How to protect yourself against car buying scams

Buying a used car has always been a risky business to some extent. But over the last few years the number of car thefts, online vehicle fraud and other car buying scams has been on the rise. Although this sounds scary, if you are in the market for buying a new car then you just need to follow a few basic car buying principles. We explain the steps to follow below.

Research, research, research

Impulse buying massively increases the risk of you purchasing an inadequate car that could be dodgy. Always do you homework and work out what sort of car you need before going out or online to buy. Check the basic specs of any vehicle you have seen advertised. Ensure that what you go for suits your requirements. A free initial Total Car Check is a useful tool for you to check any UK registered vehicle you see on car advertising websites and apps. You can also use our free local car sales tool to find and check cars on sale near you.

Run a full vehicle history check

If you didn’t already know, a vehicle history check or car data check is an online service that calls on a number of motor industry databases to establish if a vehicle comes with any risks attached. It will protect you from many car buying scams that attempt to hide any adverse history that a vehicle holds. This includes if it has been stolen, written off, scrapped, had its mileage adjusted, or currently holds outstanding finance. Total Car Check’s award winning Gold Check will help you identify if a vehicle looks safe to buy as well as providing you with a valuation for you to check that its sales price is reasonable.

If you are buying a vehicle from a dealership then they should have already run a full history check on all their vehicles. Make sure you ask for a copy of the vehicle history before buying and if in doubt run your own check.

Go and view shortlisted vehicles

You should never rely solely on a full vehicle check before you buy. Make sure you go and view the vehicles you have shortlisted and run some further physical checks yourself. Here are the key areas you should focus on to help prevent you from falling victim of car buying scams:

Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) check

VIN number
A standard 17 digit VIN number

Organised crime gangs operate in the UK and have been responsible for a huge uplift in stolen vehicles over the last 3 years. They manage to hide the fact a car is stolen from the authorities by applying false number plates – a practice known as cloning.

Total Car Check provides the UK’s only free VIN checking tool which you can use on our website or mobile app while you are viewing a vehicle. This will tell you if the VIN matches the vehicle registration based on data held by the DVLA. If it doesn’t then avoid it at all costs. Watch this video that explains all.

Check the V5C

Ask the seller to see the V5C registration certificate. This should confirm that they are the registered keeper and provide the vehicle registration and VIN number. Any dealership should provide you with a V5C too, but it may hold the details of the person that sold or part exchanged the car to them and not the dealership itself.

As well as checking the VIN matches the vehicle registration, you should also ensure the VIN on the vehicle matches the VIN printed on the V5C.

Pink V5C registration form

Check the physical condition of the vehicle

Ask the seller to highlight any damage to the bodywork or issues with the vehicle they are aware of. Have a good look at the exterior and interior of the vehicle yourself and check for wear and tear. Make sure that the price reflects the damage you find. If you don’t know much about cars then it may be worth bringing someone that does with you when you inspect vehicles.

Take the car out for a test drive

This includes testing how the car drives, that all the external lights come on when they should and making sure that there are no issues with the onboard computer, controls and sound system. Check there are no warning lights which may be a sign of a hidden issue or a problem further down the line. When driving look out for any issues when changing gears, operating the pedals and listen out for unusual noises.

Only pay after viewing

At least 3,000 people every year now fall victim to online vehicle fraud. This is usually because they see a vehicle advertised on social media or car selling websites, contact the seller and are encouraged to pay a deposit or the full sum, with the promise of the vehicle being delivered to them. Unsurprisingly it never turns up. Don’t be fooled by this scam and insist on viewing a vehicle before paying. Once you are satisfied with the car make sure you get: a receipt confirming the purchase; the keys; your copy of the V5C; and preferably a handbook and service history (if it has any). Only then should you wire the money across. It’s advisable not to pay using cash.

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