What to look for and what it can tell you.

Understandably it’s the car, rather than all the paperwork that goes with it, that will attract most of your attention but it’s important to take time to go through the car’s written history carefully  it can tell you a lot about the car’s background and how well it has been looked after.

V5C Registration document

You should never buy a car without seeing the V5C registration document.

The V5C includes details of previous keepers  consider contacting them about the car as you should be able to rely on their comments  as well as information such as engine and chassis/VIN numbers, official CO2 emissions figure (which determines the annual car tax rate), registration number, date of first registration, and colour.

Anything not matching the vehicle should ring alarm bells and be investigated further before you agree to buy.

If you’re buying privately the current keeper shown on the V5C should be the person selling the vehicle  if they’re not then you’ll need to satisfy yourself that the person selling you the car is in fact entitled to do so.

A dealer should have the V5C but without the yellow ‘transfer to a motortrader, insurer or dismantler’ (V5C/3) slip which was used by the previous keeper (still shown on the front of the V5C) to notify DVLA that the car had been transferred into the trade.

Once you’ve bought the car you’ll fill in and keep the green section (V5C/2) as proof that you are the new keeper. The seller will send the V5C to DVLA with your name and address details entered in section 6 once both you and the seller have signed the declaration in section 8. You should receive a new V5C in your name after about four weeks.

MOT ‘Certificates’

If the car you’re buying is more than three years old it should have at least one current MOT ‘certificate’ – for MOTs conducted since 2005, the keeper should have a printed receipt from the test centre but the official record is held on line.

MOT Certificate

You can check the current MOT status and history (back to 2005) of a vehicle online or by phone if you are considering buying it and have the vehicle registration number and either the MOT test number from the most recent ‘certificate’, or the document reference number from the registration document (V5C).

The online check will give you the date, recorded mileage and details of any advisory notices for each MOT test. It’s important to check that the mileage recorded every year as MOT tests tells a consistent story over the vehicle’s life.

Remember that an MOT certificate only tells you that a car met the test requirements on the particular day when the test was done – don’t rely on the MOT as an indicator of the vehicle’s general mechanical condition today.

A dealer will normally arrange a new MOT if there’s 6 months or less to run on the current MOT.

Service history

As a car gets older you would expect to gather more and more receipts for repairs, parts and servicing as well as the record of MOT tests. Be suspicious of a car with no service history  unless it’s nearly new  or only very sketchy service records, as this could indicate either that the car’s been neglected or that something in its past is being covered up.

The service book should be stamped to show when (date and mileage) scheduled servicing was completed  main dealer stamps will carry more weight and value than independent or DIY maintenance  but a sheaf of original receipts detailing the work carried out are more important.

Check that the records tell a consistent story, particularly with regard to mileage, and look for signs of any persistent or recurring problems.

History checks

18984433A dealer must take all reasonable steps to check the vehicle’s history and to verify the accuracy of the recorded mileage. Ask the dealer about the checks they made and what they found – under consumer protection legislation a dealer should not withhold information about the existence and results of checks he carried out.

If you’re buying a car privately there’s more responsibility on you to make your own enquiries, ask the right questions and inspect the car thoroughly. A car data check or a vehicle inspection by an independent professional will bring peace of mind and help ensure you avoid making a potentially very costly mistake.


The length of warranty given by car manufacturers on new cars varies by make, model and model year but will generally be between 3 and 7 years.

Where a ‘Lifetime’ warranty was offered this is likely to apply only to the first registered keeper.

Mileage may be restricted to an overall maximum or may be unlimited.

If you’re buying a nearly new car then the balance of any new car warranty should be transferable  make sure you understand any conditions or terms that apply.

Dealer warranty

Car dealers will often include a used car warranty or offer one at additional cost.

A warranty does not replace or substitute your legal rights, but it may be easier in some cases to pursue a claim for repairs through a warranty policy than direct with the dealer who sold you the car.

It’s important to check the small print of any warranty policy carefully –  particularly if you’re paying extra for it  as conditions and the extent of cover can vary a lot from policy to policy.


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