Used Car Checks


What to look for, What to check

From handy hints on how to spot if a car is stolen to alterations on the mileage, here’s our essential list of questions to ask, and items to check when you’re viewing a used car.

Get a Car Data Check

If you don’t feel confident about carrying out any of these checks or if you just want a second opinion, we offer car checking services.

An AA Car Data Check will corroborate many of the reference numbers and documents related to the vehicle.

  • VRM/VIN match – the CDC will check whether the vehicle registration mark (VRM) from the vehicle and the VIN/chassis number are registered to each other by the DVLA
  • V5C/logbook – the check will also use the V5C/logbook serial number and issue date and match them against a list supplied by DVLA as belonging to the batch of V5C documents stolen from DVLA over the past 4 years
  • Registered keeper – the buyer should make sure they are buying from the registered keeper as shown on the V5C document
  • Homework
    • V5C – the previous keeper’s details are on the V5C – you can write to them to verify that they owned the vehicle, and to check their ownership experience. Previous keepers have no vested interest in the vehicle, so you should be able to rely on their comments
      • Did they service it regularly?
      • Did they do much mileage in it?
      • Did they have any major servicing work done it?
      • Did they modify the vehicle in any way?
    • Service history – make sure the service history runs consecutively. Use the dealer stamps to contact the dealer and verify the work done, and the mileage at each service. Most dealerships should keep these records electronically and should be able to call up the vehicle service records for review.



Box to tick Can the seller show you the V5C vehicle registration document/ logbook? You won’t be able to tax the car without it.

Box to tick Is the seller the registered keeper shown on the V5C/logbook? If not, why are they selling it for someone else?

Box to tick Does the registration document have a watermark?

Box to tick Are there any spelling mistakes on the registration document?

Box to tick Do the VIN (vehicle identification number), engine number and colour match what’s on the V5C/logbook?

Box to tick Does the number plate match what’s on the V5C/logbook?

Box to tick Has the VIN plate been tampered with (it should be stamped onto the body or in the engine compartment)?

Box to tick If there are VIN numbers etched on glass are they all the same and do they match those on the VIN plate and V5C?

Box to tick Can you see deliberate scratches on glass to remove etched-in marks?

Box to tick Does the fuel filler look as if it has been forced or replaced?

Box to tick Are there any signs of forced entry, damaged or different locks, suggesting they’ve been replaced?

Box to tick Does the seller have a current MOT certificate and certificate of insurance?


Box to tick Does the mileage roughly tie in with the age and appearance of the car?

Box to tick Are there stone chips across the front of the bonnet, grille and bumper that could indicate lots of motorway journeys?

Box to tick Are there worn screws in the dashboard suggesting that the instruments might have been tampered with? (modern digital odometers may be tampered with electronically so such clues won’t exist)

Box to tick Does the mileage recorded on the service records, MOT (Ministry of Transport test) certificates and other documents increase at a consistent rate year after year? Is it consistent with the current mileage?

Accident Damage?

Box to tick Are there signs of inconsistent gaps between panels or mismatched colours on doors, bonnet and tailgate which could indicate extensive repairs?

Box to tick Is the paint finish even across the car?

Box to tick Are there traces of spray paint on door handles, window seals and mouldings?

Box to tick Are there signs that the car’s colour has been changed? (Look under carpets and in other hidden areas in particular.)

Box to tick Are there signs of unusual looking welding under the bonnet or in the boot?


Box to tick Are the tyres (including the spare) in good condition? Check there’s no sign of excessive or uneven wear or damage and bear in mind that tyres with less than 3mm of tread will have to be replaced soon.

Box to tick Do all the seatbelts operate correctly? Check there are no cuts or fraying that could affect the way they work.

Box to tick If airbags are fitted, Check that warning lights operate as described in the handbook – normally they will come on with the ignition and then go out?

Test Drive

Box to tick Are the brakes effective or does it take a long time or a lot of effort to stop?

Box to tick Is the braking even or can you feel the car pull to one side?

Box to tick Are there any unusual noises when you brake?

Box to tick Is the handbrake effective?

Box to tick Is the steering heavy? Can you feel it vibrate or pull to one side?

Box to tick If ABS is fitted, does the warning light go out after the engine is started?


Box to tick Are there any abnormal noises when the engine is started from cold?

Box to tick Does the oil warning light go out as soon as the engine starts?

Box to tick Are there signs of excessive visible exhaust emissions?

  • White water vapour from the exhaust is normal while the engine is cold
  • Blue smoke isn’t normal – that’s oil burning
  • Don’t worry about faint blue smoke from diesels, but black smoke is serious

Box to tick Is the clutch in good condition? If you hear a noise when you press down on the clutch, this could mean the release bearing is worn and likely to fail. If the clutch bites more than halfway up, you may need to have it replaced.

Box to tick Is the catalytic converter in good condition? Look for a recent emissions test, either alone or as part of an MOT. This will confirm that emissions are within the stringent limits applied to modern cars.

Box to tick Is there sludge on the underside of the oil filler cap? This could indicate poor servicing or predominantly short journey use.

Box to tick Is the oil level correct? Too low shows neglect; too high could be an indication that the engine is using oil though it may simply have been over filled in error.

Box to tick Has the cam belt been replaced according to the manufacturer’s recommended intervals? If you’re not sure then replace it anyway – though not a cheap repair it is much cheaper than a new engine!

Locks and Windows

Box to tick Do all the locks, including central locking and remote control, work properly?

Box to tick Do all windows, including any sunroof, open/close normally?

Box to tick Have you got all the right keys? Check the handbook to see which keys were provided when the car was new. Modern keys are expensive to replace, particularly the coloured ‘master’ key provided by some manufacturers to programme new spare keys to the car.


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