Things to check when buying a used car

Things to check when buying a used car

If you’re buying a second-hand car, it’s important to do some checks to make sure the vehicle hasn’t been stolen.

Before seeing the vehicle, ask the seller for the registration number, make and model of the vehicle, the MOT test number and the vehicle tax details.

You can use an online service to check whether there’s outstanding finance on the car: search for ‘check if a car has outstanding finance’.

If you know the make of a vehicle and its registration number you can use the DVLA vehicle online service to find out

  • when the vehicle tax is due to expire
  • the date that a statutory off-road notification (SORN) expires
  • the date it was first registered
  • colour
  • engine size
  • year of manufacture
  • CO2 emissions
  • current vehicle tax rate.

Check these details against those given to you by the seller and use them to check the vehicle’s MOT test history and its current MOT test status on GOV.UK.

You can also get a vehicle identity check. This will tell you if a car has a ‘VIC marker’ (vehicle identity check marker) on its vehicle record, which shows that the car has been written off or stolen. Find out more about the vehicle identity check at GOV.UK.

Hold the V5C up to the light to check the ‘DVL’ watermark is there. If not, the document may be a forgery.

Remember that the V5C is not proof of ownership: make sure the seller has the right to sell the vehicle and that the V5C matches the vehicle’s details and all other documents provided.

Look out for stolen V5Cs.  If the seller has a blue V5C with a serial number in the following ranges, don’t go ahead with the sale (the serial number is in a white circle in the top right-hand corner of the V5C); contact the police when it’s safe to do so.

  • BG8229501 to BG9999030
  • BI2305501 to BI2800000.

Don’t buy the vehicle if you think the serial number has been altered or if part of the V5C is missing.

Don’t buy the vehicle if the vehicle identification number (VIN) has been tampered with or is missing: it’s usually on a metal strip at the base of the windscreen, under the bonnet or beneath the carpet on the driver’s side. Before buying a vehicle, check that the VIN and engine number match those on the V5C. 

Remember, if you have any doubts, don’t buy. Buying a cloned vehicle could result in you losing the vehicle and the money you pay for it.

Vehicle tax

Remember, whenever a vehicle is bought or sold, the vehicle tax needs to be paid by the person receiving the vehicle before they drive it. The seller gets a refund for any full months of tax they've paid beyond the date that ownership changed. For more information, see