The Crime Prevention Website


Checks when buying a used car 

Here are some basic security checks to make when looking to buy a used car. You may also wish to check the vehicle’s mechanical condition, which is not covered here. 

Before you see the vehicle: 

  • Ask the seller for the registration number, make and model of the vehicle and its MOT Test Certificate number
  • Go onto the DVLA’s online vehicle enquiry service to check the details you’ve been given against their official records. Make sure the vehicle’s MOT is up to date, and the MOT history matches the details you’ve been given 

Going to see the vehicle: 

  • If buying the vehicle from a private individual ask to see proof of the seller’s identity and address (Driving licence, Passport, recent utility bill). An email address or website is not proof of identity. Ideally, a private sale should take place at the seller’s address. It is always a good idea to take someone with you, preferably someone who has knowledge of the motor industry.
  • Never let the seller bring the car to you as you will not be able to check the details of the seller’s address
  • If the seller cannot produce a V5C registration certificate do not buy the vehicle. If the seller has told you that the V5C has been sent to the DVLA for updating (change of seller’s address maybe) and you are still interested in purchasing the vehicle then wait until the document has been returned, so that you can carry out your checks.
  • Check that the V5C registration certificate (‘log book’) has not been tampered or altered and that the details match the vehicle.
  • Check that the V5C registration certificate has a DVL watermark
  • Check that the V5C registration certificate serial number is NOT between BG8229501 to BG9999030, or BI2305501 to BI2800000. If it is it may be stolen. Call the police as soon as it is safe to do so.
  • New V5Cs are red but some older ones may not be - to check the V5C is the latest one issued use the vehicle enquiry service
  • Check the vehicle identification number (VIN) and engine number on the vehicle against the details on the V5C

The VIN is a unique 17 character number issued to every vehicle by the manufacturer and can be found:

  • Stamped on the body chassis or frame
  • On a manufacturer's VIN plate under the bonnet or fixed to the post between the front and rear doors
  • On an additional plate fixed securely to the top corner of the dashboard where it can easily be seen through the windscreen – known as a ‘visible VIN’
  • You may also find the VIN additionally etched onto the vehicle’s windows and lamps
  • In all cases make sure these marks have not been tampered with or covered over in some way 

Additional points 

Consider carrying out a private history check, which can tell you if the vehicle: 

  • Has been reported stolen
  • Has suffered serious accident damage
  • Has finance owing
  • Has a mileage discrepancy 

There will be a fee for this service. History checks are available from organisations such as the AA, the RAC and 

Please remember that you cannot transfer vehicle tax from 1 October 2014.  You’ll need to get new vehicle tax before you can use it.

When selling a used car

Read the above and make sure your vehicle and its paperwork are available for inspection. Please also be ready to prove who you are and where you live. Remember that one day you could also be a buyer! 

Updated January 2016