Buyer beware...

Article date: 1 May 2008

  • Car faults survey reveals alarming results

A shocking three quarters of the used cars inspected by the RAC have faults that would cause the car to fail an MOT and a further one in three have potentially dangerous or illegal faults, according to the motoring organisation.

For those looking to buy a used car this should be a stark warning, as the financial cost of fixing a faulty second hand car could prove to be a heavy burden - let alone the danger of driving a car that is unroadworthy.

Nicola Johnson, manager of RAC Inspections, explains: "Individuals looking for a used car bargain are entering a minefield and not everyone has either the right level of knowledge to know what to look for, or a mechanically minded friend or family member that they can call upon to help. The level of issues we have found with used cars is concerning, with half of the vehicles we checked having more than 10 faults. Even if they weren't a risk to motorists' safety, over 80% of those with faults would cost the new owner more than £200 to fix."

The most common faults found by RAC engineers were worn or damaged tyres, many of which were illegal. 44% had faulty steering and/or suspension, making driving risky, particularly in poor weather conditions.  A further 42% had fluid leakages, 39% had corroded or worn brake discs and countless more had damaged exteriors, such as cracked windows and chipped paintwork.

"These are disturbing figures highlighting the reality that driving a car with a fault, no matter how small, could potentially increase the likelihood of having an accident or emergency breakdown. The cost both emotionally and financially can be significant. It is vital that used car buyers know what to look for, both under the bonnet and externally. Sadly, and more often than not, dangerous faults can only easily be spotted by a trained eye," adds Nicola Johnson.

Cars are designed to react in a certain way in a crash that ensures the occupants are protected as much as possible. Any defects (damage or excessive wear) that affect the structural integrity of the vehicle will impair the cars ability to protect the passengers inside. Drivers of second hand cars are never as safe as they think they are.

Concludes Nicola Johnson: "Having recently bought a four year old car, it was easy to be overwhelmed by its looks and speed, and treat it as perfect and new. Before I knew it, I had formed an emotional attachment.  Having its faults and defects pointed out by an unbiased eye was sobering, and made me approach the sale much more sensibly. I bought the car, but am now wise to potential future expenses that I am likely to incur over the next 12-18 months."

To help motorists avoid the pitfalls of buying used cars, RAC Inspections has the following top five tips:

  1. Always check the car's log book or registration document to validate ownership, accuracy of age and mileage. Don't rely on the MOT as evidence of a car's condition. In addition, an RAC Car Data Check will give you the previous history of the vehicle and tell you if it is registered as stolen, has been written off, or is still on finance.
  2. View the car in good weather conditions and in daylight.
  3. Test drive the car on a range of roads for at least 10 minutes.
  4. If you haven't got a mechanically minded friend or family member that can view the car with you, get at a full vehicle inspection which will help identify potential expensive mechanical problems and major accident repair. The resulting report can help you negotiate getting repairs made, worn items replaced or money knocked off the price. With the average value of repairs required exceeding £200 - the report can pay for itself almost instantly.
  5. Too good to be true? It probably is. Don't get emotionally attached to the car until you've had it properly checked out.

The RAC brand and its fully trained RAC engineers make the RAC Inspections service a formidable weapon for used car buyers keen to protect their pockets and stay one step ahead of the criminals.

From a sample of 300 inspections:

  • 28% had faults that were considered dangerous
  • 34% had faults that were considered illegal (one-in-three)
  • 8% had faults that made the vehicle un roadworthy
  • 76% had faults that would fail an MOT (three quarters)
  • 83% had faults that were estimated to cost over £200 to repair
  • 66% had been involved in some form of accident prior to the inspection


  • 39% had faults with their brakes
  • 44% had faults with their steering/suspension
  • 51% had faults with their tyres
  • 42% had fluid leakages

The most common faults found by the engineers are:

  • tyres worn/damaged - generally to an illegal level
  • brake discs corroded/worn
  • oil leaking from engine/gearbox/steering rack
  • air con poorly maintained/services
  • damaged exterior - cracked windscreen, chipped paintwork

To conduct an RAC Inspection:

log on to or call the dedicated number 0800 975 5867.


For more information:
Dominic Dennis, Margot Tomkinson or Justine Hoadley at HSL 0208 977 9132.

Notes to editors:

About the RAC
With around seven million members, RAC is one of the UK's most progressive motoring organisations, 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.

RAC is committed to providing the very highest levels of service to its members and has been ranked first for customer service by JD Power and Associates' UK Roadside Assistance Study for the past two years.

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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