Buying a car second hand? There are some simple steps that you can take to avoid buying a car that’s been seriously damaged, stolen or illegally customised.

Getting stuck with a lemon is everyone’s worst fear when buying second hand. But if you follow the tips laid out in this blog post then you give yourself the best chance of getting a smooth runner.

Use a trusted trader

Using a reliable trader is important when it comes to buying a second-hand car. Many people sell second hand cars and cowboys are more common than you might think.

You should always look for established companies that have good reputations and companies that are backed by a relevant trade association.

You can also check online reviews for a motor trader and find out what kinds of inspections they carry out on their vehicles.

Check car history with the DVLA

Performing a simple car check with the DVLA will reduce the risk of getting a car that’s sold illegally or a car with any major repair work.

If there is a car you are interested in you should collect the registration number, MOT test number, mileage and make and model from the seller.

You can use this information in the DVLA’s free online vehicle information checker, making sure it matches with the DVLA records.

Some discrepancies might be a simple mistake, but if you are suspicious then it is better to not continue with the sale.

Check the MOT and history

An MOT test tells you that a vehicle is sage for the road. Every car that is older than three years old should have one.

If a car needs another MOT status very soon it may be an indication that the car will not run. You should also check a car’s MOT history and ask the seller about any gaps in the vehicle’s MOT history.

If you still have concerns about  car then you can get a private history check or a data check to unearth some additional car problems.

You have to pay for one of these private checks, but it can tell you if a car is stolen or if the owner still owes money for it.

This kind of check can also tell you if the car has been in a serious accident or if it has previously been written off and returned to the road. The AA and the RAC both perform these kinds of vehicle check.

Inspect the car and take a test drive

You should always perform your own physical inspection on a car before buying it. Make sure you look at the car in daylight and preferably when it is dry.

If you are buying through a private seller, meeting at their house means that you’ll have a record of where they live should anything go wrong after you’ve bought the car.

You should also aim to test drive the car, but making sure that you are insured to do this. You may be insured through your own insurance company or the seller’s insurance may cover you.

There are some important things that you should look out for when you’re checking and testing a second-hand vehicle. This includes:

  • Signs of wear on screws that might indicate that instruments have been tampered with (e.g. if the odometer has been tampered with).
  • Gaps between panels or mismatched colours that may indicate structural repair work.
  • Traces or smell of spray paint on bodywork.
  • Unusual welding under the bonnet or in the boot.
  • The condition of the tyres including tyre tread. Tyres with less than 3mm of tread will need to be replaced soon.
  • Lights and windscreen wipers work.
  • Warning lights in the driver console.
  • Are the breaks responsive or do they take time to bring the vehicle to a stop?
  • Do you notice any unusual noises while driving?

Get a second opinion

If, after all of this, you still aren’t sure whether to buy the car, it is probably better to err on the side of caution and not buy the car.

But if you want to be extra careful then it could be worth getting a second opinion.

At Duffy Motors we have worked with some of our customers for years and years. When any of our customers call to ask if we have any thoughts about a certain car we’ll always offer our professional opinion.

And if you want to have complete peace of mind when you are making a purchase, you can ask the seller if they will bring it down to our garage and we can offer a professional checking service on the car to find any additional problems.


One of the best ways to make sure you don’t get ripped off when you’re buying a car is to negotiate. Start low and let the seller increase the price to a level that you’re comfortable with.

If you believe that you’re being pressured into paying too much then you can always walk away from the deal.

When you buy the car, make sure you get the original log book (the V5C registration certificate) and an original MOT test document. You will not be able to insure your car without the V5C document.

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