All that glitters is not gold

A SURVEY from the RAC reveals many people think they know a thing or two about cars when looking to buy, but can easily be led astray by shiny paintwork.

Around 65% say they know the basics and don’t need friends or family to help them check under the bonnet. However many are taken in by the simplest things like shiny paintwork and a clean engine.  The RAC warns used car buyers to watch out for tricks used by unscrupulous sellers to hide faults or a dodgy past.

“It’s easy to be taken in by gleaming paint work and our survey shows that only 15% would be suspicious of a used car with a spotless paint job,” explains Nicola Johnson, of RAC Inspections. “Similarly, 45% wouldn’t be concerned about a cleaned engine bay, but these are both simple decoys to distract used car buyers from what’s really going on underneath the bonnet.

When it comes to standard checks, only 44% would check the chassis numbers on the car match each other, while only 43% would double check that the seller is the registered keeper.

Nicola says: “With 65% feeling confident that they know what to look for when buying a used car, it’s alarming to think that many wouldn’t think to confirm that the seller actually owns the vehicle. We advise everyone to conduct both a vehicle history check and a vehicle inspection to ensure they are bagging a bargain and not throwing money away on a nightmare on wheels.

An RAC Inspection will tell you whether a vehicle has any mechanical faults or has had major accident repair. The results of an inspection can provide reassurance on your potential purchase or enable you to negotiate with the seller on price or to arrange repairs.


1)     ‘Great car with low mileage’ – Has the odometer been tampered with? Winding back the miles can add pounds to the value of the car, and can hide mileage-related service requirements. Check the mileage with an RAC Car Data Check, which accesses the National Mileage Register with over 125 million mileage records on it.

2)     “I’ve had an argument with my boss to secure this” – The ‘extra nice’ dealer. If he’s been negotiating a trade-in value with his boss behind the scenes, and “risked his job to get you a deal” then you should be on the alert. Be aware of your budget, and get a valuation both for the car you’re selling and the car you’re buying – do your research so that you aren’t taken for a ride.

3)     “The car is back here” – Are you viewing it in full light, at the registered keepers address? Or is it parked against a wall, under cover with dim light, in a backstreet alley? Scratches and dents are harder to see in poor light, or if the paintwork is wet. A common stolen car scam is to sell vehicles from car parks or lay-bys – don’t fall for it.

4)    “It’s been spruced up just for you” – beware a clean engine bay. Most dealerships will clean the car from top to bottom as they want to display it in it’s best light. However, sometimes this can be a ploy to disguise things such as leaks. A trained vehicle inspector stands a better chance of spotting any leaks than the untrained eye, so consider a vehicle inspection.

5)    “It looks just like new” – and some parts are. New fittings that are not appropriate for the age and mileage of the car should make you take a second look. If the car has had new pedal rubbers fitted, or a brand new gear knob, is excessive wear and tear being hidden?

6)    “I’ve not been able to locate the service history just now/The V5C is at the DVLA for an update” – Make sure you check the V5C and service history/MOT certificates. Although over time these can go missing, be very wary about incomplete documentation. Check the documentation matches the identity on the car, and that the VIN/chassis plates have not been tampered with or removed.

7)     “She’s all ready to go out for a spin” – Be wise to the warm engine prior to the test drive. Ideally start the car from both hot and cold. If the engine has been running prior to your test drive, there may be an issue around cold starts that is being hidden.

8)    Beware vendor demonstrations. They know just how to
flick a switch, turn a knob or pull a handle to ensure correct functionality
of a system. Best try the item yourself.

9)    When checking service history, ensure the maintenance book refers to the
vehicle your looking at. One should be cautious if details appear to have been altered or show signs of being tampered with.

10)  Replacement tyres may have been fitted because of uneven tyre wear and may be masking the presence of steering, suspension and alignment concerns. New tyres look good but can mask significant defects.

To conduct an RAC Inspection log on to