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Why get a history check?

Buying a used car takes time and research, but even when you think you’ve found the perfect car there are still checks to carry out.

There are many companies offering car history data checks and we’d absolutely recommend using one, even if a used car seller says this has already been carried out. Better to spend a few pounds and be safe than sorry – and checks can be carried out online, via mobile phone or by apps on tablet PCs.

At their most basic, a car history data check will tell you the make, model and confirm the registration belongs to a car of that description.

More advanced checks, which usually cost more money, will also tell you the car’s VIN (vehicle identification number), which is a much better way of identifying the car. The VIN is usually visible in the lower left corner of the windscreen on many modern cars, making it very difficult for thieves to change it and hide the true identity of a car.

As well as a the VIN number, a good car data check will tell you of the car is stolen, has been repaired following an accident or if there is outstanding finance still to be paid. Accident damage is divided into four categories, starting with D as the lowest for small dents and scrapes.

Category C damage is more major, but was deemed cost-effective to repair by the insurance company. These cars will generally be cheaper than non-damaged cars for sale to reflect the repair work on them and the higher insurance premium you will have to pay.

A Category B damaged car is one that has suffered severe impact, but there are parts that can be salvaged to use on other vehicles. Cars that fall into Category A are complete write-offs and must be scrapped so they can never be put back on the road. There is also a Category F class for cars that have been damaged by fire.

However, from 1 October 2017, the old Category A, B, C and D were replaced by:

  • A: Scrap
  • B: Break
  • S: Structurally damaged repairable
  • N: Non-structurally damaged repairable

The new categories reflect the complexity of total loss vehicles more clearly, with the focus on structural damage rather than cost of repair.

Cat A (scrap) and B (break) remain unchanged, while S (structural damage) and N (non-structural damage) replace the old C and D categories.

Guidance on salvaging motorcycles and quadricycles has been introduced and minimum qualifications are now required for all individuals who grade vehicle salvage.

A history check should tell you if the car is subject to outstanding finance from a previous owner. In law, the car is only as good as it is sold, which means if the seller still owed money to a finance company, the finance company owns the car and the seller should not have sold it without settling the finance.

In this instance, you may well lose the car and the money you spent buying it if you cannot contact the seller and get them to reimburse you.

Other useful information a history check should show up on your car will include its colour, engine capacity and when it was first registered. All of these details should tally with the seller’s description and point towards a car that is the genuine article.


There are some other ways you can suss out a car’s history which don’t involve spending any money. The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) keeps detailed records of all cars on the road and you can access this information online or over the phone (0906 185 8585).

You will need the car’s registration number and either it’s V5C registration document reference number or the test number from the MoT certificate or refusal certificate. Any honest seller should be happy to provide these when you tell them you want to check the vehicle history and identity.

A simple MoT history request will give you a rundown of the car’s MoT passes and failures, when the tests were carried out and the mileage reading on the odometer. Although quite basic, this information can be used to cross-reference the mileage showing on the car’s mileage counter and to verify what the seller tells you. This only works for MoTs going back to 2005 but still provides you with invaluable knowledge.

An online check with the DVLA will tell you if the car is subject to a statutory off road notice (SORN) and when it expires. Any car with a SORN should not be on the road as it may not have an MoT and it won’t be taxed.

Other points the DVLA check will confirm are the car’s carbon dioxide emissions and how much it will cost to tax. Again, these are small details, but ones you can check against the car you are thinking of buying to build up a full picture of its history and the honesty of the seller.

If you have the time, you can also fill in a V888 request form and send it to the DVLA to find out information about the registered keeper of a car.

This will give you the registered keeper’s details and those of previous owners, which again helps you establish a fuller picture of the car’s background. You can also request information the DVLA may hold about you if you are about to sell a car and want a clean bill of health for any buyer carrying out these checks.

As well as these checks, there is also the good old fashioned detective’s job of phoning any garages that show up in the car’s service records. With a little patience you can work out if the service history of the car matches the seller’s information.

All of these checks are readily available online and over the phone, and those from the DVLA are free, so there’s no excuse for not doing your homework. Make some basic checks and your dream car will not turn into a nightmare.


tonio    on 1 July 2016

Needs updating where reference to tax discs is made.

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