Comprehensive Motoring Guide To Buying A Used Car

13 Detailed steps (tips) on how to buy a used car.

Find out what to do, checklist.

In this new guide you’ll learn how to:

  • Keep cash in your pocket by reducing ‘on the road’ costs (upfront)
  • Save on monthly running costs
  • Safely and legally buy a car that’s a worthwhile investment 
Car Buying Advice

First Things to Know Before Buying A New Car

Save 20% on upfront costs

Compared to new purchases, buying a car second-hand saves a significant amount of cash.

How much you save depends on the type of vehicle you buy, its age, mileage, general condition and whether you are buying from a car dealer, a private seller, online or auction.

Websites such as Autotrader commonly advertise 400,000 vehicles at a given time, and with a wide selection, motorists can usually find the car to suit their requirements.  

Get an advantage with CarVeto database

CarVeto vehicle index helps private motorists find the full history of a car they are buying or selling. Most information is opensource and available to anyone who has a vehicle registration number to hand.

Supplied data is derived and compiled in handy online reports via Driver Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), Police, Experian, Motor Insurance Anti-Fraud Theft Register (MIAFTR), Motor Insurance Bureau (MIB) and others.


Buying A New Or Used Car

Using a few of these simple steps will help reduce upfront costs and get your new car on the road for less than expected. 

New or used?

See the table below. Buying a used or nearly new car saves thousands compared to brand new models.

Buying A Second Hand Car

New to used screen price averages

New Car Screen Prices Same Car 1 Year Old
Average small car new price: £14,500 After 1 year and 12,000 miles: £10,875
Average medium car new price: £29,000 After 1 year and 12,000 miles: £21,750
Average SUV vehicles new price: £25,500 After 1 year and 12,000 miles: £18,625

Broadly, each vehicle type will lose 25% value at 12-months old based on the UK average annual mileage of 12,000.

The stark drops in value usually occur in the first year.

Subsequent 12-month periods depreciate the vehicle a further 10% (based on 12,000 miles per annum).


So, buying a one or two-year-old model will make a chunk of savings and cut upfront ‘on the road’ costs.


But specific makes and models hold their value better and longer.

Examples include Volkswagen Golf GT Diesel, Audi Avant, or high spec Mercedes. You are unlikely to find many on the cheap after only a year or two on the road.


Newer cars are more reliable

Reliability is less of an issue too as motors under 3-years old, and 30,000 miles include a sturdy manufacturer warranty, especially when buying a used car from a franchised dealer.


Calculating Fuel Economy and Running Costs

Road tax

CarVeto database includes used car fuel economy charts based on average annual mileages.

The car listed below has a CO2 output of 108 g/km and falls under the emissions category B and C: Annual mileage of 12,000 using a combination of town and motorway driving will bring a yearly fuel cost of £1,325.

Cost Of Running A Car
Fuel economy and road tax costs calculated by average UK mileage of 12,000; data provided by CarVeto vehicle database.

Vehicle Excise Duty (VED, commonly known as road tax) is listed. For the same vehicle, it is £20 for 12-months.

The CO2 emissions output determines the road tax rate.

Servicing and Maintenance

Getting your car serviced at supplying/franchised dealers is expensive and can be unnecessary.

What more does a franchised service department give that you don’t get at your local garage?

It turns out to be, not too much.

Is main dealer servicing worth the extra spend?

Fair to say you will probably get a cleaner, more desirable and trusting experience and perhaps a courtesy car whilst yours get a service.

Your extra spend will go towards higher labour costs, genuine parts, and exact manufacturer specifications.

The latter two points might be vital to you, but if you’re after savings, the local independent workshop is the way to go.

Example car workshop invoice for the purposes of demonstration.

More about servicing and maintenance

The type of work carried out on your car determines how much you can save with an independent garage.


  • Servicing: Franchised dealer servicing quotes are between 5% and 20% higher than independents (depending on the dealers).
  • MOT Tests: That figure drops off for MOT testing and repairs to only around 5%.
  • Timing Belts: Quotes for camshaft belt replacements are up to 60% more expensive. Franchised might tell you they fit to manufacturer specifications, but we have no evidence of this playing a part in reliability.


A handful of reputable mobile mechanic services put convenience and price as priorities. Be surprised at reasonable rates from one or two trusted UK brands like Who Can Fix My Car and ClickMechanic.

The latter has been around for some years and carry healthy reviews on Trustpilot. Start with a car reg number and get an online quote for what your car needs. They also offer a pick-up/drop-off MOT check service.

Check ClickMechanic for details.

Rules of thumb for predictable car economy

Petrol or Diesel?

Petrol vehicles tend to be cheaper to run than their diesel counterparts. While diesel engines are generally more economical (travel further on the same amount of fuel), they are often more expensive to buy, and diesel costs more.


Running a diesel is better for those who drive a lot of miles, which is why most fleet vehicles are diesel.



Hybrid and electric cars cost less to run but remain more expensive to buy. Zero VED rates and slashed running costs are appealing but the offset to upfront costs even out.


