Used car prices have surged amid new car shortages over the last few months, with buyers opting to buy a used model now rather than wait for months for delivery of a brand new car. Alongside this boom in used car sales, however, has been a rise in fraud.

Should you buy a used car?

Firstly, it’s important to consider why and if you want to purchase a used car. Buying a used car is a brilliant option for purchasing a good car without breaking the bank. As well as being more affordable, used cars tend to depreciate less than new cars and so may hold much of their value if you decide to sell on the vehicle in the future.

However, there are inherently more risks that come with buying second-hand. It is difficult know how well the car has been maintained or whether some parts may soon need replacing. You may find a great deal on the private market, but if you you want to put your mind at ease then you should always make sure that you are using a reputable used-car merchant. Reputable dealerships will always disclose the full history of the car, which means you are less likely to run into any surprises down the road, and you will be safe in the knowledge that you have avoided the chance of being scammed.

How to minimise your risk of fraud

1. Understand online selling platforms

Although online platforms such as eBay, Gumtree, and Facebook Marketplace may be great for a variety of goods, they are not as well suited to buying a used car. It is critical that you have the full history of a car and have the time to examine it in person before you decide to buy, but these generalised marketplaces are designed to let people buy and sell simple goods with ease rather than complex machines like automobiles.

Moreover, crooks also use these platforms to target unsuspecting buyers, and with the price of used cars often over four figures they may try to convince you to pay for the car in advance or outside the platform where you would have even less protection. The best thing to do in this case is to visit the vehicle in person before you make an offer. Then, you can be sure you’re not handing over money for a vehicle that doesn’t exist or doesn’t belong to the seller.

2. Ensure you have all the required documentation

Any legitimate car seller will ensure they have all the required documentation prepared. This should include:

  • The car logbook – this will confirm to the DVLA that you’ve sold the car
  • Proof of purchase and reservation – the proof of purchase is for the seller, and the proof of reservation should go to the buyer
  • Service history – this should be included to show that the car has been adequately maintained
  • MOT certificate – this will prove the roadworthiness of the car
  • Car parts receipts – if the car has been repaired, these receipts are essential

3. Be aware of car cloning

Car cloning is common with fraudsters and entails giving a stolen car a ‘cloned’ number plate to disguise the fact that the car is stolen. If you find that the VIN doesn’t match the V5C or the price is too good to be true, it may be stolen.

One quick way to check if the car is a clone or the real deal is by looking at the infotainment system. By checking the VIN on the car system matches that on the V5C, you can quickly see if the car is legitimate.

4. Avoid “Category C” cars

“Category C” cars have already been written-off by insurance companies. Such vehicles may be salvageable by a knowledgeable mechanic or useful for spare parts, but it has becoming a growing problem that fraudsters are making questionable repairs and repainting these cars before selling them on to unsuspecting motorists. Such vehicles may not be safe to drive and could void any insurance a driver may have bought for the vehicle.

To avoid these scams, it is critical to make sure you have all the car’s history and information when you buy it and to do a hire purchase investigation (HPI) check on the vehicle if you are suspicious.

Final thoughts

Although purchasing a second-hand car is exciting, it’s not without its risks. As used cars have surged in price, fraudsters have taken advantage of consumers to line their own pockets. However, by shopping from a reputable dealership and conducting some checks into the car, you can minimise the risk of fraud and drive away in your new car in no time.


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