We explain the different checks you can do BEFORE you buy a car and show you how to make sure your next car purchase doesn’t end up being a problem.
Let’s start with the basics.
There are quite a few different types of vehicle history services out there, so let’s split them up into checks you can do for free, and those where you have to pay and explain what the differences are.
If you just want to identify a car or look at basic details like MOT dates or tax status, then a free service should do the job.
If you are buying a car, or thinking about travelling to see one, there are some pieces of information that you really need to know that you can’t get for free.
Theft or accident damage reports come from the Police National Computer or PNC. For data protection reasons this info is only available from a few sources and is subject to a small charge.
The other vital check is for finance agreements.
If you buy a motor vehicle where the previous keeper hasn’t paid off the finance, then you don’t own the car. The finance company can just repossess the car from you, so that’s something to avoid!
You can check the road tax status and MOT status of any vehicle free of charge. You can do this on the DVLA website for a single car.
This gives you is the month of registration, the MOT expiry date and the road tax expiry date. (Road tax is actually called Vehicle Excise Duty or VED for short).
You can do this as often as you like, but you have to remember to check it yourself.
The government have been digitising their car data for a few years now and basic information is freely available.
Regit’s free check can give you all the car data that the DVLA site can do, but also remembers when your due dates are and sends you reminders, so you don’t forget.
In addition to the basic DVLA data you also get MOT history including any items that a car has failed on and the mileage at each MOT.
With this you can work out how hard a life a car has had.
Lots of MOT failures means an owner hasn’t been giving the car you are about to buy any love.
Registered users also get additional reminders like car insurance, service and warranty expiry and free unlimited car valuations and special discounts off motoring products.
You can store all your cars in their digital garage, so you look at them any time.
Does vehicle checks and data insights for the next generation of mobility, focusing on car dealers and manufacturers rather than consumers. Their check includes some neat features like pricing of the car in the past.
MyCarCheck by CDL
One of the oldest services, it offers a free lookup that gives a lot of information on the car. You get MOT and tax dates and a whole list of details about the car that come from the SMMT.
A lot of the price comparison websites use data from CDL to power their insurance services.
There are quite a few places to get a car check entirely free, but you don’t get finance, theft or write off details with any of them.
Things to look out for whatever check you do:
The VIN number is what car manufacturers use to identify a car. When you order a new car before it is registered and gets a number plate, the VIN number is the only unique way to identify a car.
If you are buying a car and only want to do a basic check, you should at least make sure that the VIN number on the car matches the one on the car registration document ( V5 or log book).
If it doesn’t, don’t buy it.
It could be a cloned vehicle. This is where a thief steals a car and puts the number plate from a similar car onto the one he or she has stolen. You verify the number plate and it all looks good, but the VIN number is from a different car. Not good!
You can find the VIN number in various places, but typically in the windscreen, in the door sill or inside the door where the lock inside meets the door and lastly on a plate under the bonnet.
Paid car checks
There are around 20 companies that do premium car checks, from household names like the AA and RAC, to HPI and Regit, to ones like TotalCarCheck or CarDataChecks. Each of them is using pretty much the same data from the same sources.
What you are buying with a paid service is peace of mind.
However not all of them include everything you need to know, and some bundle on extras that you can get for free elsewhere.
Let’s compare the differences between the key providers:
HPI have been providing provenance services for nearly 80 years, and were one of the first to provide the car check service.
A full check is £19.99, although you can get discounts for buying more than one and you get a £30,000 data guarantee.
Offer a basic lookup which gives you stolen and written off information and lots of vehicle data, prices at £1.99.
The full look up does include finance and provides good value at just under ten pounds. The service is provided by CDL and includes a data guarantee.
VehicleCheck by Autotrader
Autotrader do not provide a basic car check. Their full service includes finance, stolen or written off and is powered by Experian and is priced at £16.95, with discounts for multiple purchases and the standard data guarantee.
A popular choice for cheaper checks, their pricing starts at £1.99 with no finance or data guarantee. The £8.99 product is good value and multibuy deals take that down to £4.99.
this with a table showing the key providers and a price for basic and full checks with Regit at the top of the table and in a structured data format that can be used by Google.
What is the data guarantee all about?
The guarantee is to protect you if the data supplier gives you out of date, or incorrect info.
However, most people fail to activate it because they forget to check and enter the details from the vehicle registration document on the car they are buying.
It’s not a guarantee against fraud, which would be a police matter, so it is really a case of the information being correct and being available to you.
Car Check Prices
|Free Car Check||Basic Check||Premium Check|