure it’s available when you by the car and walk away if the seller can’t produce it. You can request a replacement from the DVLA but request that the seller does this and produces an original document before paying out any money.

MOT Certificates

Checking used car documentation - MOT CertificatesCars that are three years old or more require an MOT certificate based on a yearly inspection and there should be a continuous run of valid certificates. You can validate MOT certificates since 2005 on the Government run site. You can also enquire by telephone, contacting the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency’s (VOSA’s) MOT status line on 0870 330 0444. This will allow you to check whether the MOTs you have are valid and also identify if there have been any gaps in the cars history. It there are gaps, ask the seller if they know why these might have occurred, as they can be indicative of MOT failures or the car having been taken off the road for a period.

With concurrent MOT certifications, the recorded mileage should increase steadily with age and be consistent with the service record. If it doesn’t then you’ll want to hear a good explanation as to why it doesn’t.

Service History

The majority of vehicles will require some attention from a mechanic at a garage during their lifetime so are likely to have a collection of receipts and invoices from that work, including yearly servicing and MOT tests. Ideally you’ll want to see as complete a service history as possible as this will allow you to contact the garage to make sure that it actually exists and that the work was undertaken. One other quick check is to see whether the garages used are in the general area of the registered address at that time.

Looking through the servicing history, look for any recurring problems that might indicate faults that keep occurring and that might not have been fixed. If there are any major omissions, e.g. gaps for years without a service history, ask why this might have happened.

If there’s no service history paperwork, then make sure to ask why. Does the history tell a consistent story?


Make sure there is a handbook available for the car, as these can be expensive to replace if it’s not available.

“Caveat emptor“- Buyer beware

If a vehicle seems like a real bargain, or has a very low mileage for its age then there may be a problem with the car or its history. There are bargains to be had but in general but if a deal looks too good to be true, then it most likely is.
To help you avoid making a potentially expensive mistake when you buy a used car, get an HPI check to make sure that it’s not got any outstanding finance or hire purchase agreements in place. One way to minimise the risks when buying used cars is to use a garage which can provide warranties and guarantees. The RRG Group offer a wide range of used cars in Manchester.

And finally, before you hand over any money for a used car:

  • Agree collection or delivery arrangements
  • Confirm exactly what’s included in the price
  • Confirm any mechanical work that the seller has agreed to do
  • Make sure to get a receipt showing the vehicle details, price, terms of sale and the seller’s details.


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One Response to “Checking used car documentation”

  1. If you don’t check the documentation it could be a very expensive long term purchase. How does the saying go, “the most expensive mistake is a cheap lawyer.” Same goes with a used cars, you don’t always want to cheapest one on the lot. Review past service record, review the car history, and ask questions!

    Goodluck with the shopping!


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