Advice on buying a vehicle

Advice on buying a vehicle

Advice on buying a vehicle

If you're buying a vehicle privately and it's later identified as having been stolen, you might not have the right to own it. You could lose both the vehicle and the money you paid. If you buy a new pre-registered vehicle, the dealer must return the registration certificate (V5C) immediately so that the vehicle can be registered in your name.

The DVLA have a handy checklist for buyers of used vehicles to help you avoid becoming a victim of vehicle crime.

Advertisements and viewing

  • Beware of mobile phone numbers as they're virtually untraceable.
  • Advertisements specifying a time to call could indicate a phone box. Be suspicious.
  • View the vehicle in daylight, preferably at the registered keeper's home. Don't agree to the seller bringing the vehicle to your home or a public place.
  • Ensure that the owner is familiar with the vehicle and its controls.


  • Never buy a vehicle without a registration document or registration certificate, even if the seller says it has been sent to the DVLA for changes.
  • Hold the registration certificate up to the light: the 'DVLA' watermark should be contained within the layers of paper. Make sure that a fraudulent watermark hasn't been merely printed on to the surface of the paper. You can also contact the DVLA to check if a registration certificate is real.
  • Look out for stolen registration certificates. The DVLA has provided a range of serial numbers of known stolen registration certificates. If you find one that is in the range of BG8229501 to BG9999030 or BI2305501 to BI2800000, don't buy the vehicle and contact the police.
  • The registration certificate isn't a document of title; the person recorded might not be the legal owner.
  • Make sure that the person selling the vehicle has the right to do so.

Check the vehicle identity

  • Decide what make and model you're interested in and find out where the vehicle's identification number (VIN) should be.
  • Check that the 17-character VIN matches the VIN on the registration certificate.
  • Be suspicious if the VIN shows signs of having been tampered with.
  • If the VIN has been removed, ask why.
  • The VIN should be stamped in an even way somewhere on the vehicle, often under the bonnet or in the floor panel on the driver's side. Check the surrounding area for signs of any alteration.
  • A Q registration number suggests that the age or identity of a vehicle is unknown. The vehicle might be rebuilt from parts, some or all of which might not be new. This also applies to vehicles imported without evidence to show the vehicle's age.
  • If a registration mark or part VIN is etched on the windows, ensure it matches the registration certificate.

What to look for on the vehicle

  • Check carefully underneath stickers as they can be used to conceal etching.
  • Check whether the engine number matches the registration certificate.
  • Ensure the engine hasn't been interfered with, altered or changed.
  • Check if the locks differ. (Thieves often change locks they've damaged.)
  • Make sure there are no signs of forced entry.
  • See if the locking petrol cap been forced and replaced.

Get the vehicle inspected by a professional

  • Consider taking an independent qualified examiner with you to see the vehicle.

Check it out

  • Consider checking information about the vehicle through online and telephone services offered by the DVLA and private vehicle check companies.

Other advice

  • Never pay cash.
  • Be sure before you buy; if in doubt, walk away.

Related services

Copyright © 2024 Epoq Group Ltd. All trademarks acknowledged, all rights reserved

This website is operated by Epoq Legal Ltd, registered in England and Wales, company number 3707955, whose registered office is at 2 Imperial Place, Maxwell Road, Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, WD6 1JN. Epoq Legal Ltd is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA number 645296).

Our use of cookies

We use necessary cookies to make our site work. We would also like to set some optional cookies. We won't set these optional cookies unless you enable them. Please choose whether this site may use optional cookies by selecting 'On' or 'Off' for each category below. Using this tool will set a cookie on your device to remember your preferences.

For more detailed information about the cookies we use, see our Cookie notice.

Necessary cookies

Necessary cookies enable core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility. You may disable these by changing your browser settings, but this may affect how the website functions.

Functionality cookies

We'd like to set cookies to provide you with a better customer experience. For more information on these cookies, please see our cookie notice.