Fuel cost plan

  1. Calculate your annual mileage and fuel spend – use CarVeto database to find out these numbers for any UK registered vehicle
  2. Compare the fuel figures to upfront costs of buying a petrol, diesel and hybrid model of the same car
  3. Will the cash you save on petrol/diesel be more or less than the upfront cost of buying a hybrid?


Let’s also consider the environmental impacts that influence buying choices. Some may be in the position to absorb a higher upfront cost and be ready to commit to the electric revolution today.

Small vehicles cost less to insure

Model and engine size are essential for insurance companies to provide accurate cover.


Small cars almost always cost less to cover. Contrast with a Range Rover or 5-Series BMW that are more expensive to buy, run, tax, and insure.

Insurance groups range from one to 50 and calculated using the Motor Insurance Repair Research Centre.

To save more money, it’s worth looking at car insurance groups as well as insurance quote comparisons.

The insurance group lets you know about vehicle security, safety and whether it’s going to be expensive to fix after a prang.

Even if you have a poor driving history and want to insure a higher grouped car, there are ways to reduce your overall spend.

Cheapest cars to insure

Common models classed in group one (and cheapest to insure) include Fiat Panda, Citroen C1 and Nissan Micra.

CarVeto database provides insurance group ratings for all cars. You’ll need a vehicle registration number to check for yourself.

CarVeto screenshot displaying the insurance group of a vehicle.

Whilst the information we have listed is essential for the purse, it may not improve your street credibility.

If trendsetting is less of a priority, here are six small car favourites that won’t cost a fortune to keep on the road.

Cheapest Cars To Keep On The Road

Nissan Pixo

Ins group: 2-4, CO2 g/km: 103, MPG: 64

Suzuki Alto 1.0 Litre

Ins group: 4, CO2 g/km: 103, MPG – 64

Toyota Aygo 1.0 Litre

Ins group: 2-4, CO2 g/km: 106, MPG: 62

Citroen C1

Ins group: 1-7, CO2 g/km: 106, MPG: 62

Mazda 2 1.6 D Sport

Ins group: 9-16, CO2 g/km: 110, MPG: 67

Skoda Fabia 1.6 TDI

Ins group: 3-16, CO2 g/km: 109, MPG: 67


When Is The Best Time To Buy A Car?

A local franchised dealer was nearing quarterly, and yearly sales quota end and needed to sell a few more of their delivery-mileage cars to earn bonuses.

The dealer had some of its employees buy the few remaining vehicles to meet and exceed sales targets – such is the profit when a dealership meets objectives.

Best Time To Buy A Car

It doesn’t account for busy dealers who are selling cars like hotcakes. In the COVID-19 era, stocks have depleted, leading to less dealer flexibility.

There are some bargains to be had if you buy at the right time and work at getting a great deal.

New Car Registration Plate Changes

New vehicle registration plates launch in March and September, year on year.


You are likely to get the best deal on a new car during the two weeks leading up to new car reg release. There are instances where you can save thousands from list/screen prices.


If you buy a car privately, there are no such targets. As a rule, privately sold cars are a bit cheaper than dealers who have expensive overheads like staff salaries, insurance, VAT and of course, warranties.


You can also avoid buying in the first week of a new month as that’s when droves of UK motorists get paid. Dealers tend to be busy over this period and less likely to offer you a helping hand.


How To Choose A Car – Quick Tips

Seasoned drivers usually know the make and model they want. Dad drove one for years, or a spouse fixes on an exact model and colour.

Most new drivers are led by on the road costs with road insurance dominating budget.

If you are open to some consideration on the best makes and models by price, check this typical list:

Which Car Should I Buy

How much space do you need?
Is a small five-door hatch going to fit the bill or do you need an estate or MPV?

Usage (long distances or local trips)
Are you driving mostly around town or up and down the motorway?

Fuel type
Is your mindset on petrol or diesel? Consider how many miles you’ll be travelling over a year and do a quick calculation on fuel costs (remember your CarVeto history report tells you the average costs for fuel, by make and model).

Do you toe a caravan or trailer and need an engine with a bit more grunt?

Boot space
Got a hobby or past time that’s equipment heavy? Or perhaps you have dogs and like to go for country walks?

How it makes you feel
Upfront costs are the common denominator when it comes to buying your preferred car. But if you spend a lot of time behind the wheel, fronting a bit more cash on comfort will be worth it after your four-hour jaunt each month from London to Manchester.

Should you go electric?


Are you considering a hybrid/electric vehicle? As we veer towards the all-electric revolution, it might be the right time for you. Government grants provide a helping hand for motorists who are ready to go-electric. 

See a healthy contribution of up to 35%.

Statement of the electric car plug-in grant scheme for new vehicles.

Image source: VWFS Fleet


Best Ways Of Selling Your Current Car

If you are selling a car privately, you’ll likely get more for it, perhaps as much as 45%.

You’ve three ways to go:

Privately, part-exchange or car buyers service.

Car auction is a forth option but littered with fees and hassle with no guarantee of selling.

