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Beauty is only skin deep

18th January 2011 Print

It’s easy to be dazzled by a shiny exterior or top end in-car gadgets when used car shopping, but these could prove to be costly distractions, vehicle information expert HPI warns used car buyers. People who fall in love with a vehicle because it has built-in sat-nav, heated seats or mp3 compatibility need to ensure they avoid becoming a victim of used car fraud. A top of the range vehicle specification is no consolation if it turns out the vehicle has been stolen, has outstanding finance against it, or has been clocked or cloned. An HPI Check offers used car buyers the protection they need.

“It is well known that initial impressions are formed in the first 20 seconds of meeting, and it may be in the first 20 seconds of viewing a vehicle that a car buyer will decide to buy. After this, all attention to detail flies out of the window and buying with the head gives way to buying with the heart,” says Nicola Johnson, Consumer services manager for HPI.  “All too often, used car buyers are taken in by shiny paintwork and a sparkling interior when shopping for their next car, as this naturally suggests everything is in order. However it is important for buyers to remain neutral and inspect a vehicle carefully, as a hidden history can be lurking just beneath the surface.”

British car buyers still rely too much on their ‘trust instinct’, and many feel that asking for bills of sale or service documentation, or for other history details of the vehicle, risks offending the seller. As much as we’d love to still believe in the “gentlemen’s agreement”, buyers need to treat the transaction as a formal business agreement, and make sure they’re armed with the facts before they buy.

The risks of not doing so remain significant. 1 in 4 cars checked by HPI is on outstanding finance. Anyone who buys a car still on finance risks losing the car and the money they paid for it, as the finance company still owns the vehicle. Similarly, an unsuspecting consumer who buys a stolen car risks the vehicle being returned to the owner, while the criminal disappears with their cash.  HPI identifies nearly 30 stolen vehicles a day.

Shiny paintwork and a low price tag could be hiding an insurance write-off. Some vehicles can be repaired and returned to the road (category C and D) but others are fit only for parts, or complete scrap (category A and B). 4 out of every 100 vehicles that HPI checks has been written-off, leaving consumers at risk of buying a potential nightmare on wheels.

With more vehicle information than anybody else, HPI confirms the vehicle description, whether it is currently recorded as stolen, been written-off by an insurance company or is subject to outstanding finance. The HPI Check offers a financial guarantee and a mileage check as standard, offering added peace of mind to used car buyers at a time when they need it most.

Nicola Johnson concludes, “It’s natural to focus on the positives when you see a car you like, however, it can end up costing in the long run. Buyers need to remain neutral on any potential purchase until they have gathered all the facts and can be sure that bargain doesn’t turn out to be a banger.”

To conduct an HPI Check, visit

HPI’S used car buying guide

Do your research beforehand: Have a look at the market for the type of car you want. Set a budget and stick to it.

View a vehicle in good conditions: a dull, damp day can mask scratches and dents, so view the car on a bright, dry day.

Always view at the registered keepers’ address (as on the V5/registration document): Never meet a seller in a car park or lay-by.

Remain neutral: Don’t let your heart rule your head. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Check the mileage: The mileage should be consistent with the vehicle’s condition. Look for wear on seats and pedals.

Check the engine thoroughly: get a professional in, if you don’t know what to look for.

Examine bodywork for signs of rust or corrosion: A vehicle inspection is recommended.

Check all documentation: Ask for the V5/registration document, the MOT certificates, and service history. Contact the previous keeper and/or the servicing dealers to double check the vehicle service history and mileage.

Test drive: Never buy a vehicle without going on an adequate test drive of at least 10 miles.

Get an HPI Check: it could spell the difference between a dream purchase and a nightmare on wheels that costs you thousands.