Never, Ever Get Shafted When Buying a Used Car

Thousands of people get ripped off every day by unscrupulous traders trying to make a fast buck.

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DVLA Tips on Buying a Used Vehicle

When you buy a new vehicle, do you really check what it is that you are buying?

There are many stolen vehicles that are ‘disguised’ to make you believe you are buying the correct make and model. Here are a few tips you can consider when buying your next vehicle.

These tips are invaluable when buying from auction as many vehicles are “sold as seen”.

Seeing the vehicle for the first time

Make sure the seller either owns the vehicle, or is able to offer it for sale and consider the following:

  • be careful of mobile phone numbers – it’s very hard to find their owners
  • watch out for adverts giving a phone number and time to call – it could be a phone box
  • arrange to see the vehicle in daylight at the seller’s home and not in a public place
  • make sure the seller is familiar with the vehicle and its controls

What to look for when you check the vehicle

Make sure the vehicle’s identity and documents are correct. Satisfy yourself that everything is in order.

Check how the vehicle looks

Have a good look at the vehicle and be sure you are happy with its condition. Think about the following:

  • see if the engine has been changed in any way
  • check all the locks open with the same key – thieves will change locks that have been damaged
  • check for signs of a forced entry
  • see if the locking petrol cap has been forced or replaced

Checking the vehicle’s identity

When you decide what make and model you are interested in, find out where the vehicle identification number (VIN) is on that vehicle. You will then know where to look and check it’s correct. Also check:

  • the VIN matches the one on the vehicle registration certificate (V5C)
  • the surrounding area for signs of damage or alterations
  • the part VIN or registration number etched on the windows matches the ones on the registration certificate and number plates
  • all window etchings match each other including headlamps, tail lamps and sunroofs
  • the engine number matches that on the registration certificate
  • underneath stickers, where fitted – they can be used to conceal etchings

If the number is not on the vehicle, ask why not.

The vehicle has a ‘Q’ registration number

A ‘Q’ registration number means:

  • the age or identity of the vehicle is not known
  • the vehicle may have been rebuilt from old or new parts
  • the vehicle may have been imported without proof of the vehicles age

The registration certificate should say why the vehicle has been registered with a ‘Q’ registration number.

The vehicle’s registration certificate

If you decide to buy a vehicle make sure the person selling it has the right to do so as the registration certificate isn’t proof that they own the vehicle.

Make sure you have the registration certificate and it matches the vehicle’s details.

Check the registration certificate and satisfy yourself that it is real. By holding it up to the light you can see the DVLA watermark in it. You can also phone DVLA on 0870 241 1878 to check the registration certificate is real before you buy.

Be on the lookout for stolen registration certificates. DVLA has provided a range of serial numbers of known stolen registration certificates. If you find one that is in the range of BG8229501 to BG9999030 or BI2305501 to BI2800000 do not proceed with the sale and contact the police.

If you can’t find a serial number or it looks like it has been altered or tampered with, or the vehicle is accompanied by only part of the registration certificate you should not go ahead with the sale.

Get someone else to check the vehicle for you

To help you decide whether to buy the vehicle you can also consider:

  • taking an independent, qualified examiner with you to see the vehicle
  • checking the vehicle’s details by phoning DVLA on 0870 241 1878
  • making enquiries with private vehicle check companies to ensure there is no outstanding finance on the vehicle

Credit agreements and warranties on cars

Information on manufacturer’s warranties and cars bought on credit.


A manufacturer’s warranty is a legally binding contract. They are required by law to do what they say they will.

However, warranties are like insurance policies.  If you do something outside of the terms and conditions, the warranty could be void.

Read the conditions of the warranty very carefully before you let anyone do anything to your car. A warranty doesn’t replace your legal rights under consumer law but it’s supposed to give you extra protection.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders offers a conciliation service for cars under manufacturer’s warranty. This could be cheaper and easier than taking the dealer to court.


Keep the credit company informed at all times of what you’re doing.  Send them copies of all letters that you send to the dealer.

If you bought the car on a credit agreement arranged or provided by the dealer, the company that gave you the credit shares liability so are equally responsible for the car. This means you can reject the car to the finance company and ask for your money back if the dealer isn’t helping you.

Be careful if you’re planning to stop paying the instalments on your credit agreement.  Take advice first as you may be in breach of contract. You can talk to Consumer Direct.

If you make a purchase on credit, you are protected by the Consumer Credit Act, which says if you have credit on something with a cash price of between £100 and £30,000, you can claim compensation from the finance company. This could be useful if the dealer has gone out of business, because the finance company is equally responsible to you.

It’s up to your local Trading Standards office to enforce the Consumer Credit Act.  Contact them.

What can I do to get my newly purchased car repaired? Your Rights

What steps you can take if your car dealer has offered to repair your car, has already attempted to fix it or is refusing to repair your vehicle.


The dealer has offered to repair it

If you decide to let the dealer repair the car, give them a reasonable amount of time to do it. Agreeing to let the dealer repair the car doesn't affect your consumer rights.  If it's still not acceptable you can ask for it to be repaired again or replaced.  Look at the Sale of Goods Act.

If the repair is going to take some time, you can ask for a courtesy car. If the dealer doesn't provide one, you can ask for compensation for the cost of hiring an equivalent car while yours is being repaired.

You don't have to accept a repair.  You can insist on a refund. However, you'd have to reject the car very soon after purchase. The longer it's been since you bought the car, the less likely you'll get all your money back.

You could get the car independently assessed before you decide to let the dealer repair the problem. That could give you a better idea of the extent of the problem, and help you decide if it's better to accept a repair or hold out for a replacement or refund. Both the RAC and the AA do car checks, as do many other independent and accredited garages.

The dealer has already tried repairing it

Agreeing to let the dealer repair the car doesn't affect your rights.  If it's still not acceptable you can:

  • ask for the vehicle to be repaired again
  • request a replacement vehicle, or
  • your money back

If the repair hasn't fixed the problem, inform the dealer in writing as soon as possible and say exactly what you want done about it. Send a copy of the letter to the dealer's head office if it's part of a franchise. If you've bought the car on credit, you should also send a copy of the letter to the finance company.

If the repair is going to take some time, you can ask for a courtesy car. If the dealer doesn't provide one, you can ask for compensation for the cost of hiring a car while yours is being repaired.

If the dealer's refusing to fix your car

You can contact Consumer Direct for advice and to make a complaint. They may pass your complaint onto your local Trading Standards office.  They can take action if they feel the dealer is not treating you fairly or are trading dishonestly.

You can contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) who can offer you advice.

As a last resort you could take the dealer to court.


If you’re having any trouble with your new car, you need to tell the dealer that you are rejecting the vehicle as soon as you can.

The dealer who sold you the car is the one who is primarily responsible for its quality under the law, not the manufacturer – it is the seller who must sort out any problems.

If there is a manufacturer’s warranty on the car, this is extra protection for you – it doesn’t replace the dealer’s legal responsibility for what they’ve sold.

If you speak to the dealer on the phone, follow up the conversation as soon as you can with a letter so you have a written record of any correspondence.

If you’ve bought the car on a credit agreement arranged by the dealer, send the finance company a copy of all correspondence – in most cases they are equally responsible for the car.

Stop using the car if you can

If you can, you should stop using the vehicle altogether. This is part of the process of rejecting the vehicle. If you carry on using it, the law may take it to mean that you have ‘accepted’ the car. If you stop using the car, you must tell the dealer that you’ve done this. The sooner you reject the car, the better your chances of getting a full refund, a replacement vehicle or a free repair.

