Buying a second-hand car: Problems and solutions

Posted on 04 December 2015 by Tony Santos

Buying a second-hand car makes a good deal of financial sense because cars depreciate, on average, by 15–35% in their first year alone (according to this study by the Money Advice Service) — and up to 50% by the end of their third year. Buying a used car helps avoid this extreme depreciation of value. It should also ensure better value, as you are only paying for a functional car, and not for the status of ‘brand-new car’ and the cost associated with that. There are possible pitfalls in buying a second-hand car, however, so we’ve gathered together some tips on how to avoid the most common problems.




Clocking is the illegal practice of winding back the odometer so that the car appears to have done fewer miles than it really has. Even modern cars with digital distance displays can be manipulated with the help of a laptop and specialist software. As most cars tally up an average of about 7,900 miles each year, it’s a good idea to compare the mileage against the age of the car: if there’s a big discrepancy, you should be very wary.


  • Be wary of an older vehicle with new pedals or upholstery. Clocking the odometer and replacing a few cosmetic features is a common way of deceiving buyers.
  • If you can’t tell the age of the car, check the number plate, or consider when the model came out and look for signs of age. Keep in mind that number plates can be changed and worn parts can be replaced.
  • Check the mileage on the MOT history and service records.

Cut and shuts

Cut and shuts are incredibly dangerous and have been known to cause fatal accidents. A cut and shut is a combination of two cars, where each has been damaged and written off by insurers. They are welded together to look like one of the original vehicles. The car is then given the identity of one of the originals. The cosmetic cover-up is often seamless, so it’s important so read up on all of the documents (MOT papers, service record, and log book).

Tip: If you want to buy a used car, the only definite way to avoid cut and shuts is to buy from a reputable dealer who buys and sells used cars. Used-car specialists such as WEBUYCARSFORMORE have experts with years of experience that will notice the subtle tell-tale signs of a cut and shut. Buying from a dealer also gives legal protection under the Consumer Rights Act, which you can read about on Which?.

Car cloning

Car cloning is a kind of vehicle identity theft where a stolen vehicle is given the number plates of another that is the same make, model and colour. If authorities discover that your car is cloned they will confiscate it without reimbursing the money you paid for it.


  • Be wary of any used car that is sold without a V5C registration document or service history. However, V5C documents can be forged, so they aren’t infallible proof of a vehicle’s authenticity.
  • An AA car data check is a fast, inexpensive way of checking a car’s history. A data check also comes with a guarantee of reimbursement of up to £30,000 if the information in incorrect and the car costs you money down the line.


Dishonest pricing

Given the number of reputable used-car dealers and the availability of online price information, it’s a wonder that some dealers still try to over-charge customers. Cars often have specific faults that reduce their value significantly, and dishonest sellers sometimes ignore these faults, pricing their car as though it were in perfect condition.


  • Before going to view a car, look on a few different websites to get a feel for the typical value of the specific model of car in relation to its mileage and age. This will help you haggle with a seller, and it will also help you recognise when someone is being dishonest with you.
  • Don’t view a car when visibility is low (i.e. night time, rain, fog) as you may miss faults that would be otherwise obvious on a bright, clear day.
  • Always ask to see a vehicle’s documentation (i.e. service history, log book, V5C registration document), as this will not only rule out some of the other potential pitfalls, but it will also show the seller that you know what you’re doing, making them less likely to attempt to overcharge you.

Making the deal


Always ask for a receipt when you buy a used car, which is sometimes referred to as a car buyer’s/seller’s contract. If the seller doesn’t know how to write one up, offer to do it for them. You can make up your own used-car receipt/contract or use a template. This AA contract is a good model if you’d like to make your own. Also make sure you get the seller’s contact details, this way, you can get in touch if something goes wrong.

Buying a used car makes much more financial sense than buying a new car. But, as we’ve explored in this article, it’s not without its risks. Ensuring that you are careful and informed throughout the buying process is key to avoiding any potential pitfalls, and ensuring that you get a great car for a great price.

Categorized | Car News, Car Tips, Featured

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