All methods have their pros and cons dictated by price and convenience.

Sell My Car

What to keep in mind before you sell up


Selling privately
It can take time, and you’ll need to receive calls and demo to potential buyers. But the time spent can be money-saving.

Classified ad listings on Gumtree (free listing), Autotrader (prices range depending on the type of ad and selling price), and (free) work best.


Other platforms include Facebook, Preloved and eBay; each with pros and cons.

From our experience, Autotrader is favoured because their website gets so much traffic and attention.


Part exchange
It takes the pain out of selling privately but means a lot less for your car.

Dealers need your vehicle at a trade price whilst you pay a premium. You’ll get offered a ‘price to change’ reducing the value of your car from the screen price of theirs. P/xing also dissolves your ‘cash buyer prowess’ so don’t expect any kind of discounts if you chop in your old motor.


Car buyers services
Expect similar offers to the dealer p/x method. We Buy Any Car offers are rock-bottom as they put your old car at auction and expect to make a profit. A dealer is likely to end up buying it and needs a slice of the pie too.


But car buying sites do give you the advantage of being a cash buyer which is something dealers seem to like.

Providers include We Want Any Car, Trust Car Buyers and Phili’s We Buy Any Car.


Watch out for unpalatable admin fees ranging anywhere from £24.99 to £79.99 (Most times, omit these fees, but it depends on the buyer and offer.)


Car buying services logos and fictitious offers of, We Buy Any Car, We Want Any Car, Trusted Car Buyers and Arnold Clark

Finding the best offer with a car buying website
Over 90% of the highest bids for your car will come via who offer it to a pool of dealers like CarBase and Evans Halshaw. Again, Motorway doesn’t always include those nasty admin fees just mentioned.


Straight talk:
There are some cars that dealers want to own. They are the ones that make a fortune in car auctions and are deemed as desirable.
Think VW Golf TDI, SEAT Leon Cupra or pretty much any low mileage Range Rover (not an exhaustive list).


Yes, dealers are known to make more cash profit from specific part-exchanged vehicles than those they are selling from the forecourt.


How would you feel to part exchange your lovely VW Tiguan only to find it for sale on their forecourt at £2,500 more than your selling price?


So, the trick is research. Find out if your car is on the wanted list and look after your investment. After all, you can only sell it once.

Check for a quick online bid without obligation to sell up.

Renault Scenic 1.5 DCI £4,080 £3,100
Mercedes E Class 2.1 CDI £9,810 £8,440
VW Golf 1.6 BlueMotion £7,510 £6,520
Ford Fiesta 1.0 Zetec £5,660 £4,710
Dacia Duster 1.5 DCI £5,500 £4,660

If you find the p/x route most appealing, keep a lookout for an inflated valuation (less common nowadays but it’s a tried and tested way to get punters buying). Yup, some undesirable salespersons will happily inflate the price of their car and add the difference to your p/x quote.


You already know a dealer isn’t giving anything away for free. Double-check their screen price and see if it matches the price on their website or Autotrader.


Cost of Getting On The Road And Staying There – Checklist

If you’re unsure which car to buy head over to Jeremy Clarkson’s Grand Tour. His website offers good car reviews to help narrow the search. 

Buying a car and running it can be broken into two main parts:

1. Upfront costs to get you on the road.

2. Ongoing costs for fuel, road tax and insurance, servicing/maintenance, depreciation, and other driving expenses.

Average Cost Of Owning A Car UK


Includes how you plan to pay for the car (car finance), or cash, bank loan, credit card. Initial costs will include insuring, initial road tax and other extras.

Methods of buying a car including cash, car finance, bank loan or credit card.

Car finance repayments
You have a lot of choices including Hire Purchase, Personal Contract Purchase and Lease Purchase. Know what the fixed monthly repayment is and the date when its debited from your bank account.

Seriously consider Guaranteed Asset Protection (GAP) insurance; it bridges the gap between the value of your car and how much your insurance company will payout in case of accident or theft.


GAP is an essential finance product, so be sure to take up a policy for the whole period (24, 36, 48-months) of your deal.

Displays how Guaranteed Asset Protection (GAP) insurance works after insurance company payout

Image source: MGB Direct

There are plenty of providers. Check ALA for competitive quotes. Whichever provider you go with, ensure they are FCA (Financial Conduct Authority) authorised and regulated.

Car insurance
Active cover is a legal requirement when driving on public highways or keeping a car on the road (even if you don’t drive it).

Quotes are calculated on perceived risk – first-time driver premiums are more due to a lack of driving experience. A young driver in a luxury or big engine vehicle is the highest type of road risk.

Previous traffic accidents or penalty points on your license also push up premiums.

A car insurance policy on a desk with toy car

Grab a quick online quote from who will find the cheapest insurer from a large pool of providers.

Car insurance quote comparison table provided by

Use the free reports from CarVeto database to check annual costs to run a car. has a  nice consumption search feature too.

Mapping out your expected annual mileage will help understand how much you’ll spend getting around month by month.