If the dealer or finance company is disputing the rejection, then it may be up to you to prove your case. You will need to obtain an independent assessment of the car so you have an official record of the faults. You can then decide to sue for damages.

You’re protected by law

There are laws in place to protect your rights as a consumer, and it’s worth checking with Consumer Direct to see which laws apply to you. One of the most important laws for consumers is The Sale of Goods Act which says any goods sold must be of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and as described.

This means the vehicle must be in the kind of condition you’d expect. So if it’s a new car, you wouldn’t expect any major faults. To say it must be ‘fit for purpose’ means it must be safe and capable of carrying out the tasks it was sold to do. The car must also be ‘as described’. For example, the dealer isn’t allowed to sell a car advertised as having a 1.8L engine when in fact it’s 1.6L.

It is up to the seller and not the manufacturer to ensure the car meets these standards before selling it. If you think your dealer has sold you a car that is in breach of the law, contact Consumer Direct, they can help you with your complaint and may also pass your complaint on to Trading Standards – it’s their job to enforce consumer legislation.

Private Car Sales, Your Rights

Advice on cars bought in private sales, what rights you have and what steps you can take if you have a problem.

Caveat emptor - let the buyer beware

When you buy privately, you don't have the same rights as you do when buying from a professional trader. It's a case of 'buyer beware'. That means it's up to you, not the seller,  to make sure the car is in good condition before you buy it.

The Sale of Goods Act applies to people who sell in the course of their normal business, but for private sales, the only part of the law that applies is that goods must be 'as described'.

So to protect yourself, get the seller to give you written confirmation of the state of the car before you part with any money.  They should at the very least agree to it being roadworthy. This written statement becomes a binding term in the agreement.

Has the vehicle been misdescribed?

The burden of proof is on you, not the seller, to show that the car has been misdescribed. If you can prove that it has been falsely described, you could ask for some or all of your money back. Make sure you keep any written description of the goods as evidence.  Particularly the original advert.

Get in touch with Consumer Direct who can advise you. You could also take action through the courts.

Are you concerned the car may have a dodgy past?

You can check if the car was stolen or has a history of bad finance by doing a vehicle check through an organisation like the AA, the RAC or HPI.

The DVLA has information on their website that you can use to check if a car has been stolen.

If you've bought a car and it turns out to be stolen you could lose the vehicle and the money you paid for it. If this happens, you might be able to sue the seller for breach of contract. If someone tries to sell you something, it is an implied term of the contract that they have the title to the goods in the first place.

Do you have the seller's address and phone number? If not, you'll have a lot of trouble getting any redress. If it is stolen and you can get hold of the person who sold you the car, you could take them to court to get your money back.

If the person selling you the car still owes hire purchase money on it at the time that you buy it, the hire purchase company own the car and can ask you to give it back to them.

However, you can keep the car if you can prove that you genuinely didn't know that there was any hire-purchase money owing when you bought it. Make the seller give you a signed and dated receipt with the make and registration number of the car on it and saying that there isn't any HP money owing on the car.

Car Buyers Guide :: Questions to ask when buying a used car

Compiled with the help of police, car buying professionals, and even ex-car criminals, AUTOINFOZONE’S used car buyer’s guide is probably the most comprehensive guide to buying a secondhand motor ever written…

Motoring Used Car Guide: Talk-u-thru-check-list


Why each question is important. What do the answers mean?

First of all, don’t expect everyone to tell you the truth. It’s the writer’s experience that very few people feel comfortable telling the truth at the best of times, never mind when they are trying to shift several thousand pounds worth of wheels.

Some people are over effusive when they stretch the facts, others speak volumes by saying nothing. Both types give themselves away. But if you can’t spot when someone’s lying – buy a new car. If you can’t afford one, either get a bus pass or pay more attention to the people around you.

From each advert that appeals to you, write down all the facts or cut it out and attach it to your V.U.It-Check-List. (Downloadable master copy at checklists page)

Ensure these facts include the make, the model, the price asked, the phone number/s.

Include also the publication and issue date for your own reference. Use a red ball pen. You may not agree, from reviewing your bank statements, but two reasons banks use red is, because it’s historically lucky, and it signals impending danger.

Remember that typographical and spelling errors are common. Cars are either described inaccurately by a typist’s mistake or ignorance and unfamiliarity by the seller.

  • Identify the car, down to the last letter
  • Know exactly which model the seller is selling

There are important reasons for doing this:

  • More than once, the writer has traveled across six counties to view the wrong car.
  • You don’t have to be intelligent to buy a car, but if you don’t sound a little knowledgeable, then a seller may decide you’re just a time waster and lose interest.
  • Popular cars generate lots of interest. A seller can receive lots of calls. To a busy person, this is an intrusion on his precious time, so speak clearly, be polite and sociable.
  • Be familiar with all the standard fittings. If a seller informs you that this model didn’t have XYZ it’s probably because it doesn’t work. And not because it’s a special order or special edition.

Phones, source, date…

Learn to recognise mobile phone numbers. The seller may not necessarily be trying to avoid being contacted if there’s a problem, but why take chances with your hard-borrowed cash.

Traders posing as general public can be so plausible you have to be on your toes to avoid being taken in by them. Minor entertainment can be had from spotting their devious stratagems – provided you haven’t been stuffed by one. Learn to recognise inner-city area codes. It may just be a personal preference, but the writer prefers cars that haven’t spent the most recent part of their lives overheating in traffic jams.


Always confirm the advertised asking price.

Check out a car buyers’ price guide to ensure good value.

” Hello!”
” Do you still have your car for sale?” … “Good!”
” Do you have time to talk?”

Don’t mention the make to double check he’s got only one car for sale. He may be a W-BT (would-be trader – a disreputable dealer posing as a private seller) with more than one for sale.

Pause and wait to be asked what you want to know.

If a seller starts off with a stream of ‘facts’, he’s probably a W-BT. If you’re really keen on the car, wait for him to pause for breath, then ask one of the questions on your list – not covered by his monologue. Once you control the conversation, revert to the checklist order.

There are important reasons for doing this.

As you become more familiar with the Talk-U-Thru-Check-List, you will develop a natural, polite, conversational inquisitiveness. Engaging a seller in this open manner will often result in the seller expressing himself in a similar way.

How he responds will tell you as much about himself as the car he’s selling. Allowing a seller to prattle on gives you little opportunity to settle into your investigative technique.

If a seller:

  • Won’t let you get into your technique
  • Is reticent about answering questions
  • Says all the facts are in the advert and is reluctant to expand on them, save your breath. You are, after all, paying for the call.

Just thank him and hang up!

But he has the time to talk and he is listening so, for a couple of minutes, do your best to be as polite and as pleasant as possible.

Confirm all the facts you wrote down from the advert as you go through the following list. A lot of the answers are straightforward Yes or No.

The acceptable answer is in bold print and always first. An answer followed by an asterisk * means that you are into, or approaching a suspect deal.


  • Stop; thank him kindly and hang up, or
  • Be extremely wary; or
  • Get uncharacteristically heartless and beat the seller’s price to the floor; or
  • Carry on and listen to the spiel from a real hustler and gain some valuable pointers on their behaviour and mannerisms

If the responses you receive don’t make sense, keep pressing on that question until they do.

Questions with a T – you don’t need to ask a trader.


This group of questions establishes basics.

1a. Is it Right- or Left- hand drive?
If it doesn’t say – ask. Assume nothing!

Traders love it when buyers assume. It further reduces their commitment to the truth.

1b. Which model and cc is it?

Just another lead-in to double-check that there is only one car for sale and not three or four. And to ensure that the model on offer is the one for which you are looking.

1c. T Is this your car? Y N*

If it’s No*, thank him, then hang up!

