RAC Cars News


How to check the history of a used car

By raccars Published

Used Car

Let's be honest, the used car market can be a free-for-all and horror stories abound. That chap down the pub who bought a car and discovered the previous owner hadn't paid off his finance agreement, or your neighbour who bought a car and found that it had been previously declared an insurance write-off.

These days it pays to perform a thorough check on the history of any car you are thinking of buying. Some dealers offer a history check as part of the deal but if you are buying privately or have been stung in the past and just want to take the 'belt and braces' approach, it's best to undertake your own investigation.

One way of doing this is through the company HPI Ltd and similar checking services offered by other companies. RAC Car Passport also offers a comprehensive vehicle check, providing you with vital information regarding your car's history. These checks are generically referred to as 'HPI' checks but there are a number of ways in which you can investigate a car's history.

What's included in a vehicle history check?

HPI checks can include information about outstanding finance, car thefts, if a car has been written off or scrapped, mileage discrepancies and more. Modern history check services have access to so much online data that the service covers up to 80 different checks.


You should expect a vehicle history report to cover any outstanding money owed on the car through dealer finance, logbook loans or any other official lending service. If the check shows any outstanding monies owed on the car, you will not be its legal owner because it still belongs to the finance company.

Write-offs and scrap status

Some cars are advertised as a category C or D insurance write-off, which means that the insurer deemed them uneconomical to repair but not necessarily dangerous. If you know you are buying a car with a write-off notice in its history, that's fine, but a history check can confirm any insurance write-off information. Similarly, insurance categories A and B, which are for unrepairable cars which should have been scrapped, will also show up in a history check.

Theft, mileage and MOTs

You will be notified as to any incidents of theft which were recorded on the Police National Computer and how much mileage has been recorded on the car in a lifetime of MOT tests. You may be able to check this if the previous owner has all previous MOT certificates but it's far better to have official confirmation.

Previous owners

A history check can also tell you how many previous owners have been recorded, so you can be sure that you really are getting 'only one careful owner' rather than a succession of speed demons. Any changes to the original number plate will also be recorded, in addition to identifying whether the car was actually built for a foreign market and should have been exported or was originally an import to the UK.

RAC Car Passport

A good history check should also give you information about the car's running costs. The RAC's Car Passport vehicle check also includes common breakdown information for any particular make and model, in addition to common reasons for an MOT failure, plus an independent review of the vehicle by 'What Car?' and a Glass's valuation. The information given in the RAC Car Passport is covered by a £30,000 guarantee, and you will also receive a helpful inspection and buying checklist.

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