'V5' Log book and 'VIN'
Does the 'V5' log book look like the pictures below? Click on the images to enlarge them.
Sections: 1. Registered keeper 2. Previous keeper 3. Special notes 4. Vehicle details 5. Registered keeper 6. New keeper 7. Vehicle changes 8. Declaration 9. Trade sale 10. New keeper supplement 11. Export.
New look V5C document issued from 2010
Is the seller’s name and address the same as the name and address in the 'V5' log book? If not, ask why not, and decide if you trust the answer.
Check everything on the log book is spelt correctly and there have been no alterations made to the document. If you are in doubt about whether a log book is genuine, call the DVLA helpline on 0870 241 1878.
Does the vehicle identification number (VIN) plate on the car match the number on the V5? The VIN plate can be in several places (The car hand book should tell you where it is, but usually it is under the bonnet, on the windscreen or near the driver’s door or seat. Example pictures below).
Service book
  • Has the service book been regularly stamped?
  • Do the stamps match the MOT and any receipts?
  • Are key service details listed? For example, cam belt changes - see model specific checks for the key service issues on this car.

Data Check ('HPI check')

Data (or HPI) checks tell you whether a car has any outstanding finance, been declared a write-off or been stolen. It is essential that you have your own check done, to ensure:

  • The car is not owed to a finance company
  • The car has not been written-off
  • The car is not stolen
  • The VIN number on the car matches the one the data check provides
We have reviewed and recommend the best datachecks. Click here to learn more about this crucial check.

Bodywork Checks

Standard checks to make on all cars:

Is bodywork free from dents, scratches or other marks? Squat down on your haunches and look along the sides of the car to check for dents. Ripples, small craters or swirly scratches in the paintwork indicate it has been given a quick top coat re-spray.
Pull back rubber seals and lift door handles right up. Are the colours the same (but less faded)? If the colour under the rubber looks older than the rest or if there is a build up of paint where there has been an overspray it has been repaired. This tells you the car has been involved in some kind of accident, but it may be minor. You only need to worry if it looks like the car may have been in a major accident (see other checks below).
Do both bumpers and all the car’s panel colours match? Are all the gaps between panels (known as shut lines) consistent and evenly spaced? Any big gaps may mean the car has had a poor quality repair after a fairly major accident.
Look at the number plates and the reflective mirrors in the back of headlights. Do they all match? If one headlight is darker than the other or the number plates don’t match, it may have been in an accident
Open the boot and bonnet. Does all the metal look the same colour? Different colours tell you there have been major bodywork repairs.
Is the windscreen free from major cracks or chips?
Are all the locks the same? If not, ask why not. Changed locks can mean the car was stolen or broken into.
Paint Work. Never see cars in the rain or twilight as either condition makes it harder to sport defects.
If paintwork has white marks that rub off with a light rub, it is probably old polish that hasn’t been removed. Whilst it looks bad, it is a good sign; the car will usually clean up well.
Is there any rust on the car? Look at all the bodywork, along the sills, under the bonnet and in the boot. Significant rust is to be avoided.

This picture shows a sill being squeezed to ensure it is solid and not rusting.

Squeezing the sill all the way from the front to the back will confirm whether the sill is suffering from corrosion.

Engine Checks

Standard checks to make on all cars:

Is the exhaust smoke-free on start-up? A small amount of white smoke on cold or damp days is fine. Any blue smoke or excessive smoke means there is problem with the engine.
Is the exhaust completely smoke-free once the engine is fully warmed up? If not, there is a problem with the engine.
Is there plenty of clean oil? If the oil is black rather than golden brown it needs to be changed and suggests the car has not been recently serviced.
A dipstick is pulled out to check the oil. Oil should be golden-brown & over half full.
A main oil cap is unscrewed from the top of an engine. This cap looks as it should, with just oil on the inside and no white creamy residues.
Is there plenty of water and anti-freeze in the radiator reservoir? Anti-freeze stops the engine freezing and rusting.
Are there any signs of any leaks? Leaks must be identified and repaired quickly to prevent further engine damage.
A radiator in good condition (all the fins are clean, strong and complete). The fat top rubber hose should feel bouncy. If it is very soft and floppy or rock solid when the engine is running then the head gasket may be failing. NB Use heat-protective gloves.
Radiator is by the yellow dot on the right and the reservoir, by the left dot.
Do all the belts and hoses look strong and free from frays, cracks or tears? If not they may be close to failure which can have serious knock-on effects.
Where the model-speciifc checks recommend checking spark plugs, they will look similar to these:
Covered by leads.
Lead pulled off.
In socket.
If the model-specific checks need you to look for brake fluid or steering fluid reservoirs, they will look like these:
Oil leaks, (where the oil is clinging to the underside of the car) will look like these:

Interior Checks

Standard checks to make on all cars:

Do all the controls and electronics work? Check: heating controls (both hot and cold), radio, windscreen wipers, all windows and sunroof, central locking and alarm.
Do all the lights (inside and out) work?
Where the model-speciifc checks recommend checking engine management lights, they will look similar to these:
Engine Management