Unless it’s a proper trader, in which case a pre-purchase inspection engineer is essential for the final stage of purchasing. Traders are obliged by law (UK) to declare so – or to place a T at the end of their adverts.

Frequently, however, they forget to do so. Or perhaps it’s only the ones who’ve been rumbled who do. The number of sellers with cars belonging to someone distantly related to them, leading you to believe that the seller has known the car for some time, will astonish you.

These sellers are best avoided for they may be something other than that which they claim.

Don’t buy cars from sellers who aren’t the registered keepers. Avoid ads like ‘call Dave or Mick between 5.00 and 6.00 p.m.’ This could be a codename and pay phone anywhere. Avoid mobile phone numbers. Don’t leave your number.

1d. Is it on finance? N Y

Almost all nearly new cars are on some form of never-ever. If the seller says No and your call to the security check company says Yes, then don’t touch it. The seller must have his reasons. You don’t need to share them.

1e. (Europe) Is it EU registered? Y N*

It’s legal to sell an EU (EEC) registered car in the UK. If it’s over six months old, no duty or VAT is payable. It’s illegal to sell a non-EU registered car. Ask first!

1f. Do you have the registration document to hand? Y N*

If the answer is No*, ask why or hang up!

Most of the following group of questions can be verified on sight of the
registration document.

2a. Is it Manual or Automatic?

2b. Is this stated on the registration? Y N*

It’s highly likely that it should be.

But when you play in the car game – never make assumptions. Ask first! If it’s automatic and it’s not stated, thank him and hang up!

2c. What is the registered colour?

2d. Has it been resprayed? N Y*

This gives the seller the option to tell you the truth, because you’ll find out easily enough when you view. To perform a proper respray all the trim must be removed. This takes time and costs lots of money. It’s financially viable only on really expensive cars, or when an insurance company is picking up the bill. If this isn’t so, then it would be reasonable to assume the paint job was not done properly, ‘on the cheap’.

Perhaps it was an innocent enough respray to repair hooligan damage, or perhaps it wasn’t so innocent. If the car is unique go and view.

Otherwise it’s best not to take a chance. Hang up!

2e. What colour is the interior?

2f. Any cuts or wear on the seats? N Y*

Traders and some private sellers view their vehicles with such reverence and attachment that you can be made to feel as welcome as a home wrecker. An admission by them that the family Rottweiler has removed the upholstery stuffing is akin to shopping their offspring for tax evasion. So be particularly attuned to admissions of ‘ever so small marks, scratches or holes’. Unless you have feral tendencies, hang up!

N.B. You have to push traders hard to remember if the seats look worn.

2g. Has it been in any accidents or been subject to any paid insurance claims? N Y*

Don’t stress serious accidents, since the crumple zone quality of today’s cars makes the word ‘serious’ superfluous.

Body shops may be able to work miracles with total wrecks. However, if you have a choice you don’t need have first-hand experience of these unless the price reflects it. If the answer is Yes*, and the damage repair is extensive, thank him and hang up!

Some cars, with damage limited to body panels and doors, can be so
expensive to repair that insurance companies will write them off as total
losses. There are three classes of total losses: Scrapper, Breaker and Salvage.

  • A Scrapper is a car with no value. The Vehicle Identification Numbers are removed, declarations are signed, the car is crushed and its entire ID is returned to the insurers.
  • A Breaker is one, which for various reasons, insurance companies don’t want on the road again. The parts and VINS are removed, declarations are signed and the vehicle is crushed. What often happens is that the breaker sells the whole car for parts, intending to retrieve the body shell later – but ‘forgetting to do so’.

This breaker then becomes a ‘ringer’ – i.e. fixed up to look a year or two older, given another ID and sold to people who know no different.

  • A Salvage can be repaired. Either by bodging and chancing that you won’t bother running a security check. Or by dismantling and rebuilding to its original specification, then taken down to a vehicle inspection unit to be compared with the model’s original structural specification. If it matches, its write-off status is cancelled in the write-off register and the car is then adjudged a non-write-off.

But it is still kept on the write-off register (UK).

N.B. Unlike the dealer and trader, the private seller does not have to declare the car has been subject to an insurance claim settlement, written-off and subsequently repaired.

Unless you ask first!

If the claim was on a fully comprehensive insurance policy, any security check agency would reveal this. If the claim was on a third party, fire and theft policy for a stolen/damaged/recovered – then it won’t.

* Even though the insurance company has paid out on it, this write-off could be resold as anything but!

Yet another instance of the car industry policing itself and leaving a less than pleasant aroma around in the process. No doubt the trade will have its reasons for this, the perfect logic of which will escape the comprehension of the rest of us. If a car has been a write-off from a settled insurance claim and it hasn’t been rebuilt, then the price must reflect this. If it doesn’t, inform the local Trading agencies and forget it!

There’s a list of companies on the last page who will check vehicle ID, if there’s outstanding finance or if it’s been stolen and written-off by an insurance company. But they won’t reveal to you if it’s been reclassified on their list of write-offs.

Unless you specifically ask them.

* The exceptions are when a public service vehicle, or a corpse is involved in a crash. In this event the car is crushed.

2h. How many previous keepers are there?

Good vehicles tend to be looked after better by fewer owners. Ideally one, two at a push. If your budget is tight, the longer the last owner has owned it, the better.

If he has owned it for two years or more, and the only bills are for changing the oil, oil filter and plugs and it’s still wonderful, tread warily. Either it hasn’t been driven much while in his possession and been kept in a heated garage or there’s a serious reality gap here.

2i.T Is your or your partner’s name on the registration? Y N *

A double check on in-laws, siblings, girlfriends, business partners and ‘friends’. If you can’t talk to the owner/driver, the chances are you’re talking to a W-BT – or worse. Hang up!

2j.T Is the car kept at the registered address? Y N*

2k. T Is this your home? Y N*

If it’s an amateur sale, ensure that you view the car at the address recorded on the registration document. If the answer is No* and there is not a VERY good reason – hang up!

If a car is registered at a business address, ensure that there are no transport affiliated businesses being run from there.

2l. Which month/year was it first registered?

Always confirm the exact age of the car. Know which model you are going to view.

2m (UK). What is the MOT number?

On the reverse side of MOTs printed in 1995 and later is the phone number of the MOT ‘Hot Line’. For about 50 pence per minute you can check if this MOT is ‘genuine’.

The writer checked this facility twice and it took less than 30 seconds to get an affirmative identification of its authenticity in ‘It’s OK’. Unfortunately this service can’t identify the VRM of the car to which this MOT relates. So it can’t identify dodgy MOTs or just duplicated MOTs.

On the positive side, it has reduced MOT theft and forgery. Since only an idiot would attempt to sell you a car with a forged or nicked MOT with the Hot Line verification phone number on it.

Security on MOTs will be tighter still in a year or so. Already MOT testing stations are taking delivery of computerised kit that will hook up to DVLA to send in an emissions analysis, mileage and car ID.

Three-year-old vehicles require an MOT. MOTs normally last for 12 months, but can be extended to 13 months. All they state is that the car was roadworthy at that date.

It is important that you buy a vehicle with a full MOT. It means that the seller has made some attempt to comply with the Road Traffic Acts, so some work may have been done on the car to ensure its safety.

A car without an MOT may be very cheap but best avoided. Legally it cannot be driven on public roads. If you have an accident and the car has no MOT, your car insurance is invalid.

2n (UK). How much road tax is on it?

It’s only a few quid compared to the value of the car but people are funny about selling their car with too much road tax. Traders rarely sell cars with road tax. If there is more than one month of tax on the car they’ll claim it back from DVLA.