It’s worth comparing more than one model such as Ford Fiesta versus a Nissan Micra or VW Golf versus a Ford Focus. 

Annual MOT
Once your car reaches three years old it’s time for an initial, annual MOT test. There’s a maximum fee your MOT test centre can charge. It depends on the type of vehicle you own. Fees include VAT.

  • Standard maximum car MOT test fee: £54.85
  • Standard maximum motorcycle MOT test fee: £29.65


See this comprehensive MOT checklist and vehicle preparation guide for the cheapest MOT test fees in your area (includes local authority test centres).

Annual car servicing
Keeping the engine, and working parts of your car in good working condition are crucial for reliability. Maintenance and thorough service history also lend a helping hand should you come to sell your car privately in the years to come.

Most petrol cars are due a service each year or after 10,000 to 12,000 miles. Modern diesels can extend service intervals up to two years or 20,000 miles.

Remember that the costs of servicing vary depending on where you get work done.

Clickmechanic was mentioned early in this guide as a reliable mobile mechanic service.

Notification for changes in road tax fees.

Image source: Inside DVLA

Road tax
CarVeto free reports include road tax costs and emissions ratings. Grab a car reg number and load a report. provide the Vehicle Certification Agency open resource containing car fuel data, CO2 and other vehicle tax tools.

Breakdown cover
Some insurers throw in breakdown cover, and if you buy a new car, the manufacturer often includes a one, two or three year policy as part of the deal.

If buying a car second hand, AA and RAC are household brands although a bit pricey. Green Flag can be up to 40% cheaper offering similar cover.

Decent cover ranges from £14 to £25 per month. 

Additional running costs
You could include these items within the annual servicing banner – tyres, wiper blades and bulbs will wear out and fail without warning.

You might allow £200 per year for pesky running costs.

Tyres – the price differences between budget tyres and premium brands like Pirelli can be huge. It’s well worth getting a range of quotes as prices vary. Ensure tyre fitting and wheel balancing with each quote. 

Tyre price example:

1 x Tyre 195/65/R15
Pirelli: £108.12 fitted
Budget: £69.00 fitted

If you need a set of four, that’s a massive £156.48 difference!

How to find a competitive car finance deal

This couple searched the best car finance deals for nearly new cars.

Car dealer margins
Dealers profit when you finance a car, and they will negotiate. There are savings to make over the whole period of a finance agreement if you can get even a slightly lower interest rate than the one offered. APR (Annual Percentage Rate) illustrates the total amount payable, including associated ‘set-up fees’.


Volkswagen is currently adverting an APR at 8.9% of their Pre-Owned Approved range. Take a look:

  • A £10,000 loan at the advertised 8.9 APR over 36-months comes out at £315.94 p/month.
    Negotiating a reduced interest rate saves a decent chunk of cash.


  • A £10,000 loan at 5.9 APR over 36-months comes out at £303.07 p/month.
    A small improvement in annual percentage of just 3.0% will put £463.16 in your pocket.
Person holding a cup of coffee in left hand and mobile phone in right hand that displays borrowing interest rates for a car loan.

New cars
Lots of new car models are on offer at zero APR. Ford Options and Vauxhall are just a few to mention. But keep an eye out for new offers as manufacturers chop and change deals.

Used cars
Used dealers tend to work with one finance company and fixed rates of interest. But a lower-interest bank loan could save money so be sure to check out all of your options.

Car finance tips

  • Check the total amount payable over the full lending period.
    Look out for hidden admin fees or optional extras woven into your agreement.
  • Compare interest rates/offers on the dealer’s website – ensure you do not agree to a deal that may be improved.
  • Remember, the lower the APR, the less you pay.
  • If you settle your finance agreement early you save money (lending is based on the borrowing period. Paying off quickly reduces interest).
    Watch our for early settlement penalties – they commonly occur if the agreement is paid off before the halfway mark.
  • Haggling for cash off the screen price is most buyers standard route to saving on upfront spend. But, lower interest rates offer the best savings.


What To Look Out For When Buying A Used Car – Checklist

CarVeto car history check apprises you with a range of data points on a vehicle. Identify issues that impact legality, safety and value, before you buy. It includes:

Outstanding finance,
Mileage issues,
Number plate transfers,
Body colour changes and if the car was previously written-off and repaired (insurance category loss).

Used Car Buying Guide Checklist

A write-off is a fixed record (historical marker) stating that a car was deemed a loss by an insurer due to accident damage. Repair bills were more than car value resulting in write-off status. The severity of the damage determines write-off category A, B, C, D, S, N.

The car is usually dumped into a salvage auction where it sells and is fixed-up by a company or individual and put back on the road.


Markers such as write-off, theft or mileage anomalies drastically reduce value. Running a background check before buying or laying a deposit is the sensible thing to do. 

CarVeto reports suspicious data via various sources, including the MIAFTR (Motor Insurance Anti-Fraud Theft Register).


