Buyers beware! Half of used vehicles checked turn out to have a hidden history

Drivers looking to buy a used car in 2019 need to be on their guard as figures from the RAC suggest more than half (52%) have a hidden history that could lead to problems for new owners.

A sample of RAC Vehicle History Checks covering more than 32,000 separate used cars for sale flagged up a multitude of possible issues that should make prospective buyers very wary before handing over their cash.

The most common issue was a change of number plate, with more than one-in-four (27.5%) vehicles analysed having recorded such a change. While this may simply be a switch to or from a personalised number plate, it could also be a sign that an unscrupulous former owner has tried to hide the vehicle’s true identity.

Next was the remarkable finding that nearly one-in-five (17.6%) vehicles were still in the process of being ‘paid off’ by previous owners despite being advertised for sale. This is something that should be a huge red flag for any buyer – it is likely to mean the car is still being leased or is legally still owned by a finance company under a hire purchase (HP) or personal contract purchase (PCP) arrangement, and cannot be sold on.

A surprising 14.2% of vehicles checked were deemed insurance write-offs – not the sort of vehicle most buyers would want to be parting with their money for – while 1.9% were either imports or exports, vehicles that warrant closer inspection as they must always be sold with particular documentation. A slightly smaller proportion (1.4%) of vehicles had had their colour changed at some point in their histories.

But perhaps most worryingly of all, a very small number for sale were either listed as stolen (0.2%) or technically scrapped (0.1%).

With used car values buoyant, the RAC is reminding drivers they need to be on their guard more than ever to ensure the money they are putting towards a car is cash well spent.

RAC Motoring Services spokesperson Francesca Mann said: “Drivers might be alarmed to see just how many vehicles for sale have hidden histories that could end up costing them dear should they decide to go ahead, but this is precisely why we make these checks in the first place – to give them the information they need to make the right choice.

“Forewarned is forearmed, and drivers that do their homework on vehicles put themselves in a much stronger position to negotiate on price, or simply walk away from the sale if they feel they are taking too great a risk. This is particularly relevant this time of year, as the arrival of 19-plate vehicles sees a rise in drivers seeking a good deal on used cars.

“We recommend every buyer insists on a comprehensive history check for any car they are looking to buy – they should ask to see one if buying through a dealer, or get their own if trawling used car advertisements. Any concerns should be raised directly with the seller before parting with any money.

“Of course, it is important to remember that red flags around things like a number plate change don’t necessarily signal bad news. Having this information to hand allows buyers to have an honest conversation with seller so that they can satisfy themselves nothing is awry. However, when it comes to things like discovering if a vehicle could still belong to a finance company despite being advertised for sale by a private seller – it is clear a history check could make the difference between a really good buy or a really bad one.

“And drivers looking for extra peace of mind before purchasing should consider the benefits of having the car professionally inspected by the RAC.”

Ten million drivers have now done retraining courses

The number of road users who have completed a driver retraining course since their introduction in 2010 has topped ten million.

Nine million of these have attended a speed aware course, 1.19 million of them in 2018 alone.

Last year 1.45 million people accepted a place on one of the eight courses sometimes offered by police as an alternative to a fine and points for more minor offences.

  • The other courses include:
  • The national motorway awareness course
  • What’s driving us?
  • Your belt – your life (online course)

Almost all the courses are run by private companies and the price of the courses can vary by type, location and provider. In 2017, NDORS (the organisation that administers the scheme) said fees ranged from £75 to £99.
Forty-five pounds out of each fee is returned to the police force which referred the offender.

Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said “This data suggests that, astonishingly, as many as one in four drivers has now been sent back to the classroom for breaking road traffic law – hopefully to emerge as ambassadors for better, more responsible motoring behaviors.

“While the logic of sending drivers who commit minor transgressions back to the classroom is clear, it begs the question of what should be done in a similar vein to tutor those found guilty of more serious breaches of the rules of the roads before they injure or kill themselves or others?”

Motorists say drink-drivers more likely to be caught at Christmas

Half of motorists think drink-drivers are more likely to be caught out during the run-up to Christmas than at any other time of the year, according to new research.

A study by the AA found that 48% of drivers felt those who drove while under the influence of alcohol were likely to be caught in December, whereas just 30 percent thought drink-drivers were likely to be apprehended at other times of the year.

In 2016 alone, drink-driving accidents claimed the lives of 220 people, while a further 6,700 were injured in alcohol-related crashes.

The figures also reveal that more than a third of drink-driving crashes occur between the hours of 9pm and 2am – the hours when drinkers tend to be leaving pubs, restaurants and bars.

Edmund King, the AA’s president, said police forces would ramp up drink-driving enforcement in December, and that drinking before driving wasn’t worth the risk.

“There are more temptations to drink and drive at this time of year but it should be avoided at all costs as it could cost your licence, your livelihood or your life,” he said.

“For years, police forces have put huge efforts into targeting drink driving, and their hard work is paying off as half of drivers feel there is more chance of being caught over the festive period. Therefore the message is simple – Don’t risk it! If you are going to drink, don’t drive and if you are going to drive, don’t drink.”

But it’s not just drink-driving that drivers believe police will crack down on this month. One third of the 20,000 drivers quizzed (35%) also said there was a strong chance of drug-drivers being caught in the final month of the year, compared with just 22% who thought those taking drugs before driving would be caught over the other 11 months.

By the same token, the study found that offences including using a handheld phone, failing to wear a seatbelt and careless driving were also thought to be more commonly enforced in December.

However, certain offences, including driving in bus lanes, driving without insurance and running red traffic lights, were thought to be less well enforced in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

“As we see more police on the roads this month, it also increases the likelihood of prosecutions for other offences, such as using a handheld mobile phone while driving or not wearing a seatbelt,” said King. “We want everyone to make it home for Christmas.”