A dealer might lure you with a year’s road tax. But be suspicious of anyone else offering a car with lots of tax. Unless he has been disqualified. In which case ask if they have proof.

N.B. You’ll be checking these answers with the V5, MOT and insurance documents, including the VIN which you will ask for later, should you decide to view the car.

This group of questions establishes usage, trade connections, fuel consumption and mileage.

3a. When did you buy it?

3b.T How many miles have you put on since?

You can confirm this mileage by asking the previous owner, whose identity and whereabouts are on the registration document.

3c.T Do you drive for a living? N Y*

3d.T What do you use it for?

3e.T How much city driving do you do?

The trade reckons 10,000 miles per year as an average for a privately owned car, and 20,000 miles per year for a below average car. If a car has been driven for social, domestic and pleasure use for most of its existence, in the worst possible driving conditions, i.e. in one of our sprawling cities, allow 6,000 miles per year.

A car that has been driven by a countryside community health worker, making house calls, can clock up 20,000 miles per year, covering 80 miles per day in ideal driving conditions.

With the extended motorway and dual carriageway systems today, driving 50 miles to work and 50 miles back home again is easily done. That’s 20,000 miles per year before any other driving is considered. A car that has been driven by a company area manager can clock, up to 40,000 miles per year, with the majority of the mileage at steady speeds on motorways.

Now is the time to find out what the seller does for a living, and where he does it. If you don’t have both the work and home phone numbers – ask for them now.

3f.T Are any members of your household, traders, or involved in the car business in some other way? N Y*

That’s better!

There’s no point in beating about the bush. Just ask if there’s anyone in the household, who has the slightest connection with any aspect of the car game; be it taxiing, chauffeuring, transporting, couriering, leasing, trading, repairing or car financing.

3g. What is the average fuel consumption?

3h. And in town?

3i. Can we check it on a full tank? Y N*

Well, it’s not really what they say but the way they say it, especially if it leads into opinions/lies.

And about now, they start to creep into the conversation.

Traders are strong on opinions. They use them to confuse. If you feel this happening, proceed no further!

The same applies, if you sense him coming on like a Jack-the-Lad. Traders ‘never lie’. They’re just extremely economical with the facts or they plead our version of The Fifth Amendment in ‘Dunno mate!’

Even if the car has computerised fuel consumption display, it’s not unreasonable to come to an arrangement over a full tank of petrol, such as, if you buy the car you pay for the gas. If you don’t – well he’s paid already. This will give you a clear indication of the average fuel consumption.

Any resistance to this arrangement indicates that the car, either isn’t capable of delivering this fuel consumption, or isn’t being used and probably isn’t insured for driving in public. Either way, it’s unreasonable and the conversation should end here.

3j. What is the clock mileage?

3k. Do you believe this is accurate? Y N*

For a car that has been driven by any associative car trade, you make no allowances. You hang up!

N.B. Any car, with the possible exception of a one-owner car, bought from that owner, could be ‘clocked’, i.e. the mileometer mileage has been reduced to give the buyer the impression of low use.

However, the mileage could be genuine.

It could have been used for the school run five times a week at two miles per trip. It could look lovely, but the engine might be so glued up with tar – from the lack of a regular thrash up and down the local by-pass – that the engine is knackered. Or it could be a Channel Islands hire car with a knackered engine.

Or the clock might have been wound round from 60,000 through 99,999 to 25,000 miles. If challenged the seller could claim it had been round the clock. But you’ll have to view to find this out.

If the seller sounds a little vague, thank him and hang up!

High-mileage motorway miles are probably the closest you’ll get to ‘honest miles’. Trader’s’ ads claim everything with high mileage as ‘motorway miles’. A car like this should exhibit no visible wear anywhere, except on the front, where stones have flicked the paint off at high speed as well as swirl marks from the car wash.

So a minicabber’s favorite, with high mileage, is best avoided. Unless you especially want to witness first hand, chipped back door edges; worn out rear seats; multi scarred ashtrays; smooth steering wheel and gear knob; metal visible on the pedals; holes in the carpets and extra aerial holes, suction or clamp marks on the body.

Once you have the VIN, and the ID of the main dealer who supplied the car new, you can call them to find out its original level of trim and colour. Do this to ensure that if anything has been changed on the specification, after it left the factory gates it can be accounted for and there are receipts.

This isn’t fail-safe, it just makes car fraud a little more difficult for your less-than-honest seller.

This group of questions establishes the care, the attention and the amount of money, spent on the car.

4a. Do you have a full service history? Y N Part.


Without qualification. Not yes, except for the last 20,000 miles. Full service history can mean the car is genuine and has been looked after. This means all the regular service work, which has been done to the car, is in the service record. And paid for on original stamped paid receipts.

Repairs and parts should be on suitably aged, paid receipts – VAT – registered ones carry greater credibility. Traders expect us to regard FSH in much the same manner as the stock market regards blue chip stock. But if there aren’t paid receipts for all the servicing – it’s all pure fantasy.

Which is the same as “Up until two years ago when my mate who works for XYZ did it on the side. No receipts, no bills, just my word for it and a list of what’s been done”. If you don’t want a big bill soon, hang up!

Bearing this in mind – if you really want the car – inform the seller now, that no way can he claim the price he’s asking. Do this firmly and reasonably.

If he agrees, then get down there. If not, hang up!

It doesn’t take long to get sucked into believing the seller’s rehearsed scenario and lies.

Occasionally service books do get genuinely lost. So, if there’s none, or only Part FSH, then suitably aged, paid, VAT-registered bills – covering all parts, labour and servicing will suffice – providing they cover the previous period between and including the last two major services.

4b. When was the last service?

4c. Was that a Major or Minor service?

The most important aspect of any car’s service history is its last 25-35,000 miles. If the seller has all the original service receipts, stamped paid from reputable companies, to cover this period, then the car must be mechanically all right. Even if the minor servicing isn’t done by the main agent, so what!

If the car requires some serious technical know-how, then the last two major service receipts from an approved agent will suffice. All the supplementary bills for parts and repairs should be on authentic, original, aged looking bill paper with the VAT number and a paid stamp.

4d. Is that with a Main dealer, Approved agent, Local garage or Yourself?

4e. Who, and where are they?

Double-checking invoice numbers, or his name, with the servicing agent/s for authenticity should only take a few minutes. Some makes keep centralised service records and make life easy, with one phone call revealing all.

With others, you have to phone each main dealer or agent. You can even buy a service copy from them. But if you can’t get corroborating facts and figures off their computer, and before you forget it, give the local Trading Standards Office the benefit of your discovery and send them a copy of your Talk-U-Thru-Check-List for evidence.

And don’t believe that main dealers resist temptation. In the car game, when there’s fast money to be made, everybody can get tempted.

Always inform the local Trading Standards Office when you unearth some dodgy deal. You never know, it might be your family in front of it when a front suspension unit collapses at speed. It’s still easy to get a new service record book from most main dealers or distributors. Tell them your car has done more miles than the service book can record and they’ll send out another. This is perfectly legitimate.

Unscrupulous traders, however, will obtain a fresh service record and write it up to create a ‘new’ history for the car. Or, if they are too lazy they’ll just steal a real one. So don’t keep yours in the car.

And always ask for original bills – not copies. Ones that have been stamped paid and carry a VAT number are credible. If there is one authority that traders really fear, it is VAT MAN.

Later, you’ll be prompted to ask for all the receipt numbers and dates. If the car is close to, or overdue a major service, find out how much it will cost. You’ll deduct the cost of this at the final reckoning in the V.U.It-Check-List.

There are enough approved agents or specialists in every make, who supply excellent service, often superior to main dealers, and who charge way below main dealer rates.

