Illegal carsIf you’re buying a vehicle there’s a risk it could have a hidden past. Find out how to avoid buying a stolen or illegal car.

Stolen vehicles

The onus is on buyers to ensure their next vehicle isn’t a stolen one. Even if a vehicle is bought in good faith, the police can seize it and if it has been bought on finance, the lender can still demand payment.

Stolen vehicles are usually passed on with their identity changed, but there are some golden rules to help reduce the risk of buying a ‘hot’ vehicle.

• Always invest in a history check – it’ll immediately reveal if a car is stolen or written-off
• See an original copy of the V5C registration document – also known as the logbook – and check it carries its DVLA watermark
• Stolen vehicles are often sold without the logbook, with the seller claiming it has been sent to the DVLA for updating – it may be the case, but there’s no way of checking
• Ensure the seller’s address on the logbook matches that of their driving license, passport or utility bill
• Check the number plate and Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) match those recorded on the logbook

How Auto Trader can help:
Check a car’s history
Check a bike’s history

Check a van’s history


A clocked vehicle is one where an unscrupulous seller has ‘wound back’ the mileage recorded on the milometer.

That means vehicles with high mileage could be passed-off as having a low mileage to an unwitting buyer. But spotting a clocked vehicle can be straightforward with little more than a bit of detective work.

Check the mileage appearing on the milometer in the instrument cluster tallies with its service history and old MOT certificates or visit GOV.UK to check the MOT history.

Ensure the numbered barrels are aligned correctly on analogue milometers

Check the general condition matches its age and mileage – worn seats and steering wheel or lots of stone chips can point to high mileage

If it has patchy or no service history, a history check can help verify the mileage

Contact previous owners to verify the recorded mileage when they sold the vehicle

How Auto Trader can help:
Check a car’s history
Check a bike’s history

Check a van’s history

Vehicle ringing

A ‘Ringer’ is a stolen vehicle with its identification numbers replaced by a set from another written-off model and will be supplied with bogus documentation.

Ringers have their VIN replaced, so look for evidence of tampering around the VIN plates and etchings.

The VIN is on a small plate riveted under the bonnet and stamped on the vehicle’s chassis, under the carpet beside the front seat. In addition, the VIN number will sometimes appear in the door pillar or at the base of the windscreen.

If you buy a ringer, in legal terms it doesn’t belong to you, and will be returned to the owner or insurance company if and when it is traced back to you.

How to avoid buying a ringer:
• Ensure the V5 registration document (logbook) is genuine with a DVLA watermark running through it
• Check for tampering around the VIN numbers
• Make sure there is a satisfactory amount of paperwork

Cut and shuts

A cut and shut is where the remains of two or more vehicles have been welded together to create a ‘new’ model.

The structural integrity of such vehicles is seriously compromised, and can lead to serious injuries in a crash.

• Examine the windscreen pillars and the middle section of the vehicle for signs of welding and pull away carpets and trims for signs of hidden welds
• Look for poor paintwork or colours that don’t match properly and check for overspray on glass seals and trim
• Watch out for badly fitting or mismatched trim
• A history check will highlight if it has been stolen or written-off – a cut and shut could be both

How Auto Trader can help:
Check a car’s history
Check a bike’s history

Check a van’s history

Cloned vehicles

A vehicle which wears the stolen number plates from an identical model is known as a clone.

Clones are not necessarily stolen vehicles, with some criminals using stolen number plates to avoid parking or speeding fines, leaving the owner of the genuine vehicle to pick up the bill.

Many owners are unaware they’re a victim until fines begin arriving, and the onus is on them to prove their innocence.

• Always check the number plate and Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) matches those appearing on the logbook
• Check for signs of damaged number plates, or evidence they have been recently removed or replaced
• A history check can provide clues to identify a clone, such as colour, trim specification and – in some cases – mileage