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When you buy a used vehicle, one of the most important things to do is to check the car’s history. It should be at the top of your to-do list.
The good news is that getting a car history check in the modern information age we live in is extremely simple. All you’ll need is the vehicle’s VIN or registration number – both details should be readily available from the seller. If they’re keeping that information quiet, take it as a significant red flag.
Recent worrying statistics from the RAC reveal that more than half (52%) of vehicles on the UK used car market have a hidden past – something the seller wants to hide from you. Almost unbelievably, this means that, without a car history check, you’re more likely to end up with a car that’ll cause you a problem than not!
27.5% of cars they checked had an issue with a number plate change, with 17.6% of vehicles having outstanding debt attached to them. The RAC also found that 14.2% were deemed to be insurance write-offs, 1.4% had been repainted a different colour, 0.2% were listed as stolen and 0.1% scrapped.
These statistics highlight the genuine need for a used vehicle history lookup before you send any money anywhere. In this article, we’ll be using carVertical as an example. Founded in the summer of 2018, it’s one of the most popular and trustworthy car history platforms out there, with access to a vast database of information.
- Recent tendencies of the UK used car market
- 4 most common hidden dangers
- What is a VIN?
- How do I check a car’s history?
- What information does a car history report provide?
- Why isn’t it free to check a car’s history?
- Is a car history check worth it?
Recent tendencies of the UK used car market
Up until the first quarter of 2020, the UK used car market held reasonably steady, with around 8 million vehicles changing hands in 2019. Q4 in 2019 saw just over 1.8 million car transactions take place. However, with the arrival of Covid-19, economies around the world slumped to virtually a standstill. The UK used car market fared much the same way.
Q1 of 2020 also saw approximately 1.8 million cars change hands, although it was down more than 8% on Q1 of 2019. Steady growth in the first two months was obliterated by the first lockdown in March, with sales dropping by more than 30%. Q2 saw almost a 50% decline on 2019 and, although things began to pick up again in Q3 with the reopening of showrooms (4% growth compared to 2019), the second national lockdown meant that sales again dropped 6% in Q4.
Overall, these figures represented a total of about 6.7 million used cars being sold in 2020 – a 15% decline on 2019. It was a challenging year, for sure.
2021 hasn’t started much better. With the country still in strict national lockdown for most of the quarter, sales dropped 9% compared to Q1 2020. However, as March began to see the signs of lockdown lifting, sales figures rose by 32% compared with the previous year (although March 2020 was the month we first went into lockdown).
So, amidst all this chaos, which cars are selling well?
The top ten used cars sold in Q1 2021 are:
- Ford Fiesta
- Ford Focus
- Vauxhall Corsa
- Volkswagen Golf
- Vauxhall Astra
- BMW 3 Series
- Mini hatch
- Volkswagen Polo
- Audi A3
- BMW 1 Series
These cars are relatively representative of the last year, too.
Throughout lockdown, it’s also been very encouraging to see a continual rise in the sales of electric cars. BEV (Battery), PHEV (Plug-In Hybrid) and HEV (Hybrid) sales rose about 48%, 32% and 17%, respectively. However, plug-in vehicles still only make up 1% of the used car market.
For more information on used car sales data, check out SMMT by following this link.
4 most common hidden dangers when buying a used car
It’s crucial to check a car’s history. Not doing so could lead to inordinate costs down the road that would make the vehicle a financial burden and nothing more.
Here are four of the most common hidden dangers when buying a used car.
Rolling back the odometer is a scarily common trick that corrupt car dealers use to make the car appear “less run” than it is. It’s illegal and intentionally difficult to get into the system, but some salespeople often find a way in anyway.
Mileage fraud is dangerous when you buy a used car. For example, let’s say the odometer reading has been halved from 120,000 miles to 60,000 miles. At 120,000 miles, you would need to make sure that large, vital components such as the clutch, gearbox, engine and chassis are in good condition. At that kind of age, things go wrong. However, at 60,000 miles, you wouldn’t usually expect these things to go wrong.
One of the many things carVertical’s used vehicle history check offers is a scan of mileage records. If the odometer has been fiddled with, it will flag this up for you, so you know to avoid the car at all costs.
If the previous owner (or even the owner(s) before them) have had an accident in the car, they’ll often choose to cover it up rather than fix it. It’s expensive, after all.
For example, dodgy car dealers often cover tyres in tyre blackener to cover up their conditions. They might also spray the car’s underside so you can’t see rust or welds or use “botch-job” quick fixes such as holding the car’s suspension drop-link on with string (yes, you can sometimes do that).
A used vehicle history lookup means that you can check for these kinds of accidents. The report offered by carVertical will also tell you the specific area affected by the accident so you can look for evidence of it in photos or in person.
When you physically inspect the car, check for excessive tyre wear, mismatched panels (whether in colour or placement), and strange rust spots.
Some vehicles – such as those used in the emergency services or as taxis or rentals – aren’t generally worth as much as the average used car. That’s because they’ve been driven more than most cars and are therefore likely to be in worse condition.
(That’s not always the case – for example, buying cars from the police or ambulance service in the UK is often desirable, as you can trust that the vehicles have been meticulously looked after.)
