Buying your own car is one of the biggest decisions you’ll ever make. So if you’re buying a second-hand car you’re right to think carefully and do your research first. It’s important to follow a few simple steps to ensure you and your bank balance are safe.

Wesley Young from the Trusted Car Buyers blog investigates how to make sure you buy a safe second-hand car, including checking a vehicle’s past, test driving tips, paying for the car safely and dealing with the paperwork.

Setting a budget and researching

second hand car budget

Check the prices of similar cars to make sure you’re not paying more than you should be.

You might also want to check the car tax rates and get car insurance quotes on a range of different vehicles to estimate how much it is going to cost. Choosing a cheaper, older car may well cost you more to insure than a newer, safer model.

Check out this video from Which? on what to look for when buying a used car:


Checking a car’s history

Checking second-hand car dashboard

Before parting with your cash, check the car’s history.

[symple_box color=”blue” text_align=”left” width=”100%” float=”none”] Did you know: as many as 10.4 million cars could have a hidden past.

There is a free service provided by the DVLA that allows you to:

  • Check the MOT history
  • Verify that the MOT certificate provided by the seller is genuine
  • See the date the car was first registered
  • Check that the mileage numbers provided by the seller are genuine by comparing them against the mileage at the last MOT dates
  • Find out the reason(s) for failing any previous MOTs if relevant

You’ll need the registration number and either the MOT test number or the document reference number on the V5C logbook.

You may also want to pay for a car history check, such as those provided by HPI or Experian, to verify details such as any outstanding finance, whether the car has been stolen, and whether it’s been an insurance write off.Accessories


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Did you know:

  • A recent investigation reported a 3% increase in “clocking” since last year, where sellers adjust the mileage on a vehicle.¹
  • Increasingly, you must be aware of car cloning. As show plates can now be bought online or over the phone, without any documentation needed, any registration number can be ordered. This means any car can be cloned.²


Inspect the dashboard for any scratches or signs of tampering, and take a look at the documentation too. Whilst you can’t tell for sure, trust your intuition. If a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.


First thing’s first: insurance. If you buy a new car from a dealer they will usually have the necessary cover in place, but if the car’s being sold privately you need to take responsibility for this yourself. If you’re planning to take the car for a test drive, check your own policy documents to ensure your policy includes Driving Other Cars cover. Please note: this is not included in insurethebox policies.

The next most important thing is to take your time. Ideally, you should allow at least half an hour to test drive ³. You want a variety of different roads – and don’t forget to check that everything electrical works.

Watch out for things like ⁴:

  • Excessive smoke
  • Any rattles from the suspension
  • Brakes not functioning correctly
  • Vibration when you steer
  • Crunching of the gears or clutch

If you’re worried about anything, you may want to arrange for a car mechanic to check the car over ⁵.

Check out Watchdog’s advice for finding a trustworthy car mechanic:


payment to buy a second-hand car

Always remember to get a signed and dated receipt, including the buyer and seller’s names and addresses, plus the details of the vehicle and agreed price.⁶

If the vehicle is being sold by an online business, under the Distance Selling Regulations⁷ you have a 7-day cooling off period to change your mind.

The paperwork

Both parties should fill in the V5C registration document, which the seller should send to the DVLA. You’ll keep the ‘new keeper’ section to confirm you’re the new owner.⁸

If the vehicle is more than three years old, the owner will need to give you an MOT certificate, as well as any receipts for repairs.

Finding a good value second-hand car can be the difference between the freedom to drive and being priced off the road. However, make sure you put your own safety first. Only buy a car that you are confident will keep you safe on the road, and make sure you’ve done all your background checks before handing over any money.

For more information please see the BBC Consumer guide.



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Insure The Box Limited is not responsible for any of the advice or recommendations provided by the third party websites referenced within this blog.