When looking to buy any second hand vehicle, you should take the following points into consideration. They are important for both safety and legal reasons.

1. MOT certificate

Checking the MOT is one of the first things you should do when looking at a second hand car. It’s a very important document, which proves the car was determined roadworthy when it was last tested. But be cautious of fake certificates. You can check the authenticity of a certificate by looking at the car’s MOT history online.

The online check will also help you to check that the car’s mileage is genuine. You will be able to see the dates and mileage recorded at the car’s previous MOTs. Together with the service record, this will help verify the mileage.

The most recent MOT certificate may have advisory comments. Checking these will give you an idea of any work that will need to be undertaken before the car’s next MOT.

You can also pay for an independent report from an organisation such as the AA to check the car is fully roadworthy.

2. Service history

Asking for the full service history of a second hand car is also very important. This will show what maintenance has been done on the car. One of the things to check is the cam belt. Many cars have a cam belt that needs to be changed after a specific mileage or time span. The service schedule in the car’s manual will advise you of when this should be carried out. It can be a costly procedure; so knowing if you’re going to need to replace the cam belt soon might factor into your decision whether or not to buy a particular second hand car.

3. Registration document

To confirm you’re not buying a stolen car, make sure you check the registration document. This document is referred to as the ‘logbook’ or ‘V5’, and it will show you information such the car’s year of manufacture, date of first registration, engine capacity, and tax rate. You should check that the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) on the logbook matches the VIN on the VIN plate and stamped on the body of the car. The AutoCheck website shows you where to look for the VIN.

4. Write off

When insurance companies decide a car is too dear to repair, or too damaged after an accident, they will write it off and label it under either category A, B, C, or D – A being the most damaged, and D being the least.

Cat A cars have to be crushed, Cat B cars should be dismantled and a Certificate of Destruction issued by a registered vehicle dismantler, Cat C and Cat D can be repaired and returned to the road.

Cat C category cars need to have a Vehicle Identity Check (VIC). If you are looking at a car that has been written off, you should check it’s genuine and safe to be on the road. One of the best ways to check the history of a car that you’re thinking about buying – and we strongly recommend you do this – is to pay for a check, such as those offered by HPI or Experian’s AutoCheck. A car that has been written off may not be safe to drive, or it may belong to an insurance company. These checks offer excellent peace of mind that your new wheels are genuine.

Please note: the Vehicle Identity Check is being discontinued as of October 2015, though it is not yet known what, if anything, will be replacing it.

5. Finance history

It’s important you check the finance history of the car to ensure it doesn’t have an outstanding credit agreement or logbook loan. If you buy a used car with outstanding finance, you could find that the finance company seizes your car. That’s the last thing you want when you’ve just handed over your hard-earned cash.

A car check, like those mentioned above, will also tell you if the car you’re looking at has any outstanding finance. The checks will not only provide information on any outstanding loans and whether the car has been written off, but will also tell you if the car has been reported as stolen or subject to a third-party trace, that means that someone like the Police, insurer or finance company are urgently trying to find the car.

We’d also suggest taking the car for a test drive and looking around online to make sure the price you’re paying is suitable.