Expert advice from HORSE magazine on what to look for when buying a second-hand 4×4 for towing a trailer

Q: I want to buy a second-hand 4×4 for towing and have seen a few which may be suitable. How can I find out if a vehicle is genuine – that is, one which hasn’t been stolen, had the mileage tampered with or been involved in a serious accident?

Motoring journalist John Henderson replies: It is sensible to becautious when buying used 4x4s because they are expensive and complex and the more desirable ones are prime targets for disreputable traders.

The main risks are as follows:

  • Stolen vehicles: if the car you buy is found tobe stolen you will lose the vehicle with little chance of money back.
  • Subject to finance: cars bought on certain finance packages belong to the finance company, not the registered ‘owner’, so they can take it back if payments aren’t met.
  • Insurance write-offs: if the car has been written off in an accident, it may have been dangerously botched-up for a re-sale. Towing large trailers puts stress on the car’s body, making unsafe repairs even more dangerous.
  • Clocking: the higher the mileage the lower the car’s value, which is why dishonest vendors may turn the mileage back. Service records and MOT certificates can help you check mileage.

If you buy through a franchised dealer on a manufacturer-approved used-car warranty, history checks by one of two data handling companies are carried out as part of the package.

The warranty documentation includes a certificate verifying history and mileage. Other used-car dealers should do these checks and be able to give a certificate with a clean bill of health for the car.

Buyers can also get these checks done and you should never buy from a private individual without a history check becauseyou have little protection in consumer law. You need the vehicle’s registration number and the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN).

HPI’s online check at www.hpicheck.com gives a basic history check, without a guarantee, on up to three vehicles for £12.50, to save you looking at suspect cars.

When you find a car to buy you get £12.50 off the £35.95 compensation-backed full HPI check.

To arrange a check, tel: (01722) 422 422. The full check is cheaper through the RAC at £29.95 for members, and £31 for non-members, tel: (0870) 533 3660 or visit: www.rac.co.uk.Experian’s services, which cost £27.99 for members or £29.99 for non-members, are only available to the public through the AA Car Data Check, tel: (0870) 600 0838 or at www.theaa.com.

The only difference between the services is that HPI is based on the registration number, so takes time to check the innocence of a number plate change, where Experian’s is based on the VIN so checks previous registration numbers immediately. HPI still ensures the VIN tallies with other details.

These checks are also part of vehicle engineers’ inspections. These cost between £140 and £300 and if the car fails the history check that is all you pay for.

Vehicle inspections are available from the AA, tel: (0800) 085 2007; RAC, tel: (0870) 533 3660; Green Flag Breakdown, tel: (0870) 400 2410; and Automobile Buyers’ Services, tel: (01625) 576 441.

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