Buying a used car should be an exciting experience. To make sure it is, follow our tips below to avoid buying a car that has a hidden past, turns out be stolen or is illegal

Stolen vehicles

  • The onus is on buyers to ensure their next vehicle isn’t a stolen one. Even if a vehicle is bought in good faith, if it turns out to be stolen, the police can seize it; and, if it has been bought on finance, the lender can still demand payment.
  • Stolen vehicles are usually passed on with their identity changed, but there are some golden rules to help reduce the risk of buying a ‘hot’ vehicle:
  • Always invest in a history check. It’ll immediately reveal if a car is stolen or written-off
    See an original copy of the Car registration document.
  • Don’t buy a car without its Car registration document. Stolen vehicles are often sold this way, with the seller claiming it has been sent to the for updating. It may be the case, but there’s no way of checking
  • Ensure the seller’s address on the Car registration document matches the one on their driving licence or utility bill
  • Check the car’s number plate and Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) match those recorded on the Car registration document


  • A clocked vehicle is one where an unscrupulous seller has ‘wound back’ (ie reduced) the mileage recorded on the kilometer, generally to increase the car’s value.
  • That means vehicles with high mileage could be passed off as having a low mileage to an unwitting buyer, who then pays over the odds. However, spotting a clocked vehicle can be straightforward with little more than a bit of detective work.
  • Check the car’s general condition matches its age and mileage. Wear on the seats and steering wheel or lots of stone chips can point to a high mileage
  • If the car has a patchy service history – or none at all – a history check can help verify the mileage
  • Contact previous owners to verify the recorded mileage when they sold the vehicle

Vehicle ringing

A ‘Ringer’ is a stolen vehicle that has had its identification numbers replaced by a set from another written-off model and is supplied with bogus documentation.

Ringers have their VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) replaced, so look for evidence of tampering around where the number is recorded. You can find the number on a small plate riveted under the bonnet and stamped on the vehicle’s chassis, under the carpet beside the front seat. In addition, the VIN will sometimes appear in the door pillar or at the base of the windscreen.

If you buy a ringer, it doesn’t legally belong to you, and will be returned to the owner or insurance company if and when it is traced back to you.