As part of National Consumer Week (4-10 November 2013), consumers in Bath and North East Somerset are being given advice on how to steer clear of common pitfalls when buying second hand cars.

Bath & North East Somerset Council is joining forces with the Trading Standards Institute and the Citizens Advice Bureau for a month long campaign which urges drivers to ‘check it, don’t regret it’ when buying used cars.

The campaign was launched after it was revealed that used cars are the most complained about problem to the Citizens Advice consumer service.

Over the coming weeks, Bath & North East Somerset Council's Trading Standards officers will be auditing the most complained about garages in the area to check that they are compliant with legislation relating to the sale of used cars.

For any residents considering purchasing a used car, Bath and North East Somerset Trading Standards has the following advice to put you in the driving seat:

Check MOT certificate - indicates if car is roadworthy

If you know the vehicle's registration number and the document reference on the V5C, you can check a vehicle's MOT status and history through the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency, either by telephone or online.

Check service history – shows if car has been maintained

Ask to see the vehicles service history. If there's no history then ask the seller why?

Check V5 registration document – shows if car is stolen

Insist on seeing the V5C vehicle registration document - this shows who the registered keeper of the vehicle is. If the present keeper is not the person selling you the car, then ask why are they selling the car for someone else?

The V5C shows the details of previous keepers too. You could contact them to find out more about when they owned the car, what work was done and how many miles they covered.

Check if car is a write off – helps you know what you are buying

If a car is written off by an insurance company, they will usually tell DVLA so that a ‘VIC marker’ (Vehicle Identity Check marker) can be put on the vehicle record. You can check whether the vehicle you are considering purchasing has a VIC marker, either online at www.gov.uk or by telephoning the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency. You will need to know the car’s make and registration mark.

Check finance history – ensures car doesn’t have an outstanding hire purchase

You can check whether a car is clear of any outstanding finance deals by getting a history check. If you are buying from a dealer, ask whether this check has already been carried out. If not, you may have to pay to carry out this check yourself.

Test drive and walk around to check the car

Leave ample time to check the vehicle before you decide to buy it, particularly if you are travelling a long distance to view the car.

Avoid viewing a car in the rain, in poor light or at night: you won't be able to check the condition of the car properly if it's wet – water hides scratches, dents and other problems. Make sure you can see the vehicle clearly and from all angles.

The test drive is your only opportunity to check the car's general mechanical condition and to find out for sure whether it meets all your needs.

Know your budget

Always be wary of anything that seems like a real bargain, or has a very low mileage for its age. 

Check price guides and compare similar cars in the classifieds so you know as much as you can about the value of different cars to avoid being overcharged. Also get insurance quotes and check car tax rates before signing on the bottom line, and remember to factor in the cost of any work that might be needed too.

Know who you are buying from

Check whether you are buying from a private individual or a trader. If you are buying from a private individual you will not have the same level of protection in law should something go wrong.

Buying online

An increasing number of cars are being sold online. Before you pay any deposit or commit yourself to travel long distances to view the vehicle, consider asking the seller for information so you can make some checks of your own. Remember that if you do choose to buy from a seller who is not local to you, you will have to potentially travel back to them should issues arise with the car.

Don’t be pressurised into buying

There are always other vehicles out there so if this one doesn't feel right in any way it's time to walk away.

If you have a problem with a second hand car, you can get help from the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06 (03454 04 05 05 for the Welsh language line) or visit www.adviceguide.org.uk

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