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BBC’s Top Gear highlights dangers of used car buying

16th February 2011 Print

The latest episode of BBC Two’s Top Gear shone the spotlight on the pitfalls associated with used car buying. The team bought three BMW 325i convertibles and demonstrated how seemingly identical vehicles can have a very different past. HPI warns consumers to remain vigilant and protect themselves with an HPI Check.

During the course of the programme, the Top Gear team revealed they had bought what looked like three identical cars on paper. However, each one had secrets to hide, some of which were cosmetic but some of which were issues that an HPI Check would have flagged. The first of many problems that Richard Hammond identified on his BMW related to mileage – it supposedly had 74,000 miles on the clock, which seemed low for the age of the car and when compared to the mileage of Clarkson and May’s vehicles.

“Six in every 100 vehicles checked with HPI have a mileage discrepancy,” says Nicola Johnson, Consumer Services Manager at HPI. “Not only can these mileage discrepancies inflate the value of the vehicle, but as we saw on the Top Gear programme, they could lead to safety risks if vehicles miss out on crucial servicing and replacement work for vital components – as seen with Richard Hammond’s BMW ignition barrel. However, the HPI Check comes with a mileage check as standard, offering consumers the ultimate in protection.”

Part of the challenge tested the security of the vehicles, with three ‘experts’ invited to break into the cars to test the security of the vehicles. Once again, Hammond’s BMW lost out, when the “thief” drove off in the car in just seconds; his was the easiest to break into, despite having two locks. Although modern vehicles have more advanced security systems, stolen vehicles remain a prevalent danger to used car buyers, with HPI uncovering nearly 19 stolen vehicles every day.

Nicola Johnson comments, “Even with modern security features, car theft is still a huge problem, which inevitably means there are many stolen vehicles out there for sale. There are several steps buyers can take to avoid a stolen vehicle, with an HPI Check a key element of this process.  Linking in to the Police National Computer means the HPI service  finds out when a vehicle has been recorded by the Police as stolen. Any subsequent HPI Checks against that vehicle will reveal its stolen status. Buyers can also check that all the VIN/chassis numbers on the vehicle match each other and have not been tampered with, and check that you are buying from the registered keeper of the vehicle as stated on the V5, or logbook.

“Although older vehicles will always have some signs of deterioration,” continues Johnson, “it’s important that buyers look out for rust and signs of significant wear and tear that can negatively affect both a vehicle’s security and performance, or even be dangerous. Richard Hammond’s BMW had been badly modified, which compromised the handling when they went on to test the cars on the track, and Clarkson wisely advised consumers to walk away from poorly modified vehicles.

Jeremy Clarkson wrapped up the challenge by urging caution when purchasing a used vehicle and particularly mentioned the risk of outstanding finance. The tough economic climate means used car buyers remain at risk, as an increasing number of people are selling their vehicle before they have paid off the outstanding finance. Whilst some history checks do not include such information, the HPI Check will confirm whether a vehicle still has finance registered against it. The provision of a seller or purchaser receipt will not offer legal protection for a buyer if the car later turns out to be on outstanding finance. The hard truth is finance companies can – and will – repossess any vehicle with a loan secured against it that is defaulted upon.

“As the Top Gear trio saw at the end of their piece, buying a used car without knowing its history can prove costly, with quotes of up to a whopping £11,000 to clean and repair them, to bring them up to showroom condition. Whilst most used car buyers will not expect to purchase a used car at new car showroom standard, a seemingly perfect vehicle with a hidden history can still come at a heavy price.  The HPI Check offers consumers the best protection from buying a banger like the Top Gear team did.”

HPI’S used car buying tips

Do your research – Prices of cars will vary depending on age, mileage and condition. Having an idea of the value of a car beforehand will help when negotiating with the seller, and will also let you know if it is suspiciously cheap.

Check the seller – If buying privately, verify that the seller is the registered keeper of the vehicle and that you are buying from a seller’s home – make sure the address is the one recorded on the V5C logbook. Never meet anywhere other than the seller’s house, such as in a lay-by or car park.

Check all the documentation – Cross-check all the V5, service records, MOT certificates and receipts where available to ensure everything tallies. If the seller cannot provide the documentation, walk away.

View the car in good conditions – Inspect the bodywork carefully in broad daylight and on a clear day. Poor light or bad weather can mask faults.

Remain neutral – Try not to get emotionally attached to the car. An objective review of the vehicle is essential. Buy with the head, not with the heart…

Take a test drive – Make sure you drive the car on a variety of roads for a good length of time, at least 10 miles.

Get an HPI Check – An HPI Check will confirm the vehicle description and whether it is currently recorded as stolen, written-off, has a mileage discrepancy or is subject to outstanding finance.

Additional protection is offered by the HPI Guarantee, which provides up to £30,000 financial reimbursement in the event of the data held by HPI being inaccurate, and also includes protection against buying a cloned vehicle – the only history check to do so.