Half of used cars have hidden history

Drivers looking to buy a used car have been urged to be on their guard after a new study found that over half have a hidden history.

Based on a sample of more than 32,000 RAC Vehicle History Checks on used cars for sale in the UK, 52% had issues ranging from from outstanding finance to insurance write-offs which could cause problems for new owners.

The most common issue was a change of number plate, with more than one in four (27.5%) vehicles analysed having recorded such a change.

The RAC warned that, while this may simply be a switch to or from a personalised number plate, it could also be a sign that an unscrupulous former owner has tried to hide the vehicle's true identity.

Astonishingly, nearly one in five (17.6%) vehicles were still in the process of being 'paid off' by previous owners.

This was described as a "huge red flag" for any buyer as it could mean that it is legally still owned by a finance company under a hire purchase (HP) or personal contract purchase (PCP) arrangement, and cannot be sold on. Only in cases where the finance is a personal loan can the car legitimately be sold.

Another 14.2% of vehicles checked were deemed insurance write-offs. There are different categories of write-offs, ranging from those so badly damaged they must be scrapped to those with less serious damage but considered uneconomical to repair by insurers.

In any case, it's best to get a professional inspection if you are considering buying a write-off.

Less common issues highlighted by the checks included imported cars, which must be sold with particular documentation, and a change of colour, which could indicate a re-spray after an accident.

A very small number of vehicles were even found to be listed as stolen (0.2%) or technically scrapped (0.1%).

Discussing the findings, RAC Motoring Services spokesperson Francesca Mann said: "Forewarned is forearmed, and drivers that do their homework on vehicles put themselves in a much stronger position to negotiate on price, or simply walk away from the sale if they feel they are taking too great a risk."

To insure a car new or used, visit our car insurance page to get a quote.