Beware A Write-Off Masquerading As A Bargain

BBC1’s The One Show this week has highlighted the ongoing threats facing used car buyers and reported how vehicle checks, including the HPI Check, can help buyers avoid buying a written off vehicle masquerading as the perfect used car.  Leading vehicle information expert, HPI, joins the BBC in calling for used car buyers to be aware of the risks and take the right steps to protect themselves from vehicles that could turn out to be a nightmare on wheels.

Nicola Johnson, Consumer Services Manager for HPI comments, “With used car prices declining insurers are more likely to write-off a car. On average 1 in 25 vehicles checked by HPI are recorded as an insurance write off, it is evident that unscrupulous car sellers will do anything to make a quick profit.”

Any vehicle that has been declared a write-off by an insurance company is placed into an industry recognised damage classification, depending on its condition. A or B category write-offs are vehicles which should have been crushed and never returned to the road, Category C and D vehicles can be returned to the road, but buyers must be sure that they are roadworthy before they drive them.

As featured on the BBC’s One Show, student nurse Gemma Johnson thought she’d found the car of her dreams when she took a Ford Ka for a test drive. She loved it so much that she handed over £3,300 to the garage, and drove off in what she thought was a bargain. When she got it home, her dad took a look and soon found signs that the car had had major repairs. Gemma called the DVLA, who confirmed that the car had been in an accident and was a category D write-off. After conducting an RAC Inspection, 67 faults were found, 14 of which should not have allowed the car to pass its MOT.

“I’ve learnt now that you need to have your wits about yourself,” said Gemma to the BBC One Show. “…carry out your own HPI Check, because if I had done that I would have known.”

Nicola Johnson adds, “Buying a used car can be a minefield of potential problems, as Gemma found out. Unscrupulous sellers are using more and more sophisticated ways to con unsuspecting buyers out of their cash. It’s easy to be taken in by shiny paintwork, but the fact is, it could be hiding a multitude of faults.

“If you don’t know much about cars, always pay for an expert opinion.  We strongly recommend buyers get both a HPI vehicle history check and a vehicle inspection from the likes of the RAC for true peace of mind.”  This was supported by Dom Littlewood who said on the programme, “If you don’t know anything about cars don’t even bother trying to tell if a car has been written-off. You won’t be able to do it … If you don’t know what you’re doing, pay for an expert who does.”

The HPI Check will confirm a vehicle’s history including whether it has been written-off or stolen and includes a mileage check. It also provides buyers with the HPI Guarantee.  This provides up to £30,000 financial reimbursement in the event of the car not being everything it seems – including a write-off.

An RAC Inspection can provide invaluable information to a buyer before they make a purchase, telling them if a vehicle has any mechanical faults they may not be aware of or if the vehicle has undergone any major accident repair.

Concludes Nicola Johnson of HPI:  “When buying from a garage or privately, request to see all the documents the owner holds.  And be sure to conduct your own checks, don’t just rely on what the seller tells you when you have the opportunity to double check the facts.  Armed with these results, buyers can ensure repairs are made before purchase, or negotiate a better price for the vehicle. Don’t leave yourself open to used car fraudsters, get a professional check to ensure that your next dream car really is a bargain and not a banger.”


  • Always view the car in daylight, at the registered keeper’s address. Make sure you check that the keeper’s address, and the vehicle engine number and chassis number match the V5 documentation provided as well as the MOT certificate
  • Look under the bonnet for signs of undue wear and tear. Check whether anything is leaking and that the fluid levels are correct
  • Check for signs of wear on the seats, pedals or steering wheel. Make sure the tyres aren’t balding and have an adequate amount of tread
  • Look for signs of tampering with the mileage counter. “Clocking” is a common practice so make sure the condition of the car matches the mileage
  • Examine the bodywork for signs of rust or general corrosion
  • Take the car for a test drive on a variety of road types. Look out for smoke when starting the engine and listen for any odd noises from the engine and suspension
  • Get an RAC vehicle inspection, which can help to identify potentially expensive problems and signs of major accident repair
  • Check the history and status of the car with an HPI Check