Young drivers risk lives and savings on dud cars

Article date: 3 April 2007

Lack of technical knowledge and purchasing decisions based on the appearance of both the vehicle and its owner are leading young people to risk their lives and waste a large proportion of their savings on the UK's £238 million1 annual car repair bill.

As the nation prepares for one of the year's busiest used car buying weekends, new RAC Vehicle Checks research shows that two thirds (65%) of young people are not confident about  bagging a bargain. They are twice as likely to buy a second hand car from an attractive vendor than any other age group. Alarmingly, young people are also more influenced by the colour of the car, rating it as twice as important as the condition of the brake pads (12% against 6%).

The research identifies several gaps in technical know-how:

  • Just a third (32%) of 17-24 year olds know that misaligned odometer numbers can indicate altered mileage against three quarters (76.7%) of drivers aged over 55
  • Only four in 10 (44%) young motorists know to check under the carpet between the front and back doors for signs of welding (compared to 68.9% of 45-54 year olds)
  • Less than a third (32%) of young motorists know that when buying a second hand car, you should bounce each corner to test whether it needs new shock absorbers.

And it's not just young drivers who are in danger of forking out too much cash for a second hand car. The traditional British sense of reserve is preventing buyers from asking key questions about finance, previous use of the car, and its accident history:

  • Four out of 10 drivers (39%) do not feel comfortable asking about a vehicle's legal history - and this goes down to less than a third (32%) for young drivers
  • More than a third (37%) of all drivers - and half of 17-24 year olds - wouldn't ask whether there are outstanding payments on the vehicle
  • More than one in 10 (14%) motorists would trust the vendor to tell them all the information they needed - and the proportion rises to one in five (18.2%) for young drivers
  • Almost four in 10 (39%) British motorists are as polite as possible to the vendor, avoiding ‘awkward' but important questions.

Although British buyers may not feel comfortable asking more awkward questions, the research  shows that less than a third of car buyers pay for a professional vehicle check. This is despite eight out of 10 buyers claiming they would prefer to buy from a seller who can provide independent certification of the vehicle's service, accident and breakdown history. Over half (53%) of buyers also spend less than two hours purchasing a used car, barely scratching the surface of all of the checks that need to be made and questions asked.

Ed Evans from RAC Vehicle Checks, said: "It is worrying that young drivers, who may be spending all of their savings on their first car, are particularly at risk due to their inexperience and lack of confidence. But there are simple steps that everyone can take to protect themselves and their finances such as reading up on the pitfalls of second hand car buying, or paying for a vehicle check which costs less than the price of an average tank of petrol."

To help motorists avoid the pitfalls of buying used cars, RAC Vehicle Checks has the following advice:

  1. If you lack confidence in buying a secondhand car, try and take along a knowledgeable friend or relative to help you examine the vehicle.
  2. View the car in daylight at the seller's address so you can confirm the address is the same as the V5 vehicle registration document.
  3. Look for signs of clocking - does the condition of the car match the mileage?
  4. Is there wear on the seats, pedals or steering wheel? Check for rust and general corrosion on the bodywork. How worn are the tyres?
  5. Take the car for a test drive on a variety of roads, but make sure you are properly insured.  Listen out for any odd noises from the engine and suspension.
  6. If you feel unconfident assessing the car yourself, get a vehicle examination, which can help to identify potentially expensive problems and signs of major accident repair. 
  7. Check out the history and status of the car with an RAC Vehicle Status Check- the check will reveal whether the car has any outstanding finance against it, has been written off or reported stolen by the Police. RAC Vehicle Checks cost £24.99.
  8. Check engine numbers/chassis numbers match the V5 documentation provided with the vehicle.
  9. Beware of false keys - separate keys for the driver's door and boot may indicate previous damage.
  10. Check under the bonnet for signs of undue wear and tear - is anything leaking, are all the fluid levels correct? 
  11. If you feel something's not right - walk away.  Don't get too attached to a car - if something's too good to be true, it probably is.

For more information about RAC Vehicle Checks and Examinations, visit or call 0800 975 5867.


1. Industry figures from HPI estimate that 3 million second-hand cars are sold privately in the UK annually. 29% of buyers surveyed by RAC Vehicle Checks in Sep 06 (equates to 870,000 people) encountered problems with a second-hand vehicle, with the mean spend for repairs being £274.

RAC Press office contact:
Sonia Clarke on 0207 908 6570/Iain Drennan on 0207 908 6449 or Jon Day on 01603 209287/07800 690555

Notes to editors:
RAC Vehicle Checks commissioned to carry out online research between 16 and 20 March amongst a nationally representative sample of motorists aged 17+. is a leading market research organisation, carrying out consumer, corporate and niche market survey online among a 50,000+ member panel.

About RAC
With around seven million members, RAC is one of the UK's most progressive motoring organizations, providing services for both private and business motorists. Whether it's roadside assistance, windscreen repair and replacement, learning to drive, vehicle inspections and checks, legal and financial services or up-to-the-minute traffic and travel information - RAC is able to meet motorists' needs. RAC incorporates BSM, RAC Auto Windscreens, RAC Direct Insurance and HPI.

Aviva bought RAC in May 2005. The acquisition brings together RAC's powerful brand and customer base with the expertise and leading position in motor insurance of Norwich Union Insurance (part of Aviva). Norwich Union is the UK's largest insurer, insuring one in seven motor vehicles and with a market share of around 15%.

RAC's news releases and a selection of images are available from the internet press centre at

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