CarVeto may omit an accident damage repair

Vehicle history reports tell you about problems recorded. But what of those accidents negotiated between drivers and without insurer knowledge? There are no official online records for this type of incident, and CarVeto database won’t it pick up.

It’s important to take care of your cash by carrying out visual checks alongside a data call in this database.

Mileage versus condition
Determine if the displayed mileage is consistent with vehicle condition. A car with 20,000 miles on the clock should be in good nick, not peppered with stone chips and battle scars across the bonnet, front bumper, door mirrors or alloy wheels.

Dashboard and mileage display on a car.

When a vehicle has 60,000 miles on the clock, look for common signs of wear and tear, especially in bodywork.

It’s reasonable to assume a car that’s travelled at lengthy distances is going to have the odd paint chip in the bodywork, scraped alloy wheel or wear in the driver’s seat, steering wheel or pedals.

Look to see if mileage matches the condition. If you have doubts, it is probably better to look for a different car. It’s especially important when you buy privately where Consumer Rights are significantly diminished, unlike buying from a dealership. 


Wear and tear are a positive sign that the vehicle is used, not masked for reselling.

After you’ve checked for repairs and general condition, check the engine.

List of quick engine checks before buying a car.

Check the engine
With little to no mechanical knowledge, it is still possible to run a few standard checks.

Dip the oil, ensure the engine has some. If it does, check its colour. Expect black coloured oil in a used diesel engine. Petrol engine oil should have more transparent, see-through shades. If not, a service might be due (check the service book for the last major service carried out on the car).

Watch out for white mildew on the oil dipstick or inside of the oil filler cap. Any of this gooey stuff usually means water in the engine and terminal issues.

Start it up
A warm engine can disguise hidden, but pending mechanic problems so ensure the car is cold when you first turn the key.

It’s equally important to hear the engine when it’s hot too and to restart a hot engine. Problematic diesel’ vehicles easily hide faults. Turn the ignition again and double-check the car starts up instantly.

Electrics and dashboard checks
Test electric windows, wipers, lights, stereo, sat-nav and remote central locking. Avoid unnecessary costs and find out about any faults before you buy.

Look for dashboard lights that remain on after the car is started. Engine management, ABS warnings and airbag lights must darken within a few seconds else repair bills are expensive. 

List of quick engine checks before buying a car.

Check documents (vital on a private buy)
Look at the V5C logbook and match the VIN to the car. You’ll find it etched on the windows, under the bonnet or inside of the door pillar. If the VIN is a mismatch to car documentation, the vehicle could be a clone.

Check a CarVeto report for VIN and engine number checks.


See the registered keeper address is the same as the address of the seller. If they claim to be selling for someone else, snap a shot of their driver’s license. A genuine seller won’t have an issue if there is nothing to hide.

See when the car was last serviced to predict reliability and spend during the next 12-months of driving.

Look at the last MOT test and make an MOT advisory check for parts that might fail on the next MOT test, paid by you!

How to find the VIN number

Diagram tutorial for finding the VIN number on a car.

Spare keys
Is there one and does it lock, unlock and start the engine? Key/start card repairs are expensive and most times a repair is only available at a franchised dealership.

Tyre checks
New rubber is another pricey item. Ensure tread is in good nick without damage to the sidewalls. If tyres are wearing, you can expect a bit of a discount or some new treads.


Test Driving A Car – Checklist

Whether you go privately or with a dealer, ensure you drive the car before you buy.

Quick check:

Are you insured to drive other vehicles? If you have a fully-comp insurance policy, you might be covered to drive any car third-party.

Dealers have a traders-policy that permits customers to drive fully insured. The salesperson usually needs to be in the car although some main dealers now offer 24-hour ‘take-home test drives’.

How To Test Drive A Used Car

Test drive checklist

How to test drive a car before you buy, check list.

Fit for all the family
If you’ve little ones that need car seats, make sure they fit well. If your child seat includes Isofix attachment points double-check the car has the right fittings. 

Dog lovers might want to see if their mutt has enough room to jump in the boot.

Comfort for confidence
Being confident behind the wheel is easier when you feel comfortable. Once you are in the driver’s seat, take some time to make adjustments to the lumbar, forward/backwards and up/down functions.

Modern cars also include steering-wheel adjustments. Find the position you like and then adjust the door mirrors to your liking.

Take 20-minutes
Drive at slow speeds in traffic as well as faster sections on a dual-carriageway. You’ll learn the most about the car (and if you like driving it) when you try it thoroughly. Check for some twisty and bumpy road surfaces that put the vehicle under stress.

Radio off
Drive without distractions. Feel free to tell the salesman you’d like to listen to the car, not talk about the weekend sport.

Brake test
When it is safe to do so, execute an emergency stop. See if the car pulls to the left or right under heavy braking and listen out for any odd grinding, banging or clunking noises.

Clutch test
Have a go at pulling away on an incline. It’s a great way to see how the car performs at low speeds and lets you know if you can handle the way it drives.

Grunt test
See how the car performs. Is the engine pokey enough for you to get around safely or were you expecting a little bit more engine bhp?

