When buying a new car or at least a car which is new to you, you need to be able to have access to all of its data history, or risk some pretty depressing consequences down the line. It used to be the case that you would receive such a report by SMS. These days, however, it can be done via apps such as Whatsapp and sent via programs such as Adobe PDF. The crucial question, however, is whether this kind of check is safe and reliable. That is the $64,000 question.

1. How Do I Do It?

That’s easy, really; you just type in your car number plate into the relevant platform – there are various websites which offer this service; they will give you a number to text from your mobile phone. Once you have done this, they will then run the relevant checks through the central databases to which they have access, before sending and you a report to your mobile phone in a very short amount of time. The amount of detail you get on such a report depends on which plan you opt for. You can just request the bog-standard check for a few pounds and receive minimal information; how many owners it’s had, whether it’s been written off, had different number plates, been stolen etc. For more in-depth information you’ll have to pay a bit more. It might be worth it, though, particularly if it has had several owners and is a classy but slightly older vehicle. You might want to know, for instance, whether there is any outstanding finance on the vehicle; if not, you could be inadvertently damaging your credit score.

2. What About An HPI Check?

An HPI check is a service from HPI Ltd, which happens to be the oldest of such services in the UK. It covers a range of things; anything from a number plate alteration to a vehicle identification number (VIN) check, to a V5C document (or ‘logbook’) check, to a stolen car check, import check, export check, write-off check, security watch, scrapped check, colour change check and mileage check. It can protect you against fraud and is not that much more costly than a regular car text check. The only downside is that if you receive this information by text only, it may be a little hard for you to work out what every single abbreviation means.

3. Any Other Downsides?

As well as the aforementioned problems with abbreviations (a text message can only convey so much in a limited character count so has to condense information), it is possible to get charged upon repeat logins in which you may be asked to confirm a security code or password each time. It is preferable, if at all possible, to receive a fully-fledged report via PDF and just make a one-off payment. In this day and age it would behove you to go for an online check rather than a text message check.

4. Is Online Better?

Unlike text registration checks which will always charge a fee, an online vehicle history check is usually free of charge or at least most of the information is free. You can quite easily check the date of registration, performance data, odometer reading, vehicle tax status, MOT history, absolutely free. Another problem associated with doing these things via SMS is that you have to pay for each separate report which tests a separate line of inquiry. You may also have to pay for text messaging via your mobile provider, depending on what kind of plan you are on. A text check will regard such things as plate change history and a finance check test as extras or ‘Add-ons’, so you may end up paying more overall.

5. Can I Trust Text Checks, Though?

The simple answer is that they are indeed trustworthy, and it only takes seconds to generate. There is a range of providers such as Just Car Checks, and you can be standing in someone’s driveway, weighing up whether you want to buy their car whilst simultaneously doing a car text check. The longer answer, though, is that while they may be trustworthy they might not be efficient. It is potentially more costly to do and won’t be as user-friendly to view.

6. What If I Don’t Bother?

If purchasing a two or three year old car from a large, reputable nationwide dealer, the chances are that every vehicle has been through numerous checks. However, a small, private dealership or just Joe public is another case, and if you buy a car that has a fake MOT certificate or no MOT certificate and are unlucky enough to get pulled over whilst driving it home, you could be staring a £2,500 fine in the face! Not only that, you could suffer a 3 penalty point on your license for being in charge of a vehicle that is in a dangerous state.

7. What Else Should I Check?

You should definitely check that the brakes work, that all lights function, and that the mirrors, windows and windscreen are all relatively clean and undamaged. You should also check that the engine oil level is within tolerance, that the windscreen washer fluid is not empty, and that the tyres have at least 1.6 mm of tread; for motorcycles or large vehicles this is 1 mm; for mopeds visible tread is sufficient. You can of course get these things changed fairly soon after purchasing the car but then again, they could be used as a bargaining chip in the bartering process.

8. What Could Go Wrong?

Plenty could go wrong. According to reliable research (HPI® Ltd in 2017) in the UK 1 in 3 cars contained a concealed history, 1,771 each day are in fact write-offs, a third of those checked had remaining debt, 1 in 16 had a discrepancy in mileage, while the finance owed on the average car was a whopping £11,000! Two-thirds of new vehicles are purchased via some kind of finance agreement – this must be paid in full before the owner in question sells it on. If you are unlucky enough to purchase a car that has previously been stolen, you will lose both the car and the money you paid for it. Meanwhile, cars which have been written off, deemed as a ‘total loss’ by the insurer, can in many cases be driven again. If you’re not careful one of them could end up in your possession; you will then find it impossible to insure it and will become yet another victim of car fraud.

9. For Extra Peace Of Mind

If you’ve fallen in love with a classic car that has changed hands many times over the years, and feel that a text or online check isn’t going to cut the mustard, you can procure an independent report on this car; costing you somewhere between £100 and £200. While that might seem a steep price to pay, it isn’t really if it leads to peace of mind and nullifies even the slightest chance that you’re going to be taking on a financially ruinous and illegal piece of equipment under your wing. This is about as comprehensive as it gets, and is a service offered by specialist companies and motoring organisations. You can phone the Motor Ombudsman for advice on who offers such a service in your particular locale. This is a government-verified body specifically for the motoring industry; they will offer you impartial advice.

You can also go the extra mile (no pun intended) and get a mechanical and structural inspection carried out, which will typically cost you anywhere from £100 to £250. An engineer will do either a 218 point or 307-point inspection and send you a full support of all the findings. They will even do a road test and analyse the brake fluid, as well as examine the bodywork and paintwork. It might seem a little excessive but where it is an older car and a lot of money could be changing hands, it can be seen as a wise precaution. When you factor in how much road tax, car insurance, MOTs and servicing cost, these days, a few hundred pounds really is a drop in the ocean.

Whatever you end up doing, don’t do anything. Unless you’re going to be purchasing a nearly new vehicle from a large, nationwide dealer, it would be worth considering the range of options at your disposal and spending either a few pounds getting a basic car history check or going all out on a full vehicle inspection by a qualified expert. Another thing to think about is garage bills; if you can know in advance where any weaknesses or areas for attention might be, you can anticipate problems before they get worse, offer a more reasonable purchase price for the vehicle and take it straight to your local independent garage for a bespoke, proactive mechanical job that could end up saving you in the long run.