If the car has been looked after by the local garage for its major servicing, as well as for the mundane oil changes, then tread warily. Local garages can rarely be as familiar with all the intricacies and complexities of modern cars, particularly the electronics, as main dealers, specialists or approved agents.

But if it’s a basic uncomplicated car you’ve found, carry on.

A great cop-out for admitting nothing has been done for 30,000 miles is for the seller to claim all the routine maintenance has been done by himself. If he tells you what he has done, ask him how long it took to complete each task.

Strike up a little rapport here, to find out how genuine he is, checking at the end of each task, he still has the receipt for the replaced part in his possession.

If he claims to do the major servicing, too – and if you decide to view – check out his garage.

Look for a hole in the garage floor to stand in, or a heavy trolley jack for raising the car quickly, a large tool box on wheels and a very thick, heavily thumbed and grubby workshop manual for the model.

4f. Is there any evidence of . . (specific problem with this model)? N Y*

Historically, mass-produced cars invariably have some serious failure point(s) which are costly to fix. Ensure you are aware of them. To find out, join the appropriate car-owners club. One of the club’s officials should be able to help you. ‘Or he’ll know a man who can.’

Obtain a copy of Practical Classics car magazine (or equivilant). It contains listings of car clubs for around 350 marques and specific models. If it isn’t unique and the answer is Yes*, just thank him and hang up!

4g. Will anything serious require attention soon? N Y*

No matter how alluring the description may be – if it isn’t unique, and the answer is Yes*, hang up!

4h. Is it all mechanically sound? Y N*

Apart from listening for rising vocal tremors in the replies to the last three questions – what you want to hear is, the owner/driver/seller has some slight working awareness of the mechanical object which is on offer.

He appreciates that moving parts wear out and he changes the engine oil and filter every 5,000 miles, with paid receipts and corresponding service stamps on the service history book. Engines and gearboxes sharing the same oil require oil changes every 2,000 miles. If the answer is No* and you like fixing cars, go for it, otherwise thank him and hang up!

4i. Does it have a tow bar? N Y

4j.T What do you pull with it?

Every car with a tow bar the writer has bought, the previous owner has professed to never having used it. It’s acceptable on large powerful cars, but have a look around to see if you can see a 10 metre yacht, a caravan or a trailer around the seller’s house should you decide to view.

4k. What’s the bodywork like?

4l. Any rust or paint bubbling anywhere? N Y* [If any, where?]

Any mention of rust must be pursued until you have a Technicolor clear picture of what and where it is. Unless you’re prepared to spend serious money – rust is this conversation’s stopper. But if all you need is a cheap rust-bucket for a year, until it fails its next MOT – go for it.

Needless to say even tiny rust is a good price reducer. Again, admission of failure – this time to fend off corrosion – is difficult to accept by the seller. Get ruthless!

Remember it’s your time and money you’re spending.

Stress, that if the car is absolutely clean, you’ll pay his asking price. Any rust must reduce the price drastically.

That’s why unscrupulous sellers will go to great lengths to conceal any on the car they are intent on stuffing you with.

N.B. The word used was conceal, and not eliminate. Since, whatever they do, will only conceal the rust for a month or two. And it could be anything up to a day of your time you waste, to go and see it.

4m. Is all the chrome bright and free of scratches? Y N

It’s a small point but if the chrome has dents or heavy scratches on it, you’ll feel the same way as buying a can of beans with a large dent in it.

4n. Does it have original manufacturer spec tyres fitted? Y N

Which ones?

4o. Does the spare match? Y N

4p. Are they all good? Y N*

The chances of being told the true state of the tyres is open to speculation. Unless the new tyres are the best part of the sales pitch. But at least you’ll know if you’re dealing with a liar, should you decide to view. Receiving an okay and no further response, probably means there is not a lot the seller can say about them. If it isn’t unique and all the answers are No*, thank him and hang up!

4q. How recent is the exhaust?

4r. Is that a Dealer, Original, Factored, Pattern or Used part?

Assume nothing. Just ask! Original parts bought from the dealer will be genuine parts. ‘Original parts’ bought at a heavy discount from elsewhere, are probably counterfeit. The only attempt to match the original specification is the colour and description on the packaging.

And worse in terms of reliability and strength than even pattern parts. Factored parts are made to a certain specification. Sometimes, they are a close match to lower specification, original, non-mechanical parts like headlamps, radiators and body panels, but they won’t match hi-spec., original parts, like inside the engine bits. But they are cheaper.

Pattern parts have no specification and are cheaper still. Often they don’t match the parts they are supposed to replace. They won’t last as long as original or factored parts and can be more trouble than the money you think you save. Used parts are sometimes more expensive than pattern ones and with no guarantee they are original parts.

4s. Has anything else been replaced? Y N

Lots of repairs with no bills, then bells must ring. In fact, if there are just lots of repairs, particularly for mechanical parts, alarm bells must ring. Because it sounds knackered. If it isn’t unique, just thank him and hang up!

4t. Do you have the receipts for these? Y N*

This elicits the amount of care and money spent on the car. It will paint a pretty, or less than pretty picture of the car under your scrutiny. There’s a tendency in the human condition to appreciate and look after good things one intends to keep for a while.

Lack of maintenance/repairs/manufacturer’s parts suggest the seller, either can’t afford to maintain the car, or is neglecting it, or both. Be straight with him. Let him know he can’t get anywhere near the price he wants, without receipts.

If he doesn’t agree, thank him and hang up!

N.B. Some sellers are naive enough to believe that they can. While some sellers are devious enough to lull you into believing you might get a good deal.

This group of questions establishes the level of equipment and if the car has been modified in any way – much of it can be established from the advert but double-checking .

5a. Does it have.

AWD• all wheel drive
ABS• anti-lock brake system
PAS• power assisted steering
(R) Al•/Immob• (remote) alarm/immobilizer
CL• central locking
(e)SR• (electric) sunroof
(e)W• (electric) windows
(e)M• (electric) mirrors
(e)SF&R• (electric) seats front and rear
AIRCON• air conditioning
Airbag• Driver’s/Passenger’s
Alloys• alloy wheels
Leather• leather seats
H/L W/W• headlight wash wipe
RAD•Tape•CD•CD box• radio, tape, compact disc, compact disc multiplayer
CRUISE/ASC• automatic Speed Control
Fogs• foglights
Phone• car phone

Roof Rails• to attach roof bars to fit roof box.
Roof Box• extra storage.
Self-Level Suspension•
Rear W/W• rear wash-wipe
Extra Rear Seats•

5b. Is this all factory fitted? Y N*

If they aren’t, there could be problems repairing, or finding parts for them. Or even with your insurance company claiming the car had been ‘modified’ without their knowledge – with the subsequent rip-off hike in insurance premium – or even cancellation of the policy.

If all the extras work well, they make the car more desirable. These points paint a similar picture in your mind of good car maintenance.

If the goodies don’t work, for whatever reason – they will be expensive to fix. And when you come to sell it, the defective extras will deter potential buyers.

Either get the price down low now or thank him and hang up!

5c. Has the car been modified in anyway? N Y

Insurance companies appear to enjoy making ex-clients of those whose policies they have just cancelled, because of undisclosed modifications – especially after a claim.

Don’t give them this satisfaction. Ensure that you know. Just ask!

5d. Which music system is fitted?

5e. Is it Pull out, Face off or Fixed?

Impressive car stereo – whether budget or high quality – is an apple in more than one car thief’s eye. Ensure you can either remove the whole unit, or at least get the front of it off. Security coding can be broken in 15 seconds.

Car stereo also features highly in the trader’s advert.

These questions establish that you might be seriously interested in this car.