Suspension and ‘never heard before’ noises
This guide has touched on it already. During a test drive, remain alert and use your senses. It is common to hear to odd tab or squeak sound that might be the parcel strap of pencil rolling about in the door panel.


The key is understanding the car before you buy and foreseeing any potentially expensive repairs once taking ownership.

Time to park
We all love a bit of parallel parking. See how easy it is to reverse the car. Is there decent visibility that meets your driving style?


Paperwork/Document Checks When Buying A Car

Vehicle documentation is the blueprint of your new car.

There are vital things to check, so you know the car is safe, legal, and roadworthy.

With a careful eye, you can also spot potential heavy maintenance spends over the coming 12-months of driving.

What Documents Should I Check When Buying A Used Car
Front side of the new style V5C logbook issued by DVLA.

Document checks


Vehicle registration document | V5C | Logbook
As the vehicle’s primary document, the V5 holds personal details of the individual responsible for the car. The registered keeper is NOT necessarily the legal owner.


Check the number of owners, date of change of the last owner, date or registration, VIN and engine numbers and the logbook reference number.


There is a new V5C style logbook issued by DVLA in 2020. Old and new format logbooks have coloured sections for a range of circumstances.


Pertinent areas of the document relating to changes of ownership include:

Section 2
Selling or transferring a vehicle to a new keeper (not a motor trader).
Green Section 2 allows the existing keeper to notify DVLA of a sale or transfer (includes a family member or individual within a company).

Section 3
Change a name and / or address (full details for all changes).
Blue Section 3 allows the existing keeper to amend personal details such as a name or address.

Section 4
Selling, transferring or part-exchanging a vehicle to a motor dealer. Yellow Section 4 allows the current keeper to sell, transfer or p/x to a dealer. A dealer is classified as a trader, car auction, dismantler, salvage dealer, finance/leasing company, an insurance company or car buying service. The registered keeper completes Section 4 and sends to DVLA. The dealer keeps the rest of the document.

Section 5
Permanently exporting a vehicle for more than 12-months.
Red Section 5 is sent to DVLA with the new export details. The rest of the document is retained for entry into the new country.

Section 6
New keeper slip – must be given to the new keeper. The new keeper retains green Section 6 (not sent to DVLA) and awaits a new logbook. Green slips allow a buyer to tax a car although it’s not registered in their name. The rest of the V5 is sent to DVLA who send a new one with the new keeper’s name/address.

MOT history
CarVeto data provides a customised DVLA MOT history check for all vehicles registered in the UK that are over 3-years of age.


MOT history provides useful data. See what a vehicle has failed on in the recent test.  Check the ‘Advisory Notes’ sections under each test date. If there were no such notes, then the section will be blank. If there were issues, they’d be listed here.

Advisories can help to determine if a vehicle may fail its next MOT test and what it might cost to repair.

MOT history snippet loaded via CarVeto database

List Of Pass And Failure And Advisory Notes From DVLA History

MOT advisory notes provide clues

Look at the MOT history in the above screenshot – the vehicle had under trays fitted which obscure some testable items. The parts are not broken, and the car is deemed roadworthy for now but likely to fail its next MOT test a year later.

Look at the MOT certificate in the screenshot below and advisory notes for a near side rear tyre wearing near to its legal limit. Unless it is replaced, it is sure to become an MOT failure on the proceeding test. 

List Of Pass And Failure And Advisory Notes From DVLA History

If you see a list of advisory notes, try for some discount from the asking price.

If buying from a dealer, ask for a new MOT test. If you’re feeling pushy, request the new certificate without any advisories.

Service history
Modern service records are kept on an internal database of supplying dealers. It’s replaced the old-style service books that are easily lost or misplaced. 

For older vehicles, look for a service history book that contains stamps, with dates and mileages of past servicing and other maintenance work.

Look out for loose workshop receipts as they itemise parts, labour and cost of each service.

Camshaft belts
Not all cars have a cam belt. Some are chain driven, and ordinarily, they’ll last the life cycle of the car. Contact a supplying dealer or check the owners manual to find out if your car has a belt or chain.

Avoid timing belt snaps
All vehicles with a rubber belt have a shelf life determined by age and mileage.

Manufacturer guidelines differ. Some VW’s need a new belt every four years or 40,000 miles (whichever is sooner), whilst a Ford Focus might be six years or 60,000 miles.

Cambelt replacement cost

Due to labour charges, timing belts are pricey to fit. Save some cash using an independent garage as labour charges are up to 50% less than main dealers. Get an online quote from Clickmechanic to check savings. This is a mobile service carried out at home or work. 

The Cost To Change The Timing Belt

Snapped belts cause significant engine damage that can cost into the thousands. If there is doubt as to when the belt was last changed – have it replaced.


If you don’t know when the belt was last changed (and you’re buying from a dealer), grab the name/address of the registered keeper on the V5 logbook and write them a request to find out. Include your phone number and ask them to text a date/mileage when they last changed the belt.


