Motorists tread cautiously in used car market

Article date: 16 February 2011

As quality used cars continue to be in short supply, becoming harder to obtain and more expensive, RAC urges motorists to tread cautiously when buying a used vehicle to avoid nasty surprises.

Competition among buyers for limited car supply has led to a hike in auction prices, with the average value of used cars now at £5,9051. In addition, two-thirds of manufacturers increased basic list prices alongside the VAT rise2 and used vehicle valuation experts, CAP predicts values will go even higher.

With new RAC Inspection data3 showing that more than one in four cars inspected were considered unfit for road use and 100% would benefit from some attention with almost half requiring MOT-related work, RAC is recommending motorists seek an expert opinion before they buy.   

Adrian McCarthy, RAC head of technical services said: “Without a thorough inspection it’s easy to unknowingly purchase a vehicle requiring considerable repair work or, at worst, one which is unsafe. Many people will not have the flexibility to stump up the cash for these additional costs, particularly when paying inflated prices already.”

RAC Inspections data revealed that 42% of faults were MOT-related:

  • 44% had steering/suspension defects
  • 38% had brake defects
  • 44% had engine defects.

Adrian adds: “People need to be aware of the pitfalls of buying a used vehicle that hasn’t been sufficiently vetted and the importance of having a third party expert look at it before committing their hard earned cash. 

“At RAC our inspections service provides independent factual information, guidance and advice allowing motorists to make informed decisions on whether to buy, negotiate or walk away. The checks we do are extremely comprehensive, covering up to 166 mechanical and structural areas from the engine and brakes to interior trim and bodywork. Buying a car is the second biggest purchase most people make next to a home, so the value of seeking an expert opinion shouldn’t be underestimated.  

“For further peace of mind we also offer a data check providing customers with a complete record of a car’s history and safety, which could prevent them from buying an unsafe car or finding out that they don’t really own it. As well as checking whether a vehicle is stolen or an insurance write-off we also cover whether it has any outstanding finance, previous plates or a mileage discrepancy.”    

RAC recommends the following checks when purchasing a used car:

  • View cars in daylight at the seller’s address – check the address, engine and chassis numbers match the V5 document and MOT certificate
  • Inspect under the bonnet for undue wear and tear – check fluid levels and for any leaks
  • Check for wear on seats, pedals and steering wheels, and ensure tyres have an adequate amount of tread – including the spare!
  • Ensure the condition of the car matches the mileage - look for signs of tampering with the mileage counter
  • Examine bodywork for rust or general corrosion
  • Test drive the car on different road types – check for smoke when starting the engine and listen for odd noises from the engine and suspension
  • Get an RAC vehicle inspection or data check to avoid any nasty surprises.

For full details of RAC data checks and vehicle inspections visit


RAC Press office contact:
Vicki Burn on 01603 684224/ 07800 692909 or Clare Schofield at Staniforth on 0161 919 8010.

Notes to editors:

1 According to British Car Auction December 2010 figures released 10 January 2011

2 According to CAP figures released January 2011

3 Based on 50 random sample RAC Vehicle Inspection reports completed in October 2010

About RAC

With around seven million customers, RAC is one of the UK's most progressive motoring organisations, providing services for both private and business motorists.  Whether it's roadside assistance, insurance, vehicle inspections and checks, legal services or up-to-the-minute traffic and travel information - RAC is able to meet motorists' needs.

RAC is committed to providing the very highest levels of service to its customers and has been ranked first for customer satisfaction by J D Power and Associates' UK Roadside Assistance Study for the last four years. RAC was also the top-named breakdown organisation in the July 2009, January 2010 and July 2010 half-yearly UK Customer Satisfaction Index from the Institute of Customer Service.

RAC Insurance has also been awarded the Best Overall Vehicle Insurance Provider 2009/10 by

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*based on gross worldwide premiums at 31 December 2009.

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