6a.T Sounds good: why are you selling?

‘It’s a rusting death trap. I need a bank loan to fill up the tank every day’ is a sales pitch that ranks second to none in disarming candour, and strangely, it’s rarely heard – even though every word might be the absolute undisputed truth. It’s the overworked silvery porkers that slip so sublimely off the forked tongue of the seller. Like it’s just:

  • Too big (for the wife/us/family)
  • Really too small (for the family/us)
  • Too fast (for the wife/me {original})
  • Not fast enough, and on and on.

Historically the car game was built on dreams and promises and sustained by bigger promises, blatant lies and ever-increasing bills.

6b. What’s your lowest price?

This is the point where your desire for the car – for which you have spent six months searching – and the seller’s greed, converge. And there are exceedingly few situations, where the dangling of cash, just out of reach of the most hard-nosed negotiator/seller, does not weaken his resolve.

But don’t be tempted to wave cash around in the street, and don’t tell the seller you’re bringing cash. Less-than-honest sellers can still have their car and your cash, if they think you’re carrying it.

6c. I’m really interested. I need the VRM, the VIN, the engine number, the previous registered keepers’ name and address. I need also, the original main dealer to security check it and confirm any service record (and warranty).

Before you spend any money on security searches, phone up the dealer who supplied the car new. His name should be first on the service record.

Give them all the details you want confirmed; model, body style and colour, engine size and number, trim level and colour and confirm the VIN and VRM relate to it all.

Next, ask them the likely locations of all the VIN stamps on the car, if the windows were security etched and how many keys there should be. Write this down.

Any resistance to this request, can be countered, by discussing with the manager/owner of the garage, the article you are writing for one of the local papers on ‘The car trade’s co-operation in cutting down car fraud’ – in your capacity as ‘a freelance journalist’. Of course if he denies the existence of this car, don’t take it personally, just thank him, hang up, and look for another.

It’s unfortunate that the essential authority on vehicle ‘keepership’ – DVLA – is still out on whether they will authenticate V5 particulars on the phone. However, once you’ve confirmed the ID of the car, contact one of the security check firms who provide this service, to ensure that it hasn’t been:

  • Reported stolen
  • Subject to an insurance settlement claim, i.e. written-off
  • Subject to HP/charge with outstanding debt
  • Subject to a warrant being issued for its seizure for unpaid parking fines

There’s a list of these companies on the last page.

For a small additional premium, an insurance can be effected, to cover the possibility of any of the supplied data being incorrect, e.g. the car has been nicked but not reported yet. You lose the car, but not your money. And you have the joy of doing it all over again.

But contact the previous keeper, to find out its condition and what mileage was on it when he sold it. If it was within a year or two, he should remember the servicing arrangements he made for the car.

In the event of any discrepancies in the facts, he should be able to shed the most light on the car’s history. If he can’t, ask how old he is. You never know, he might be old and genuinely can’t remember. But if he doesn’t sound genuine, or you can’t locate him, you may have found yourself a ‘ringer’.

A ‘ringer’ is a car, which for one dubious reason or several – too varied to catalogue – has another car’s ID, is illegal and is therefore highly undesirable. However, any reluctance to reveal this information saves you a wasted journey.

The seller may have his reasons to withhold this information, but you have no need to know them. So, thank him and hang up!

6d. When will it be convenient for my inspection engineer to check it over?

If you feel that the car is good, and this is your only source of expertise, then use it.
There’s a list of companies on the last page that provide this service. Even if you know enough about cars to dispense with this service, it’s a good line to lead the seller into thinking a serious engineer is coming, to unmask his secrets.

By this time, if the seller isn’t quivering – with fear, not excitement – you’re probably on to a good thing.

If the seller is genuine, he should agree, and possibly arrange for a viewing facility on a ramp with a local garage. But, go and see the car for yourself first. Just in case he’s been having reality lapses. This is when AUTOINFO really saves you lots of money and lots of embarrassment, by placing a good used car in front of your expert first – instead of a dog! On the day of inspection, confirm that the car is still unsold and available.

6e. Is it insured to drive? Y N*

If the seller says Yes and you don’t have your own insurance, then it’s insured to drive.

Any problems are down to him. If you have current car insurance, check that it covers you for third party when you drive another car. If you have an accident, you’ll be obliged to pay for his damage. If neither of you have insurance, the car cannot be driven legally on public roads.

6f. I need directions to get to you.

Make them brief and draw a crude map. It’s quicker than writing, and easier to visualise.


UK Traders are obliged by law to declare so, by displaying, either the letter T after an advert, or stating ‘Trade’. A lot of them do. A lot of them don’t. Those who don’t, can be grouped with the professional liars, crooks and thieves, who aren’t required by law to declare they’re trading, but who are selling cars for their girlfriends, boyfriends, mothers-in-law, relations, business partners and anyone else whose names and addresses aren’t the same as theirs, but with whom they allege some tenuous connection.

Car Buyers Guide :: Questions to ask on the phone when buying a used car

Compiled with the help of police, car buying professionals, and even ex-car criminals, AUTOINFOZONE’S used car buyer’s guide is probably the most comprehensive guide to buying a secondhand motor ever written…

The Autoinfozone Secondhand Car Buyers Guide in extremely comprehensive and is 99% relevant to a worldwide audience. However, we are aware that occasionally there will be anomalies in different countries. If you spot something we have missed or that a certain document is called something different in your country then please let us know so that we can include it in the guide for the benefit of fellow countrymen/women. E-mail us

The first contact you have with the seller of the car will probably be over the phone. You can save yourself a lot of time and wasted viewings by sorting the dogs from the genuine article from the comfort of your own home – just by asking the right questions.

Instinct and intelligence are the two major factors which affect your success rate when you’re looking to buy the car you really want.

This includes your senses. Your senses are affected by your emotions – so never go car hunting with your emotions out of control, e.g. after an argument, or with something other than car purchase on your mind. Not everyone has finely tuned instincts.

The AUTOINFOZONE V.U.It-Check-List puts your conscious on hold and allows your subconscious, to tune into the way the seller presents himself and his car.

On the phone there is no visual contact, or physical presence, to distract the focus of your attention.

Your attention is focused down the line. And that means land-line. Interference from mobile and remote phones can disturb your flow of conversation – as well as distract your attention. This is an unnecessary intrusion.

Not what gets you into MENSA, but MI5.

Intelligence gathering is planning, organisation and patience. Not everyone has the inclination to plan and organise – but everyone remembers patience as a virtue.

So in a nutshell AUTOINFOZONE:

  • Increases your instinctive awareness
  • Gives you a planned routine each time you call a seller, and quite literally talks you through your routine
  • Organise your inquiries, so you don’t get your facts confused.


Without the Talk-U-Thru-Check-List you can waste your time and money chasing rubbish across six counties.

Once you’ve tracked down something and all your initial phone questions have been answered satisfactorily you’ll go out to a viewing where you’ll be armed your V.U.It-Check-List

Without the V.U.It-Check-List you can get swamped by detail and miss vital clues…..and undergo an experience, not unlike the writer’s last purchase, in which a medium-sized, strong, reliable car was required.

After six months of indecision, there was an urgent and increasing pressure for a result in this quest. Two absolute no-nos for car hunting.

If you want to pay over the odds and/or buy a dog, go car hunting under these constraints.

Buy when you want to – not when you have to.

There were just so many three and five series from which to choose. However, the writer fulfilled this task within four weekly issues of the Exchange & Mart (local car trader magazine), eventually settling on a 525e.

It was a lovely car but the level of cleanliness aroused immediate suspicion. The seller was private.

