Free and Cheap Car History Checks

Use our expert advice to discover how to uncover the history of a car for free, plus read details of how to get extensive background checks at a bargain price from major providers like HPI and My Car Check.

What is a car history check?

A car history check allows your to find out a host of information about a car. All you need to do is input a car's registration plate number into a service like that provided by the DVLA for free.

This will reveal a car's tax and MoT status, when it was registered, and basic details like its engine size, colour and when it was built.

However, if you opt for a paid service as detailed below, you receive much more information, including things like whether the car has any outstanding financial issues, if it's ever been scrapped or stolen, and details of its previous owners.

Why should I get one?

Put simply, knowing the history of a car you're interested in buying, and any potential dark secrets it may contain, is essential to giving peace of mind before you put down any cash.

As with so many things, there's more to meets the eye. So while your dream car may look the part, it may be hiding a nasty surprise underneath, which only a detailed car history check can uncover.

Where can I get a car history check from?

There are many companies offering car history data checks and we’d 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. It's extremely easy to undertake a check online or via smartphone, and money you won't regret spending for that all-important peace of mind.

Car GuideCg .co .uk _blue

Car Guide aims to redefine car checks by focusing on the information that helps buyers save time and money, while also highlighting future risks.

Car Guide is powered by machine learning (artificial intelligence), which can predict what is likely to go wrong with a car and which components are likely to fail in the future. Car Guide also looks at any previous and upcoming services and repairs, allowing motorists not only to better negotiate the car price, but also plan more accurately for future expenditure. Car Guide also offers ex-taxi and an unrecorded salvage check.

How much does a Car Guide report cost?

Car Guide’s buyers report costs just £9.99 and it includes the typical data you would expect, such as outstanding finance, if a car's been stolen, scrapped or written-off, as well as previous and upcoming services and repairs. Any additional reports then cost £5.99.

The second option is to buy 30-days access for £14.99, which includes two full buyers reports. It also allows you to add an unlimited number of vehicles to a shortlist and check information like if a car has been imported or exported, if it has any number plate or colour changes, and it sfull technical details, MoT history and more. Additional reports cost £4.99 with this option.

My Car Check  Mycarcheck (1)

My Car Check is a well-established car (and other vehicle) history check provider, operating since 2005.

It's one of the cheaper on the market, with a range of options, including a free check, a basic check for £3.99 and a comprehensive check for £9.99. Multicheck options are available too. The free check gives you just the vehicle details, its valuation, and MoT status and history, while the basic check will tell you if it's stolen, exported, a write-off, scrapped, plus the free check information.

How much does a My Car Check Car report cost?

There are three levels of pricing for My Car Check, including - unusually in this market - a free option. There are also three Multicheck comprehensive options, which are worth a look if you have a long shortlist - 5 checks cost £30 (£6 per check), 12 checks cost £50 (£4.17 per check), and 20 checks cost £75 (£3.75 per check).

 

Single check cost

Multiple check cost

Free history check

Free

-

Basic history check

£3.99

-

Comprehensive check

£9.99

£30 (for five), £50 (for twelve), £75 (for twenty)

HPI Check Download (1)

HPI is the best-known vehicle history check company - so much so that "HPI check" has become the generic term for checking a car's background.

There are three levels of cover: basic, HPI Check and Multicheck. The basic service will tell you whether a car has finance outstanding, has been stolen, scrapped or written-off and has been exported or imported.

The full HPI check has a £30,000 guarantee and adds finance agreement details, mileage discrepancies, MoT history, write-off details, the number of previous owners, CO2 emissions, tax info, a stolen Logbook check, if it's recorded as scrapped, a market valuation, an indication of past and future values, and full number plate change history.

HPI offers a clone check on its full HPI check service, too.

How much does an HPI History Check cost?

There are two levels of pricing for an HPI car history check - £9.99 for the basic service and £19.99 for the full HPI check. 

As with other vehicle history check providers, there's a discount on offer for multiple checks. HPI charges £29.97 for three checks that can be redeemed within two years.