Getting a car history check will mean that you can see what it has been used as in its previous life. If all you need is a cheap car for parts or as a cost-effective runaround, it won’t matter too much to you. Despite this, you should always check that you aren’t getting ripped off.
According to Rivervale Leasing, which submitted a freedom of information request to the DVLA, 74,769 vehicles were stolen in the UK last year (2020). According to official government data, there were 32,697,400 vehicles registered across the country in 2020, including those “between owners”. These figures show approximately 0.23% of cars in the UK were stolen – a percentage frighteningly similar to the RAC’s findings.
Although 0.2% might seem pretty small, it means that 1 in 500 used car transactions could be a stolen car.
The danger of buying a used car that turns out to be stolen is that, legally, you have to return it to the original owner even if you purchased it in good faith. Getting your money back? Well, that kind of falls onto your own shoulders. Your insurance or bank may or may not cover the costs, and it’s often complicated unless the thieves themselves are prosecuted.
What is a VIN?
A VIN is a vehicle identification number. All cars have one, and they are unique to every one that comes off the production line.
You’ll often find them inside the doorframe – either near the footplate or door catch – or at the top of the bonnet. The numbers are written on a plate and are always 17 digits long (provided the vehicle was made after 1981). It can contain both letters and numbers (alphanumeric).
The VIN is one of the most challenging things to forge. Thieves often scratch the numbers off, so you should always beware of that.
Before you buy a used car, ask to see both the VIN and the registration plate. When you put these details into a car history check platform, ensure that they match up.
How do I check a car’s history?
There are several different platforms you can use to check a car’s history, including carVertical.
The process is straightforward. Whichever company you choose to help you with the used car history check, you simply go to the website and enter either the VIN or the number plate. That’s all.
Vehicle history checks aren’t free, as we’ll discuss in a moment. Still, they provide a whole lot of information, all of which will be useful to you as a prospective buyer.
What information does a car history report provide?
All used vehicle history lookup platforms are slightly different from each other. Let’s use carVertical’s as an example.
After you’ve put in the car’s information – either the VIN or number plate – it will show you a summary screen. This summary screen shows a quick overview of the report, including any records of mileage fraud, theft, previous accidents or taxi usage.
Scrolling down, you’ll find a chronological record of all the available information from the many databases carVertical gathers information from. The data will include dates along with:
- MOT results,
- manufacturing dates,
- registration dates,
- when the ownership changed,
- times of any reported accidents,
- when it was on sale,
- when it was inspected
The report then explains whether or not there are any records that the vehicle has been used as anything in the past, including a taxi, driving school vehicle, police vehicle, rental car, delivery vehicle, and many more.
You’ll also be able to see any records of imports and exports, seizures, whether it was scrapped or has any outstanding finance, and so on.
The rest of the history check goes into the details of what databases were searched in what countries and specifics as to any of the categories as mentioned above. So, for example, if the car has been involved in a collision, the carVertical report will show you exactly which area was affected (if known).
After this, you’ll also come across a price analysis so you can make sure that you purchase the vehicle for a reasonable fee. It’ll then show you any photos of the car it finds online and, lastly, a list of common faults specific to the model you’re buying. Check all of these before you commit to the sale.
With all the information a used car history check provides, you can be assured that the car you purchase is worth your time and money. If the report throws any red flags at you – which, often, they do – you should consider looking elsewhere.
Why isn’t it free to check a car’s history?
Checking a used car’s history costs money because it takes a dedicated team to put a huge database together.
The platform also needs to be continuously updated and maintained, ensuring the information is as accurate as possible.
All of this takes up both time and money. Therefore, whatever car history platform you choose to work with, you should expect to pay a little.
Is a car history check worth it in the UK?
Absolutely. A car history check could save you thousands of pounds in the future. Since so many used cars have potential problems with them (see the RAC research mentioned earlier!), getting one is more than justifiable from a financial point of view.
Here’s expert opinion from the carVertical head of communications, Matas Buzelis:
“A used car is usually the second largest investment following real estate property. That means people with no car buying experience or deep knowledge can lose a significant amount of money during the used car transaction. The unknown state of a car or even some secrets may pave a direct path to big regrets.
For instance, a vehicle may be written off, clocked, severely damaged in the past, or even stolen. Additionally, all UK-based car history reports perform MOT information that may reveal some secrets, too. There are cases when even car sellers are not familiar with the history of a car they’re trying to sell.
If a buyer spotted facts about big damage or failed MOT tests in the report, it may be a great guide to inspect the exact parts of a car at a specialist workshop. Without this information available via an online history report, it may be more difficult to check poorly repaired parts of the vehicle.
Moreover, any black spots in the car history report may reveal that the vehicle is overpriced. Typically, a shady history provides two options: car buyers either choose to skip the deal and look for a better choice or negotiate for a better bargain.”
It’s always worth performing a car history check on any used vehicle bought or sold in the UK.
Overall, you should always beware of potential scams – sadly, the used car market is full of them. So be vigilant and don’t be afraid to take your time – that’ll give you the highest likelihood of a legitimate and safe transaction.