During the course of the viewing he revealed a reasonable knowledge of the car. His ‘wife’ had owned it in her maiden name for four years; the car was registered at the viewing address; the seller was at home. The car had been serviced under the seller’s name, two years prior, by the local BMW main agent.

He was stretching the truth, however, about recent maintenance with a list of repairs which had allegedly, been completed by a moonlighting BMW engineer. All the visible parts had been replaced, but I later found the
invisible ones hadn’t.

There were no garage bills and forgetting to ask to see the parts receipts just compounded the issue. I took his word as an honest John – just how gullible can one get.

It was a lovely clean car but it cost an extra £800 to get the fantasy changed to reality. The asking price was £4,900. The drive away price became £4,500. Not low enough to cover all the repairs. But it could have been worse!

With hindsight, it was obvious a trader had primed the seller. The facts were mixed with fantasy to fudge the issues. And there were too many variables with which to cope, without the V.U. It-Check-List.

This was the last pre-AUTOINFOZONE purchase made without this checklist.

When the time comes to pool your arguments to get a realistic price, your mind can be a torrent of truths, half-truths, uncertainties and whatever else. This is when your V.U.It-Check-List takes over. It has all the facts written down waiting for this moment.

Initially practice with AUTOINFOZONE on your current car, your friends’ cars, your parents’ cars, or any car you’re under no stress to buy. This way, you’ll realise that although all cars have a basic similarity in function and structure, the mechanics and layout can vary.

When you’re familiar with the car you want, you can start hunting for your own.

Although the Talk-U-Thru-Check-Lists allow you to track more than one make and model at the same time, just concentrate on one model, trim level, engine size and year.

Unless you know about cars you’ll just get confused.

You’ll require two other publications:

  • A car buyers’ price guide
  • A source of adverts


If you don’t know what you want, buy a ‘Good Car Guide’. It tells you what to avoid and gives you ideas around what you can afford.

Next, phone round some dealers or traders and take V.U.It-Check-List to their car lots. For viewing only.

Just get a feel for dealing – it could save your thousands in the long term.

It’s easier, and more fun, to take someone with you when you view – even if he or she knows less about cars than you do. You’ll be amazed by what an unstressed observer will notice.

With AUTOINFOZONE and moral support you won’t get fooled so easily. You’ll realise how quickly you can analyse a car. But leave your money, cheque book, credit cards, ID and urge to buy, safely at home.

This may seem like a waste of time, but it’s part of the learning process. At the end of the day it’s more comforting to have your money in the bank, than to have your car in the repair shop and no money in the bank.

It’s historically accepted that most car dealers were – and are probably still – adept at pressurizing and leading potential buyers into buying the car they want to sell. What happens to the buyer at this crucial moment?

He goes fish: his mouth gapes; his eyes don’t blink; his brain freezes over. He can barely nod his chequebook and sign his head.

It will be to the successful business man, buying his first Rolls Royce convertible and inquiring if the aircon worked with the top down!

Moral of the story is to follow the system.

Used Car Buyers Guide: Tradespeak

autoinfoCompiled with the help of police, car buying professionals, and even ex-car criminals, AUTOINFOZONE’S used car buyer’s guide is probably the most comprehensive guide to buying a secondhand motor ever written…

Motoring Used Car Guide: Talk-u-thru-check-list

This is also the category which will include stolen cars, so care must be exercised when dealing with these types. It can only be repeated, that not all car traders are devious, amoral, under-handed creatures of the night. But why take that chance with your hard earned, or borrowed cash?


Here are a few ‘give-away’ clues from the WBTs who don’t declare they are trading.

The colour is invariably quoted as from the new car sales brochure, e.g. Diamond Black, Lachs Silver, Island Green and so on. Somewhere in the dimmer recesses of the collective T&W-BTs subconscious, probably lurks the specter of The 1968 Trade Descriptions Act, to which these out of- character declarations pay homage.

With little variation, the model on offer is a superlative example. Where do they find them?

  • Coachwork – instead of body – totally unmarked.
  • In stunning/pristine/fabulous – the colour
  • Superb/outstanding/showroom condition.
  • Lovely inside and out – but probably not underneath.
  • First to see will buy. Playing on your insecurity. A list of the standard equipment – as well as the genuine extras – to lull you into believing this car is somehow special.
  • Very rare. Attempting to capitalise on an unpopular model – which you shall find out when you trade it in – unless it’s a Type 23 Bugatti.
  • Any inspection welcome. Trust me! No need to call the AA/RAC – or anybody.
  • Mechanics A1. Body isn’t too appealing.
  • Motorway mileage. Complete with tachographic proof?
  • Expensive stereo. Always gets a mention. Disconnected remarks like possible p.ex, finance available, ‘viewing welcome’, ‘genuine reason for sale’ – of which only the impending hefty repair bill carries any credibility.
  • No canvassers. Those companies who phone up advertisers to help them sell their cars. And, of course, a W-BT does not require this help.

Finally we come to the pièce de résistance in used car parlance: the word HENCE. Used to convey the act of ultimate self-denial. For some reason or another, the car is virtually being given away and implies no further negotiation on the sale price is possible. The similarity between these worded adverts and those ‘T’ marked adverts is chilling.

Mundane facts such as its exact age; the exact mileage; the exact number of registered keepers; the exact length of the MOT and road tax; its average mpg or range per tank are all omitted.

So an advert reading:

2 door, 1988, auto, VGC, FSH + bills, one owner, 97,000 miles, dark green, almost fully equipped, no aircon, no leather, economical 28 MPG, £3,500.Tel 123456789

Would appeal to the writer, because it deals with unalterable priority facts, such as the model and body style, the year, the gearbox, the condition, the service history and bill receipts, the number of owners and the mileage.

If you’re looking for this model, the ad assumes you know a little of the car, so the standard equipment isn’t listed. Compared to the awe-inspiring image creation of the trade, this advert wastes no time. It states what exists and does not confuse us with non-relevant information.

This sounds like a very nice car. One owner must have looked after it for eight years, mileage isn’t too high by comparison with some, the full service history may not be by BMW, but so what!

Pouring quality oil into the engine and changing the oil filter every 5,000 miles requires only the assistance of any one of the service companies on the last page of the manual. And the bills for parts and servicing, covering the period between and including the two previous major services, is proof enough of the state of the car – provided they’re on the usual authentic, original, aged looking bill paper with the VAT number and a paid stamp. But be quick. This advert will have the traders lining up.

The more attuned you become to what sellers say, and how they say it, the less time you’ll waste on trips to see rubbish cars. In fact, you’ll get so used to reading between the lines, that you won’t bother phoning some ads, because they’ll scream ‘BOGUS!’

Or, when you do, you’ll know as soon as the seller opens his mouth, you’ll be wasting your time. It’s an adventure in low-life-land with the demimonde, without leaving your front door.

The combination of Information Technology and car thieves is a nightmare combination unfolding as you read this. No matter how tempting, never buy cars from publications which update their adverts daily, nor from computerised find-a-car agencies – since you have no idea from where the car is coming.

Weekly publications slow down car thieves. So, don’t be too keen to get next week’s adverts by fax, before they’re published.

If speed doesn’t kill you…the rip-off will!

V5 details can be obtained from DVLA Swansea, under false pretences. A new log book can be produced on a colour photocopier and all the details printed up in a couple of minutes. Your call to any one of the car information companies will not confirm the authenticity of the V5 details. Your call to DVLA, or your local VRO, will not confirm the authenticity of the V5 details.


Some small legislative obstruction called the Data Protection Act. Hastily written, poorly interpreted and frequently abused, this data to which the VRO/DVLA are zealously guardian, is the same data anyone can obtain by applying on form VQ3, bogusly or otherwise.

