Checking the history of a motor vehicle

Every year, thousands of people buy second-hand motor vehicles that have had their mileage reduced, are hiding serious accident damage or are not legally the seller’s property.
Checking the history makes sense before parting with your money.

What could a vehicle check reveal?

1. Is it worth the price?

As a private buyer, it is sometimes very difficult to know whether the vehicle you are interested in is overpriced. Using standard industry information which is updated every month, a check can tell you the current market value for an average example of the car you’re considering. This could help you to negotiate with greater confidence or even gain a fairer price.

2. Have the number plates been changed?

Personalised plates are becoming more popular and it is now quite common for a plate to have been changed. Most are perfectly innocent, but a plate could also be changed to try to hide a vehicle’s true past, such as accident damage.

Using information supplied by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) and Driver and Vehicle Licensing Northern Ireland (DVLNI), a check can tell you whether a vehicle has undergone one or more plate changes and could give you the history in each occasion.

3. Has the vehicle’s mileage been changed?

This is known as clocking and it’s a criminal offence for a motor trader to misrepresent important parts of a vehicle’s description, such as the mileage reading. A check will use information from many different sources to compare the reading you provide with the millions of readings already on the database. If a problem is found, the check will reveal all the previous readings relating to that vehicle held on file.

If you think that you have found a car that has been ‘clocked’, you should report this to your local Trading Standards office.

4. Is this car a write-off?

If the vehicle has been declared as a total loss, popularly known as a ‘write-off’, this means it has almost certainly been involved in a major accident and then repaired.

A check can provide information on vehicles that have been declared total losses by insurers or are reported to the DVLA as having been scrapped. Many of these cars can be safely repaired and put back on the road, but others will always be unsafe. If you know about the history of a vehicle, you will be able to ask a professional to investigate the damage and make sure that your vehicle is safe.

5. If there is outstanding finance on a vehicle and you buy it, you may never legally own it!

We would never advise customers to buy vehicles that have finance (such as a loan) left to pay on them. Depending on the nature of the agreement, you could lose the vehicle.

Finance companies use agencies to register their interest in vehicles that are the subject of a finance agreement. A check will tell you if finance has been secured on the vehicle and if it still needs to be paid. If finance is recorded, you will be able to find out which company it is with, when it was taken out, how long for and what type of finance it is.

6. If the vehicle has been stolen, you may have to give it up to the police!

Any vehicle with a stolen logbook and MOT certificate is likely to be illegitimate in some other way as well. For example, the car itself might have been stolen, the number plates might belong to another car, or the mileage on the car might have been reduced. If this turns out to be the case, you risk losing both the vehicle and all the money you paid for it. Also, a car with a forged MOT will be in very poor mechanical condition.

A check can get information from the Police National Computer, and will easily confirm whether a vehicle has been stolen.

If a car is written off and the insurance company pays the owner for the vehicle, the insurance company becomes the owner of the car. A check can tell you if this has happened.

Car-rental firms are just one of many types of organisation in the motor trade that register their vehicles to protect them. A check can tell you if a car being offered for sale belongs to one of these organisations.

Some service providers have a facility for checking documents which means that you can check the logbook’s issue date and serial number, and the number on the MOT.

If you are offered a stolen vehicle for sale, or a vehicle accompanied by stolen or forged documents, you should contact the DVLA or a local police station.

Agencies that offer history checks

AutoCheck from Experian

CheckABike (for motorcycles only) from Experian

HPI Limited


You can find contact details for your local Trading Standards office at

You can contact the DVLA on 0870 241 1878.

Please note that not all agencies offer a full range of services so check what’s on offer before you buy.

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