Paperwork checks when buying a used car

Before you can make a decision on buying a car you need to ensure that the paperwork is in order.

If the owner doesn't have all of these pieces of paper to hand, make it clear that you're not going to buy the car. Sourcing replacement documents isn't always easy and in some cases it isn't free either.

The key pieces of documentation you need to ask the seller for are: 

  • Registration document or V5C. This tells you the basics about the car’s history such as how many owners it has had and who it is currently registered to. Bear in mind that the person named on this form is not necessarily the legal owner of the car. Don’t buy a car without one of these and make sure it’s a genuine document by holding it up to the light and looking for the watermark.
  • The MoT. With the system now fully computerised, everything is logged centrally and can be looked up instantly - you can check the MoT status of any car by looking it up on the official government website. If a car isn’t MoTed it can’t be taxed – and neither will it be insured.
  • Ask to see the car’s service history. Ideally, the car will have been maintained by the supplying dealer from new, but what you’re after is proof of regular servicing. You can also ensure the mileage goes up in the right stages.

You can easily put a car through an MoT whenever you like, and when you buy a car you must tax it in your name from the outset, as road tax is not transferable when a car is sold. The V5C is the most important document of the lot; the name on this piece of paper is the person to whom any speeding tickets or other motoring fines will be sent to. 

If that person doesn’t deserve them, they have to prove why this is the case – and not telling the DVLA of a change in vehicle ownership is an offence.