Q. What can DVLA do for you, the potential buyer?

Not enough, obviously!

DVLA is efficient in its way. It co-operates with the police, insurance and car information companies, on cars which are reported stolen, written off or crushed. The problem lies with cars, that are not reported stolen.

Because their owners still have to discover they have been stolen: because the owner is either on holiday for two weeks, or he’s in the supermarket shopping for an hour. Car fraud can happen as fast as that.

When all the answers on paper present an image in your mind of the car you want, don’t hang around. Get down there. ASAP!

The more rubbish you go out to look at, the more frustrated you will become, until eventually your patience snaps along with your concentration, and suddenly you find yourself the less-than-proud owner of a ‘dog on wheels’.

Achieved, solely through your frustration and wasted effort looking at one rubbish car after another – because the seller has deceived you and you haven’t picked up on it.

Before you phone your first seller and start your conversation, it will be useful for you to understand the gobbledyspeak and abbreviations particular to used car adverts.

The following abbreviations are most common:

(UK) 88E/89F/90G and so on: year of first registration; indicating the car was first available from the 1st August 1987/1988/1989 – apparently one year younger than in reality. You might believe this to be a classic case of misrepresentation, which flies in the face of the Trade Descriptions Act. And you’d be right – but the car trade can get away with it.

Motoring Used Car Guide: Glossary of Car Advertising Terms

Compiled with the help of police, car buying professionals, and even ex-car criminals, AUTOINFOZONE’S used car buyer’s guide is probably the most comprehensive guide to buying a secondhand motor ever written…

This is also the category which will include stolen cars, so care must be exercised when dealing with these types. It can only be repeated, that not all car traders are devious, amoral, under-handed creatures of the night. But why take that chance with your hard earned, or borrowed cash?

Glossary of Car Advertising Terms

Comprehensive list of the abbreviations and their meanings used in car adverts:

ABS: anti-lock brake system. Helps you to stop in hazardous conditions
without skidding. It also helps you to steer the car round a corner and brake heavily at the same time. If you can choose between identical cars, one with ABS and the other without, choose ABS, assuming it’s working.

AC/AIRCON: air conditioning

AIRBAG: Driver’s/Passenger’s. A bag that fills with air on point of crash impact, which will save you from going through the windscreen, but not from occasionally detaching retina and inducing cataracts. (Source attributed to Moorfields Eye Hospital)

ALLOYS: alloy wheel rims. Lighter and stronger than steel rim wheels and add to the car’s appearance.

AUTO: automatic

AWD: all wheel drive – permanently engaged four wheel drive for road cars.
bhp: brake horse power

BMW FSH/HISTORY: BMW – or any other make – full service history.

Carb: carburettor

Cat: catalytic converter

CC: cubic capacity of the engine expressed in cubic centimeters, e.g. 1,200cc, 2,000cc 6,250cc;also expressed in liters as 1.2l, 2.0l, 6.25l and so on. The greater the number the more powerful the engine is.

CD/CD box: compact disc player with a multiple play stacking system.

CRUISE/ASC: electronic speed control. It reduces driver fatigue on long journeys as well as saving money on fuel and on speeding fines.

(UK) CT: on form V5 indicates a change of VRM.

Cyl: cylinder as in 4 cyl, 5 cyl, 8 cyl. The more cylinders, the smoother the engine runs and the heavier the fuel consumption is.

D: door as in 3d: three-door hatch back.

D: diesel; as in Peugeot 505 GRD. The other letters represent various body trim levels or engine power.

DHC: drop head coupe – equivalent of convertible – used to describe older models, or super exclusive luxury models.

DOHC: double overhead camshaft. Emphasizes the sporty nature of the car.

(UK) DOT: Department of Transport.

(UK) DPA: Data Protection Act.

D,T & W-BT: dealer, trader and would be trader.

(UK) DVLA: Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency

(e)W: (electric) windows

(e)M: (electric) mirrors

(e)SR: (electric) sunroof. SR, or sunroof on its own, means that it is manual

(e)SF&R: (electric) seats, front and rear.

EDC: electronic damper control for suspension.

Efi: electronic fuel injection. All new cars have fuel injection. It’s mentioned on older models when a carburetor model was also available.

Est: estate

FHC: fixed head coupe. Denotes fixed roof. The identical convertible model is called a drop head.

Fogs: fog lights.

4WD/4×4: four-wheel drive. Increases traction in adverse conditions, e.g. mud, snow, ice, fields.

4WS: four-wheel steering. Increases maneuverability at high and low speed.

4/5/6sp: four/five/six-speed gearbox.

5 door: hatchback with four doors.

Fi: fuel injection, possibly mechanical.

Fully loaded: comes with all the manufacturer’s optional extras.

Full leather: leather everywhere.

Half leather: only on certain parts.

H/L(R)W/W: headlight (rear) wash wipe.

HT leads: High Tension leads which carry very high voltage. Do not touch. Keep any metal objects well away. Arcing or sparks jumping several inches have been seen. And felt!

IMMAC: meaning immaculate, not a hair removing cream but a hyperlative estimate of the general condition.

i: injection as in BMW 320i.

LHD: left hand drive.

LWB/SWB: long/short wheel base.

MPG: miles per gallon

LPG: liters per gallon

(UK) MOT: Ministry of Transport test certificate – but not necessarily proof of road worthiness.

NO CANVASSERS: companies who phone up advertisers and offer to sell their car for them. Only amusing when they call W-BTs.

O/D: overdrive. An extra gear or three, normally engaged by flicking a switch. Available on older cars.

OHC: overhead camshaft – A more efficient engine design. Almost all cars have them nowadays.

OVNO: or very near offer – an unrealistic seller.

PAS: power assisted steering.

(UK) PP or Pplate: private plate – also known as cherished or personalised number. Used harmlessly to disguise age of car from snooty neighbours; used by crooks to disguise the car’s history.

RAD/Rad: radio/radiator.

(R) Al/Immob: (remote) alarm/immobiliser.

(R) CL: (remote) central locking.

RHD: right hand drive.

s: seating capacity as in 5s – five seats.

SO: special order. Confirm with main dealer.

Spec: specification

Sal: saloon

SE: special equipment as in BMW 320SE.

TAPE: cassette player.

2000W STEREO: ear-shattering music system!

(UK) TAXED/TAX: road tax.

TC: twin cam/twin carb.

TD: turbo diesel – except Mercedes-Benz where it denote diesel estate.

UL: unleaded petrol.

v: number of valves, e.g. 12v, 16v, 24v.

VGC: very good condition.

(UK) V5: vehicle registration document.

(UK) VIN: vehicle identification number. This should be on a plate, underneath the bonnet and under the front windscreen, as well as pressed into various body panels. It could also be stamped on the door sills. It may even be engraved on all the window glass. Before you view, always confirm all the possible locations with the originalsupplying dealer – first.

(UK) VRM: vehicle registration mark – number plate. Some dealers supply new cars with the VRM printed on all the windows, others don’t. Just ask.

(UK) VRO: Vehicle Registration local Office.

(UK) VQ3: Vehicle query application reveals all the data on a car, which DVLA won’t confirm by phone.

WARRANTY: extended or private – offered as insurance lure by traders. If you take the lure, make sure it’s the manufacturer’s warranty. If it isn’t, ensure you read the small print first. Better still, try to find at least six other people who have been paid on a claim – before you commit yourself.


Roof rails: for attaching roof rack.

Roof box: fits on roof rack for extra luggage.

Self-level suspension: adjusts suspension for heavy loads.

Extra seats: two seats which fold out in luggage area. Once you are familiar with these abbreviations, car ads relay much more to you than just facts.



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