The database from CarVeto can help you along with registered owner details, in part. We gather the city/county or region where the DVLA initially registered the car. The detail won’t get you in touch with a previous keeper but gives you a ballpark area to make a start.

Have a look at loose invoices too as they’ll have names and address on them.

When a car has no service history
Your best chance of recovering service records is by contacting a supplying dealer:


  • Call service reception
  • Quote the car reg number
  • They may tell you about past services and maintenance on record. Note them down with dates and mileages. 
List of service history and maintenance records provided by a supplying dealership

Due to data protection, the dealer is unlikely to provide a printout.


Old MOT method
It’s common for cars to have an MOT and service on the same booking.

  • You can find the contact details of the MOT test station via the website.
  • You’ll need the V5C logbook reference number to get far enough inside the Gov portal to reveal MOT test centre details.
  • Phone the MOT depot and ask them if they have any record of servicing and cam belt replacement. If you’re lucky enough to get some details, list them down and put them in the service pack.



Supplying Dealer Versus Independent Dealer Or Buying Privately

For peace of mind, buy from a supplying/franchised dealer.

You pay more but get an improved customer and after-sales service.

You’ll also get a ‘buying experience’ and relaxed approach from a salesperson who benefits from more than a commission-only salary.

Dealer Or Private Seller

Watch out for independent dealer safety checks
Some privately-owned dealers (non-franchised) offer a ‘point vehicle safety check’. This type of promise does not equate to a stable, reliable car and is often little more than a brief inspection to see that car features are working as they should.

Consumer Rights buying with a dealership
Whenever you buy a product, be it a car, electrical or household item, you have a plethora of rights. Your new car must be ‘fit for purpose’ and of a satisfactory condition and in keeping with stated age, mileage and condition.

Find Out Your Rights When Buying A Car From A Dealer In The UK

As a consumer, your rights are robust in the first thirty days after purchase.

Private buyer
Buying a car privately can mean saving some money but taking more risk. If you encounter mechanical issues resulting from a private purchase, you’ll have a hard time getting compensated. There is some grey area around the rights of an individual when they buy privately.

If you experience problems, contact the seller and ask for help. If this proves to be unsuccessful, get in touch with the Citizens Advice Bureau and explain the circumstances.

Wear and tear
Keep in mind, the price paid for the car, its age and mileage. Buying a ten-year-old car with 80,000 miles on the clock comes with obvious risk. Expect worn parts as the car is nearer to its end of life.


However, buying from a dealership always provides you with buyer protection via the Consumer Rights Act 2015. The price you pay for a vehicle does not dilute your protection. If you buy a car for £500, it needs to be as described, fit for purpose and of satisfactory quality. 

If a dealer tells you the car is just a P/X and therefore Sold As Seen, don’t believe them. It’s illegal for a dealer to make these types of claims or to include them on an invoice. 

Always get a receipt and pay for the car via a credit/debit card or bank transfer. 

If you run into problems and the dealer is unhelpful, get in touch with the CAB. There is more information here on the Money Advice Service.

How to choose a dealer you can trust
Private motorists tend to earmark a few cars they like before heading to the dealers for a look. 

Popular car manufacturers have a supplying dealer (Approved) in most towns or cities around the country. Popular ones include:



There are more extensive, independent dealers that might be worth a look too.

Take precautions with a private seller
With little buyer protection should things go wrong with your new car, a private purchase is the least appealing even with the chance to save some upfront cash.

How to minimise your risk when buying a car privately


  • Always get your own CarVeto car check and don’t rely on an old report the seller has kept as it might be outdated. Keep in mind; vehicle status can change in 24-hours, i.e. classed as written-off or stolen.
  • Be sure to view the car at the seller’s address and not a local landmark or lay by.
  • Check the seller’s address matches the one on the V5C registration document.
  • See when the current owner bought the car as displayed on the logbook ‘date of change of ownership’ section. A recent purchase and sale may be a red flag.
  • Ask why they are selling the car.
  • Ask about servicing and if it is reliable.
  • Pay with a BACS transfer rather than cash (keeping a paper trail might be useful in case there are issues down the road).
  • Get a written receipt including yours and the seller’s name and address, date of sale and description of the vehicle including its registration mark.
  • Ask for the spare set of keys (just in case).


Buying A Car With A Credit Card – Protection

Here are two huge benefits to buying a car (or part of it) with a credit card.

Get the benefits of this method when buying from a dealer, but a private seller won’t have the facility.

Firstly – if you have a great credit rating, you have access to zero per cent lending.

Second – paying even a small percentage of your car with almost any type of credit card provides an extra layer of insurance (guarantee).

Buying A Car With A Credit Card

Cheapest UK lending

0% Credit cards let you buy a nearly new or used car, interest-free.

Providers like Virgin or MBMA offers 5k or 10k zero-interest lending for a set period.

The trick is to pay off the card in full or balance transfer to another provider before the zero-interest period expires.

