Sunday, May 23, 2010

Six tips to spot a clocked car

Clocking is one of the biggest threats to used car buyers. If you've never heard the term before, it's when a crafty seller tinkers with the odometer to make it look as though a car has covered fewer miles, which increases its value.

What's worse is that it's almost impossible to spot, so you could be paying well over the odds for a car that's a lot more tired than it looks.

A BBC 'Watchdog' investigation recently uncovered serial car clocker, Ashley Singh, who sold such cars from home via used car sales websites. Singh used fake identities and doctored service histories to keep buyers in the dark, and it was only when he bought a car from the 'Watchdog' team that he was discovered.

Journalists from the programme sold Singh a car with 128,000 miles on the clock for £2,300, but later found him selling the same vehicle for £6,000 with a claimed 47,000 on the clock.

With that in mind, it's essential to be as knowledgeable as possible when you're buying your next second-hand car. Our top six tips for spotting a potentially clocked vehicle will keep you in the know and dodgy dealers at bay.

Check the service history

It's tempting to just skim through the service history when you get caught up in the excitement of buying a car - but don't. Inspect every document thoroughly.

Not every car will have a full service history, but the more documents, the better. Look for stamps from a genuine dealer, as these are good signs that the work has been carried out by a professional - and you can trace each fix, MoT or service back to an individual garage.

Get an HPI check

Vehicle history specialist HPI reckons that one in 12 used cars has a mileage discrepancy, so it's well worth shelling out the nominal cost for a comprehensive history check. Single HPI checks start at £19.99 and the company has a database of 135 million mileages. If you're paying a four figure sum for your next car, £20 for peace of mind seems worth it.

Double check the mileage on collection

A common trick by cheeky fraudsters is to wind the mileage figure back to a lower level when the buyer first comes to view the car, then change it to its correct level shortly before the car is collected.

Make a note of the mileage - and the general condition of the rest of the car - during your first viewing. On the second visit, give it a quick once over to make sure everything matches before you hand over your cash.

Talk to the previous owner

If you're buying the car from anyone other than a private seller then it's worth contacting the previous owner. Their details can be found on the front page of the vehicle's logbook - write them down and contact the last owner before you buy.

See if what the previous owner says matches the service history. They're not likely to know everything off by heart, but if there are any glaring differences then it could be time to walk away.

Look for wear and tear

Clocked cars are hard to spot, but if a vehicle has covered a lot more miles than the seller claims, then there are telltale signs. Worn steering wheels and seats and damaged or loose interior trim suggest that the car has been used heavily.

Look for new but easily replaceable parts too, like wiper blades hub caps. This could mean that the seller has shelled out a small amount to get the car looking tidy, when in fact, it's not up to scratch.

Trust your judgement

Check out the front page of the logbook. If the previous owner was a fleet or business then the mileage will usually be quite high. If the car was for business use only and it has only covered 6,000 miles in a year then you have reason to be wary. Stay savvy and keep your wits about you and you have far less chance of buying a dud.

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