 

Single check cost

Multiple check cost

Basic HPI check*

£9.99

-

Full HPI check*

£19.99

£29.97 (for three)

RAC Vehicle History ChecksLogo (6)

A full RAC vehicle check gives you a complete history check of the car including 10 alerts covering outstanding finance, if it's been stolen, written off or scrapped, and any mileage discrepancies.

It also includes common breakdown reasons by make and model, common MoT failures, a vehicle valuation, average running costs and a guarantee of up to £30,000 to cover your car history check data.

How much does an RAC Vehicle History Check cost?

A basic RAC check is £9.99 while the full check, which includes everything listed above, is £14.99. Discounts are available if you're an RAC member.

 

Single check cost

Multiple check cost

Basic check

£9.99

-

Full history check

£14.99 (£11.24 for RAC members)

Five checks for £29.97 (£22.48 for RAC members)

Total Car Check History ChecksTotal Car Check Copy

Total Car Check History may not be the best-known of the vehicle history and data check companies, but it does claim to be the cheapest full check - both for individual checks and those done as a multiple. 

How much does a Total Car History Check cost?

The basic £3.99 Silver Check will confirm a handful of details, such as mileage and MoT history and whether the car has been written off, while the £8.99 full check will tell you if it has outstanding finance, if it's been scrapped or stolen, a VIN check, a valuation and a £30,000 guarantee.

 

Single check cost

Multiple check cost

Silver Basic Check*

£3.99

£9.99 (for five)

Gold Full Check*

£8.99

£14.99 (for three) or £19.99 (for five)

Instant Car Check History ChecksLogo -instantcarcheck

Instant Car Check is another provider that offers cheaper checks than the established market leaders. It's a partner company of HPI, and uses the latter's data for vehicle finance information.

How much does an Instant Car History Check cost?

The £2.95 basic check will confirm if the car has been written off, stolen, has outstanding finance, if it's been scrapped and any number plate changes.

The Gold Full check will determine the previous number of owners, MoT history, and if the VIN and chassis numbers match. You'll also get a clone check and valuation. An extra £4.99 will get an outstanding finance check, an extra £2.99 will show the mileage history to help you prevent buying a clocked car, and a further optional £2.99 check shows whether all safety recalls have been carried out.

 

Single check cost

Multiple check cost

Basic Check*

£2.95

-

Gold Full Check*

£5.99

£9.99 (for five) 

Rapid Car Check  LOGO3

Rapid Car Check admits it may not be the cheapest history check company around but says that its full 'deluxe' check is comprehensive and includes a stolen vehicle check, previously written off check, mileage discrepancies check, import/export check, colour change check and reg plate change check.

How much does a Rapid Car Check report cost?

There are three different options with Rapid Car Check including a free 'Initial' option. This checks the vehicle's details and the last three MoT reports, or essentially the information you can get from the DVLA.

A standard history check is £2.95 but does not include a valuation, finance check or £30,000 data guarantee. The deluxe history check covers everything and is £8.99.

 

Single check cost

Initial history check

Free

Standard history check

£2.95

Deluxe history check

£8.99

Can I check a car's MoT check and mileage history for free? 

You can't get a full car data history check for free in its entirity, but you can get a surprising amount of information on the background of a car for free - including its MoT history, mileage and whether it has road tax. To get all this information, you simply need to enter your registration number below. 

Check your car's MOT history

If you can get the registration number in advance, you can check online before you travel to see the car, saving a wasted trip. If the registration is covered up in photographs, contact the seller and ask for it. If they seem reluctant then this should set alarm bells ringing.

This basic check will give you information such as when the car was first registered. More usefully, it will tell you if the car is subject to a statutory off road notice (SORN), plus if it has a valid MoT and when it expires. Any car that is SORN'd should not be on the road as it may not have an MoT and it won’t be taxed.

What other car history check searches can I do for free?

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.

Why get a car history check?

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. That's all info you can get from the DVLA so it's not worth paying someone else for.

However, the advanced checks, which admittedly cost more money, are genuinely useful. These will 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 if the car is stolen, has been repaired following an accident or if there is outstanding finance still to be paid. Any markers in these areas and it's time to walk away.