Lender periods range from one to 30-months. If you plan and make at least a minimum monthly payment, you can borrow some if not all the upfront cost to buy a car, interest-free. The only associated costs are a one time set up or admin fee and one-time balance transfer fee if you move an outstanding amount to a new provider.

Enjoy two guarantees
Paying for a fraction of your new car on credit card provides a second layer of protection should you hit mechanical issues or some unforeseen incident.

This method is a powerful one because you get a back up via the standard warranty provided by the dealer at the point of purchase. You also become insured under the Consumer Credit Act Section 75

Small print

  • The vehicle must cost between £100 and £30,000.
  • You must buy the vehicle either in full or partially using a credit card.

If the worst happens, both the dealers and the credit card provider (lending company) are equally liable.

Independent dealerships may not offer a credit card facility

It’s annoying because they could if they wanted. Merchant services levy a charge on credit card purchases, and the dealer needs to pay (anywhere from 1.5% to 5% of the total amount).

The Reasons Why Some Car Dealerships Will Not Accept Credit Card Transactions

Notes on dealers and credit card purchases

Since January 2018, credit and debit card surcharges became banned. Businesses may continue to charge customers an administration or booking fee provided it applies directly to other forms of payment. Business credit and debit card are not part of this ban and may still be charged. 

Merchant Services demand a flat fee on credit card transactions (i.e. 3.5% of the amount charged).

If you buy a car for £8,000 and the credit card admin fee is 3.5%, the dealer will pay £280. 

We are saying, if a dealer refuses to accept credit card as a payment method, consider offering to cover the 3.5%. The dealer gets paid, and you get your extra layer of insurance. 

It can work if the dealer adds the admin fee to the sale price of the car. 


Car And Driver Road Legal Requirements In The UK

After you have bought your new car, there are legal requirements you need to meet before you drive away.

Goes without saying you need a full UK driver’s license unless you’re a learner. 

Look over the remaining requirements below. 

Requirements For Street Legal Vehicle

Your new vehicle must be:

  • Registered with DVLA
  • Have a current MOT certificate (if the vehicle is 3-years or older)
  • Up to date road tax – check if a car is currently taxed. Be in a fit condition to drive on the road.
  • Insured full comp, third-party fire/theft or third party only


Get insurance sorted before you collect your new car. As a legal requirement, you need road insurance, tax and MOT even if you don’t drive the vehicle; otherwise, you must declare SORN (CarVeto guidance on SORN and how to notify DVLA).


30-Day drive-away insurance

If buying a new or nearly new car from a dealer, they might include 30-day road insurance as part of the deal. Check with them first and gather all documentation relating to the risk policy. The monetary value of free dealer car insurance is minimal, but temporary cover can be convenient.

There are hundreds of UK insurers; save money and shop around. For the UK’s cheapest providers look at the search tool for a group of online quotes without obligation.


Notifying DVLA Of Changes In Ownership Including Dates

Check the legal requirements when notifying DVLA of changes in ownership (that includes a new keeper resulting from a buy, sell or transfer), including dates when changes occurred.

This guide has already discussed the sections of a V5 logbook.

Notify DVLA

Buying from a dealer or privately
Read this guide for instructions on DVLA change of name in all circumstances.

For simple sale and transfer notifications, complete the green Section 2 (sell/transfer my vehicle to a new keeper)

Fill out the slip in full including your

  • Full name or business name
  • Full UK address including the postcode
  • Date of sale (now mandatory)
  • Mileage (optional but recommended)
  • Contact phone number (optional)
  • Email address (optional)
  • Driver’s license number (optional)


The green slip allows you to tax the car at a post office, but you can do it quick and easily online (you’ll need the document reference number).

As the new keeper, you keep the green slip and the dealer, or current registered keeper sends the rest of the V5 to DVLA, Swansea, SA99 1BA.


Tax online when you first buy a car. The moment you do, there’s a record of it. So, any parking or road traffic issues that occurred before will not get passed along to you.


A week or two later, DVLA will send your new V5. If you are selling the car, expect a confirmation slip, like this one:

Acknowledgement Slip From DVLA That Confirms Changes To Ownership

Invoice – dealer
Ensure the invoice includes the dealer’s name, address, VAT reg number and the date of purchase.

If you’ve taken up a finance deal, gather all of the information about it. Make sure you know the lend amount, the deposit paid (if any), date when the agreement begins, monthly repayment, payment date and the total amount payable across the whole lend period including interest and charges. 

Receipt – private seller
If you buy privately, get a hand-written receipt that includes the sale price, vehicle make and model, vehicle registration mark, mileage, date of sale, your name/address and the sellers.

If the car comes with a warranty, you are likely to have some documents in case you need to make a claim. Before you sign the invoice and drive away, find out:

  • Warranty exclusions
  • Claim limit per claim, inclusions and exclusions (used car warranties have limits ranging from £100 to £1,000 per claim, up to the purchase price).
  • How to make a claim (at the dealers or can you use a local garage?)

Next step
Ready to start your car search? Take the steps carefully laid out in this guide to reduce upfront costs and increase the likelihood of buying a safe, legal and worthwhile investment.