car scams

How to avoid scams when buying a used car

Unfortunately, there are scams around to catch people out when buying a used car, but we’ve covered the main ones, so you’ll know what to look out for. Some unscrupulous sellers turn back the clock when they want to shift a high-mileage vehicle. It’s possible for a car to be stolen, then given the identity of a written-off car. If you’re not careful, you could end up getting two cars for the price of one when you next buy a used car or even a clone of another car.

How to avoid being caught out by used car scams


Most buyers won’t touch a car if it’s done a huge mileage, which is why some unscrupulous sellers turn back the clock when they want to shift a high-mileage vehicle. By reducing the apparent mileage of a car, that vehicle will be more attractive to a buyer – as well as more valuable. Some modern cars have digital odometers, which can easily be reset with the use of the correct software.

However, traditional analogue odometers have to be removed for the mileage to be wound back, so if the car has one of these, look for evidence that the dashboard has been tampered with. Damaged screw heads is one way of looking, or scratches in the paint around the screws.

Whatever type of odometer is fitted, check that the wear and tear on the car fits in with the stated mileage. If the pedal rubbers and steering wheel are worn smooth, the car isn’t a low-mileage one.

Ask for the car’s service history and previous MOTs; they’ll all have the mileage on, so make sure it goes up steadily and doesn’t suddenly drop. It has also been known for a car’s mileage to be reduced for the selling process, but once you’ve snapped it up, the odometer then mysteriously reverts to its true reading. That’s why you need tocheck the reading doesn’t suddenly shoot up between buying the car and collecting it.



When you buy a car you’re reliant on its identity being what it appears. However, things are not always what they seem, because it’s possible for a car to be stolen, then given the identity of a written-off car – a practice known as ringing. While this should still set alarm bells ringing, at least the car is legal, if not necessarily desirable, when it’s merely recorded as previously a write-off.

You can guard against buying a ringer by inspecting the registration document closely and ensuring that the numbers on it match those in the car you’re viewing.

You then need to make sure that the car you’re looking at is the one that’s legally entitled to that identity. Look for evidence of chassis plates having been swapped; loose rivets is a classic giveaway.

Also look for evidence of a recent respray, and make sure you’re looking at the car on the seller’s drive. Those involved in ringing tend to be part of organised gangs that vanish without trace once you’ve paid for the car and taken it away.

If you do end up buying a ringer, don’t try to sell it on as you’ll be liable to prosecution. Tell the police and in the case of a purchase from a dealer, also tell Trading Standards.

It’s essential that you don’t get taken in by this scam, because if you do you’ll lose the car (which belongs to the insurance company) as well as your money.

Cut and shut

Unfortunately, to be more accurate, you’re getting two halves for the price of one whole, because you could end up buying a cut and shut. Such vehicles are the result of two written-off cars being used to create one apparently good vehicle.

It works by welding the front half of a rear-ended car to the back half of a car that’s been in a serious front-end smash.

The cars are cut up then welded together to create a car that looks straight. However, while the car may look fine, it’s a rolling death trap that’ll disintegrate in the slightest impact. To make sure you don’t get taken in by this scam, you need to look closely along the top of the windscreen as well as underneath the seats.

It won’t take much to see the join from underneath, unless copious quantities of underseal have been plastered everywhere. Also look out for badly mismatched paint as well as overspray on the glass and trim; these suggest the car has been repainted at some point. Mismatched trim inside the car is another giveaway.


Car Cloning

An increasingly common scam is the theft of a vehicle’s identity; it’s called cloning, it works very simply and it’s very easy to get caught out by it.

Cloning works by thieves stealing a car and giving it the identity of a legitimate vehicle. Although the car you’re looking at is stolen, you don’t know its real identity because you’re checking the identity of a different vehicle.

This is why it’s so important to stick to all the advice in our buying used posts – that way you shouldn’t come unstuck. The best way of ensuring you’re not caught out is to:

  • Ensure the car’s chassis number matches the one on the registration document.
  • Always pay by bankers draft rather than cash; a legitimate seller will be happy with this, but car thieves won’t be.
  • Inspect the car at a privately owned residential address – and make sure the seller isn’t just using the drive of a house whose owners are away. Also ensure that this is the address shown on the registration document.
  • Get a landline number for the seller – never rely entirely on a mobile number.