Motorists risk £6bn a year

Vehicle history data from the RAC reveals that nine out of 10 motorists are taking on unnecessary risk when it comes to vetting the next car in their life, as just 10% of used car buyers bother to check a car’s history before buying.

With 2.8m used cars sold privately every year that means that over 2.5m are being bought without checking into their past history. With the average value of a car up for private sale at £2,465 that means that buyers are spending over £6.1bn each year on used cars that may have nasty secrets lurking in their pasts.

The data from the RAC Car Passport service showed that out of a sample of over 21,000 checks almost one quarter (23%) highlighted serious issues with a vehicle’s history that should be of significant concern to any buyer. These included: one in eight with outstanding finance (12.5%); one in 10 (9.4%) which had been recorded as an insurance write-off; one in 100 (0.8%) which had a colour change; one in 1,000 recorded as having been scrapped (0.1%); and one in 2,000 that were marked as stolen (0.05%).

Issue Number Percentage Rate
Outstanding finance 2,655 12.59% 1 in 8
Insurance write off 1,977 9.37% 1 in 10
Change of colour 180 0.85% 1 in 100
Scrapped 24 0.11% 1 in 1000
Stolen 10 0.05% 1 in 2000
Number plate change 5,815 27.57% 1 in 4
Mileage discrepancies 1,078 5.11% 1 in 20
Import/export 132 0.63% 1 in 200
No issue/clean car 9,224 43.73% 2 in 5
Total 21,095

A separate study of drivers who had purchased an RAC Car Passport data check** found that one in three (33%) decided not to purchase the car they were looking at based on the information they received in the report. These savvy buyers potentially saved thousands of pounds by avoiding buying a ‘lemon’ – the term used to describe a vehicle with a pre-existing fault or suspect history – simply by running the 60-second online check.

Happily, two thirds (67%) of motorists went on to buy the vehicle that they had originally been smitten by after completing the check and almost half (48%) of these had the confidence to complete the deal in under 48 hours.

Car data checks such as the RAC Car Passport raise alerts which should make a potential buyer think twice about buying the car and demand a clear explanation and paper trail to explain the issue.

RAC Car Passport managing director Robert Diamond said, ‘These figures reveal the risks used-car buyers are taking by not obtaining a simple car data check to uncover any suspect history their intended purchase may be hiding. Buying a car can be a stressful experience because of the sums of money involved so it makes sense to find out as much as you can about a car’s history as it may just save you thousands of pounds.’

‘The RAC Car Passport is a wise investment because it gives buyers greater insight into a car’s past, enabling them to either proceed with their purchase with confidence or back out without getting their fingers burned. Our analysis of shows very clearly that a significant number of people have done the latter by using the information in the RAC Car Passport report to avoid buying a ‘lemon’ – saving them a great deal of money and stress in the process.’

Here’s a list of typical car data check alerts and advice on how to address them:

  • Outstanding finance – make sure the seller has paid off the finance in full
  • Written off – here you need to know your ABC (and D!). There are four classes of ‘write off’ – category A and B shouldn’t be on the road and are illegal to drive – avoid and report it! C and D mean that it wasn’t financially worthwhile for an insurance company to repair the damage – you may grab yourself a bargain but proceed with caution and get a professional vehicle inspection first
  • Colour change – this may just mean a change in fashion – but more often it means a re-spray after an accident. Again, get a professional inspection before you buy
  • Imports – while only one in 200 cars checked by the RAC were identified as imports, they require a much closer inspection of the paper trail as imported cars require specific documentation