UK motorists employ rip off tactics to sell second hand cars

Article date: 1 October 2007

More than a quarter of UK motorists admit they would rip off a fellow driver to sell their used car, new RAC Car Data Checks research* reveals today.

Topping the list of misleading tactics used is hiding scratches, a ploy employed by over a quarter of Brits who have bought or sold a used car in the last year. More serious mistruths include exaggerating a car's performance and over a million drivers would "forget" to mention that a car has been involved in an accident.

The RAC Car Data Checks research also shows that it doesn't take much for us to bend the truth. An alarming one in fifty private sellers would lie about the details of a car simply because they didn't like the appearance of the potential buyer!

But with three quarters of buyers admitting they don't have a good technical knowledge of car maintenance, and nearly a third of buyers saying they rely on the seller having more knowledge than themselves, buyers fall foul of the "show" that sellers put on - nearly a quarter of motorists admit they act when selling a car.

These dirty tactics are leaving half of motorists buying or selling a second-hand car worried about repair bills. On average, UK motorists spend £1.3 billion** a year on repairs after purchasing a second-hand car privately, and nearly one in 10 of those polled got lumbered with a car with problems that were impossible to fix. In total over 1.8 million second-hand cars sold privately in the past year had faults that needed repairing and 534,000 second-hand cars sold failed their MOT***.

The RAC Car Data Checks research also showed that the honesty of drivers varies from region to region. In the Midlands, nearly six out of 10 motorists claim to have never deceived a fellow driver when selling a used car, whilst in the North East a fifth confess to hiding scratches and one in ten have exaggerated their car's performance.

Nick Lindsay, head of RAC vehicle checks and inspections, said: "It is extremely worrying that so many motorists think it's okay to exaggerate a car's features, as long as they think it doesn't affect safety. But with motorists confessing that they don't have sound mechanical knowledge, how can they guarantee that their claims aren't dangerous?

"There are simple steps that motorists can take to prevent a huge repair bill, or worse, problems that are dangerous. A car data check from RAC costs just £5**** and offers peace of mind before making a purchase."

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

  1. If you lack confidence in buying a second-hand car, try and take along a knowledgeable friend or relative to help you examine the vehicle.
  2. View the car at the seller's address so you can confirm the address is the same as the V5 vehicle registration document.
  3. Arrange to view the car in daylight so that any faults are more visible.
  4. Look for signs of clocking - does the condition of the car match the mileage?
  5. Is there wear on the seats, pedals or steering wheel? Check for rust and general corrosion on the bodywork. How worn are the tyres?
  6. 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.
  7. If you feel unconfident assessing the car yourself, check out the history and status of the car with an RAC Car Data 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 Car Data Checks cost just £5.
  8. Check engine numbers/chassis numbers match the V5 documentation provided with the vehicle.
  9. Check under the bonnet for signs of undue wear and tear - is anything leaking, are all the fluid levels correct?
  10. 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 Car Data Checks and Inspections, visit or call 0800 975 5867


RAC Press office contact:
Jennifer Hardisty - 0207 908 6465
Amy Funston - 0207 908 6433

Notes to editors:

*RAC Car Data Checks commissioned to carry out online research between 13 and 18 September 2007 amongst a nationally representative sample of motorists aged 17+ (Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England). is a leading market research organisation, carrying out consumer, corporate and niche market survey online among a 50,000+ member panel

**Based on 24.3% of motorists who have bought a second hand car in the last year (3,818,016) of which 49.1% have had to make repairs (7,776,000) multiplied by the average cost of repairs, £345.88 to reach £1.3 billion.

*** Industry figures from HPI estimate that 3 million second-hand cars are sold privately in the UK annually. Figured obtained from HPI in 2007.

*** The RAC Car Data Check comes with a guarantee giving up to £5,000 of cover. The guarantee applies to any losses suffered arising from inaccurate or incomplete information supplied by RAC. Terms and conditions apply, please visit

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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