Remember, if a seller owes money on a car to a finance company, the finance company legally owns the car and the seller does not have the right to sell it without settling the finance.

The problem is, if you've bought a car with outstanding finance, it will likely be repossessed, leaving you without a car and out of pocket by what could be tens of thousands of pounds if the seller does a runner.

What accident damage will a car history check highlight?

When it comes to repairs after accident damage, this is divided into four categories, starting with N as the lowest for small dents and scrapes.

Category S 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. 

You may also be familiar with the old Category A, B, C and D designations for vehicles that have been written off by insurance companies. These are still sometimes used, but were officially replaced in 2017. The current categories are:

  • A: Scrap
  • B: Break
  • S: Structurally damaged repairable (formerly Category C)
  • N: Non-structurally damaged repairable (formerly Category D)

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

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.

Where can I get a valuation for my car?

If you're buying a car, you'll not only want to check out its background with a car history check, but also make sure that you're not paying over the odds. We offer a quick and easy valuation check service - simply enter the registration number of the car below to get yours.

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Ask HJ

How can I find out if a car I bought was previously involved in an accident?

How do I check if my car was involved in an accident?
Do a HPI check (https://www.hpi.co.uk/car-write-off.html) or do an Experian check (https://www.experian.co.uk/automotive/autocheck.html). There are plenty of services that will check a used vehicle's history, but the best ones will check for accident history, whether there's outstanding finance, mileage discrepancies that could signify the car has been clocked etc.
Answered by Georgia Petrie
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Ask HJ

Are Category X cars recorded on HPI?

I was just wondering if category X cars are recorded or listed on HPI, please? I have the chance to buy a car from my insurance company but wanted to make sure it won't affect the value. I don't know if they can remove markers or if it isn't listed as such. A lot of auction sites seem to say that it's not recorded so just wanted to check if you know. Thank you.
A category X vehicle is considered the most desirable of salvage categories because these cars have been subject to an insurance claim, but often while sustaining minimal or zero damage. Most commonly, this is because the car has been stolen, eventually causing the insurance company to pay off the owner. But it's my understanding that once the vehicle has been repaired, there's no record of the initial damage and cars are not recorded on the HPI register. If they are, they’re sometimes recorded under a different category - like Cat N. The fact that they’re not HPI registered can make it more difficult to look into the history of an individual vehicle. However, if you’re confident that you can repair any problems that may arise then it's worth considering.
Answered by Georgia Petrie
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What scams should I be aware of when buying a car?

No matter how careful you are when buying a used car, there are plenty of dishonest sellers out there willing to take your money without providing what they promise. There are also lots of dodgy sellers who will sell you a car that isn’t what it’s meant to be.

The bottom line with any car selling scam is you could be left seriously out of pocket, without a car and - at worst - paying off the cost of the car but with nothing to show for it. Here’s our rogues rundown of the top five car selling scams.

Scam One: Clocking

It’s the oldest car selling scam in the book, but that doesn’t stop clocking from being very profitable for dishonest car sellers. Even the digital mileage counters used by most modern cars don’t stop crooked sellers from making a car appear less leggy than it really is. As modern cars are now capable of very high miles with little visible wear and tear, clocking is as attractive as ever to criminals and can be managed with just a laptop.

Check with the DVLA for previous MoTs that show the car’s mileage and check the service history of the car to see if it tallies with the claimed mileage. It’s always worth checking the steering wheel, driver’s seat and pedals for wear that is disproportionate to the claimed mileage as a sign of a clocked car.

Scam Two: Cloning

Car cloning is a grey area when it comes to car history checks, with the majority of companies refusing to offer any form of protection against it. This is because it’s almost impossible to tell a clone apart from the genuine article, without a physical inspection. 

If you do pay for a history check that provides some form of guarantee against car cloning then it’s vital that you read the terms and conditions. In all likelihood, the small print will insist that the car buyer makes some basic but important checks before they purchase the vehicle. And like any insurance product, if you don’t abide by the terms and conditions the policy will be invalid.

