What documents to check when buying a used car?

Including an up-to-date car history check

Vehicle documentation is the blueprint of your new used 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.

Look to run a DVLA vehicle check before you buy your new vehicle.

What Documents Should I Check When Buying A Used Car



In Step-9, we look at car documentation and what checks to carry out before paying a deposit for a new car. 

Front side of the new style V5C logbook issued by DVLA.

V5C registration document | V5C | Log book

Car’s history:

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 how many previous owners, date of change of the last owner, date or registration, vehicle identification number (VIN)engine numbers and the logbook reference number.


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.

Check a car’s MOT history online

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


MOT test history provides useful data when buying a used car. 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.

Car’s MOT 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 certain to become an MOT failure on the next MOT test.

CarVeto put significance on MOT advisory check notes – read the full guide for details on why.

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 number. If you’re feeling pushy, request the new certificate without any advisories.

Full service history check

Modern service book 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 check 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.


Drivers can buy a duplicate service book and record all future maintenance records.

 Cam belt check

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 owner’s manual to find out if your car has a belt or chain as part of a full service history.


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 tracing 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 Gov.uk 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.