It would be nice to imagine that when buying a used car, every vendor is as trustworthy as a girl guide and each handshake worth as much as a legally binding written contract. Sadly, there’s no shortage of unscrupulous, shady characters who make Tony Soprano seem positively saintly. And that’s why it’s important to check a used car’s V5C registration document and MOT.
The V5C is essentially the authorities’ record of who owns, or is responsible for a car. When someone selling a car produces it, a buyer can use the V5C to check that the vehicle is what it claims to be, and that the person selling it is the car’s owner and entitled to sell it.
An MOT (Ministry of Transport test) is an annual test of minimum safety standards and environmental performance that all cars must pass once they’re more than three-years old. It’s a good way to verify a car’s mileage is genuine and get a quick but basic outline of its general health.
Both come with paper copies that a vendor should always produce for a used car buyer. And it’s these documents that unscrupulous types may try to fake in order to hide the true identity or history of a car. Here’s how drivers can check that they’re genuine.
Before seeing a used car for sale, always…
Pick up the phone and ask the seller for the car’s registration number, exact make and model and the MOT test number (found on the MOT certificate.) Then get online and carry out some basic credential checks, using the DVLA’s vehicle information service.
By entering the registration number and vehicle make, buyers can check whether the car they’re interested in has an MOT and road tax. They can also check the model of car, year of manufacture, date of original registration and engine capacity and CO2 emissions. If it doesn’t appear, alarm bells should be ringing.
When you view a used car, check its V5C certificate
Everyone likes to have a good look around a used car, check its panels and paintwork and eye up the condition of its tyres. But how many of us pay as much attention to the vehicle’s V5C certificate? It’s essential that the seller produces this piece of paper, otherwise known as a logbook, and that the buyer carefully checks all its details match those of the vendor and the vehicle.
A genuine V5C will have a DVLA watermark, so hold the paper up to the light and ensure the watermark is visible.
It will also have a serial number, printed on the top right corner of the first page of the document. Do check this carefully. In 2006, more than two million blank log books were stolen; if the V5C has a serial number between BG8229501 to BG9999030, or BI2305501 to BI2800000, then it is likely to be stolen. Walk away and report it to the police.
As a final precaution, check that the owner’s details (name and address) on the V5C match those on another form of ID, ideally a driving licence or passport.
The seller says they’ve lost the V5C
Don’t accept that. Any genuine registered keeper or owner of the car is able to contact the DVLA and request a replacement V5C. Someone saying that theirs was probably thrown out with a pile of old paperwork should not be trusted – even if they do offer you tea and posh biscuits.
How to check a used car’s MOT certificate
The paper copy of an MOT certificate is essentially worthless. MOT records are now stored digitally, so even if you recognise the document as a current ‘VT20’ MOT pass document (a fail is known as a VT30) go online and check the car’s current MOT status and history. The DVLA offers an easy-to-use MOT history check system here, which shows MOTs from 2005 onwards.
What if a car has been declared SORN?
In some instances, drivers may wish to put their car into hibernation and declare it SORN (Statutory Off Road Notification, or the excitingly named V890), essentially declaring that they won’t park or drive it on the public road.
That means they don’t need to pay for an MOT or road tax. It’s especially common with classic or rare cars, when owners want to keep their pride and joy off the road in the winter months. You’ll still need to ask to see, and look over, the V5C document and ask whether or not the car has a valid MOT – and again carry out the same checks.