First and foremost, the vehicle should be viewed at the address that’s listed on the V5C logbook document. You should also ask to see two forms of ID from the seller, with car history check firms usually insisting on a photo card driving licence and utility bill. This will provide a trail back to the owner, should anything go wrong.

You will be asked to check that the VIN (vehicle identity number) on the V5C matches the number on the vehicle - you can usually see the VIN on the dashboard and/or plate on the car somewhere. Check for signs of damage or alteration to the VIN number. And look at the numberplate for evidence it has been recently removed or replaced.

Finally, never assume that the logbook V5C document is proof of ownership. It isn’t. The V5C is only a registration document, and only a signed purchase receipt from the previous owner constitutes as legitimate proof of ownership. A legitimate, honest seller should (at the very least) provide details of the vehicle’s previous owner. Many sellers will have a comprehensive history file that tracks the vehicle’s history all the way back to the original dealership.

Scam Three: Stolen cars

Stealing a modern car is very difficult without the keys thanks to high tech security technology that now comes as standard. This means thieves are more likely to steal the keys to the car so they can just unlock it and drive off, which means they also have the keys to give to you as supposed proof they own the car. Stolen cars are often advertised at temptingly low prices, which can blind some buyers to a car’s dubious credentials.

This is where a car history data check will help to show up the car as stolen, so long as the owner has logged it with police and are not on holiday for two weeks. If you buy a stolen car, it will be taken from you by the police and your insurance company may not compensate you for your lost money.

So it pays to carry out a history check but also to do some research of your own via the DVLA website or on the phone. Make sure the owner’s details match the seller’s and ask to see all of the car’s documents and service history. A genuine seller will have all of this prepared for selling the car and be happy to show it to you. If the seller is reluctant, be on your guard and ready to walk away.

Scam Four: Money transfers

The internet means many buyers look much further afield when looking for their next used car. This means crooked sellers take advantage of this and ask for you to send money to a third party as a token of good faith that you will turn up to view the car. If a seller says you can pay a deposit so they don’t sell it to someone else, you should be suspicious.

A common scam is for the seller to advertise the car at a cheap price to attract buyers who will be blinded by the great deal and not do their research. They will even provide you with a registration number that checks out properly with car history data checks, but this car will not belong to them - the car they have advertised will likely be fictitious.

If you’re asked to send money to a third party who will hold the cash until you agree to buy the car, the chances are you will have been scammed the moment you send the money. Even if you are asked to send the money to a family member you trust and only have to send a copy of the receipt to the seller as proof, the criminal seller can often still access the cash and defraud you.

Often this sort of scam involves a car that is abroad at the time of the sale, or too far away for you view before paying in cash, by cheque or by banker’s draft. Another warning sign is poor spelling and grammar in any emails exchanged with the seller as many of these criminals are based abroad.

Scam Five: Dealers posing as private sellers

Car dealers and private sellers must both abide by the law, but some unscrupulous dealers will pose as a private seller to avoid their legal commitments. A dealer must tell you about any faults with the car by law and provide a three month warranty. A private seller is not obliged to do either of these things, though they cannot lie to you because the Sale of Goods Act gives you protection against this.

A dishonest dealer will ask you to meet them somewhere neutral, such as a supermarket car park. If they are not willing to show you the car at their home address, you should ask why and be suspicious. A history data check may not show up a dealer as a registered keeper, but asking about the car’s history and service record should show up any inconsistencies.

One of the oldest tricks on the book when phoning up about a used car is to say: ‘I’m phoning about the car for sale.’ A private seller is unlikely to have more than one car for sale, while a dealer will have several. Dishonest dealers may have a mobile phone specifically for each car they are selling so they know which car you are asking about.

Ask lots of questions about the car’s background and history – how long they have owned it, why are they selling, when was it last MoT’d and serviced, how worn are the tyres are, etc. A real private seller will know the answers off the top of their head. When you view the car, check the last registered keeper is the person selling the car. Some sellers will say they are selling the car on behalf of a friend or relative. If that’s the case, ask to speak to that person and ask why they are not selling for themselves.

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