1. Check its service history
The seller of a cared-for car will have plenty of past MOT test documents and a service book with stamps at all the right intervals to show you. Check that there are no gaps in the service history or any years where the mileage doesn’t go up. Also make sure that it goes up at a steady rate each year; alarm bells should ring if it’s been doing 20,000 miles a year for three years and then only 1000 the next one.
You can also check previous MOTs online at gov.uk/check-mot-history-vehicle. If you’re unsure about the stamps in a car’s service book, you can call the garages that are recorded as having carried out the service to verify that they actually did. If a car doesn’t have MOT and service history you can check in any way, don’t buy it.
2. Inspect its condition
Modern cars are generally well built and pretty durable, but you should still be able to spot a car that has covered a big mileage. On the exterior, look for stone chips on the bonnet – an indicator of a high motorway mileage – and make sure there are no different shades of colour on any body panels or doors, because this could indicate repaired crash damage. Inside, a saggy or worn driver’s seat spells high miles, as do worn pedals, switches and steering wheels.
3. Take it for a test drive
Try to get behind the wheel of two or three examples of the model you’re thinking of buying so you can get an idea of how it should feel to drive. A clocked car could have a sloppy gearbox, worn brakes and clutch and tired suspension. So, during your drive, listen out for clonks from the engine and other components that will give away the truth about a car’s mileage.
4. Ask questions
If there are discrepancies between a car’s mileage and its service history or condition, don’t be afraid to ask why. If you’re buying from a dealer, make sure there isn’t a disclaimer in the car’s advert or paperwork that states the mileage isn’t verified.
5. Get a history check
A history check can’t guarantee to tell you whether a car has been clocked – for instance, if it’s been done by the owner of a car less than three years old – but it will provide you with all the recorded mileages there are for the car, giving you a fair amount of reassurance. It will also alert you to other issues, such as if a car has outstanding finance on it or if it has previously been stolen or written off. Be wary of free or very cheap online car history checks, because they’re unlikely to be as comprehensive as those offered by the bigger players in this market. Opt for a Cap HPI check and the car’s mileage is checked against its National Mileage Register, which is the UK’s largest vehicle mileage database, with details of more than 220 million mileage readings as well as all those on the Government’s MOT database.
6. Keep checking the odometer
It has been known for unscrupulous car sellers to turn back a car’s mileage so that it looks impressive when you first see it. Then, if you decide to buy it, they’ll put it back up to the original mileage when you collect it so that they can’t be prosecuted for selling you a clocked car.
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