by Gauk
Wed, Aug 17, 2016 5:58 AM

used motors car guideThe most essential questions to ask when buying a used car Talk-u-thru-check-list

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


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.

"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.

published by Gauk