Blog : Get it checked… before it costs you!

HPI, Equifax, Text Checker and many others will check your potential car purchases at a cost. But what about the most basic of checks such as the MoT?

Mike Humble explains… and best of all IT’S FREE!

Arthur Daley - Still plenty of them out there even as private vendors!

Those who know me will vouch for the fact that I am slightly pessimistic, if there was ever a glass half empty kind of person it’s me, and then I would also spot a chip in the rim. Saying that, being this way makes me appreciate something or someone who does me a good turn or when something does goe pear shaped, I’m ready and sort of knew it was coming.

Only just recently, I had one of those ‘can you look at a car for me’ phone calls, and with it being a seemingly bargain Rover 45 of 2002 vintage, I said okay, threw my Roveralls into the boot, and headed off up the road with a friend to view the aforementioned car. Discussing the car en route, it seemed too good to be true and even though 1.8 Rover 45s may not be the most sought after used chariot, a 2002 with aircon, leather, alloys, sensible mileage and service history for well under a grand would even have me tempted or at least curious.

Arriving at the vendor’s house, we both gazed from the windscreen at a street that looked like that scene from Terminator 2 where Sarah Connor has that dream where Nuclear oblivion hits the world – broken children’s swings and toys strewn everywhere in the front gardens, it was not exactly Beverley Hills.

There sat the Rover 45 looking resplendent in Jewish Racing Gold, knocking on the front door we were then greeted by the seller who can only be described as a cross between Ross Kemp and Dominic Littlewood. Cutting to the chase, we looked around the car while my mate kept the seller talking so to let me get on with the investigative matters. The vendor never said anything about my presence, but his discomfort was obvious – I could feel his eyes burning a hole in the back of my clothes.

Right from the start all the alarm signs were there – he had owned the car for a shade over eight months and six previous jockeys showed on the log book. The service book was there but no paperwork to support the stamps whatsoever. Noting the addresses on the stamps, it looked like ever year the car had been serviced in a different county and all the usual signs of previous engine woes could be seen in the form of the manifold heat shield missing, a stud also missing from the cylinder head/manifold joint and the dipstick tube not secured to the water pump – all a guarantee that the head had been off recently with work done on the cheap. But on face value the car seemed to be worth a punt at the asking price of £700 if a decent discount could be obtained.

A road test the followed whereby it became obvious that it was a wreck, it drove really badly. The power steering was noisy, its brakes were shocking, the steering wheel was about 25 degrees out of straight, none of the tyres matched for brand and the rear end felt like you were playing around on a water bed. Asking the seller about the missing advise sheet for the MoT, we were told it was for the small crack in the windscreen.

Wisely, my buddy suggested he went away and thought about it and we conversed about this rag bag 45 all the way home. What no one noticed was myself scribbling down the cars reg number and MoT certificate number from the VT20 when we back in The Bronx (oops I meant Crawley). If you look on your current MoT certificate (if you have one) towards the top left you will see the MoT Test Number with the Reg no: below. All you need to do is log onto the VOSA website and follow the link for MOT CHECK, it’s all free and takes less than 30 seconds.

Here, you will find the cars history of passes, fails and advisory notes going right back to when MOT tests went on-line. I’m amazed at how many people are not aware of this facility.

Type in the details of the test & reg number - All will be revealed!

Be honest, how many times have you gone to look at a used car to find the advise sheet missing but the staple or tell tale holes still reside in the certificate? We checked the Rover when we got back round to my place, advises on steering, brakes, corrosion on the brake pipes, corrosion on the fuel lines, play in the CV joints, slow retraction of one of the seat belts – but oddly enough, no mention of the small crack in the windscreen. From a car owning point of view, if you intend to keep your car and you pick up a few advisory notes at the test, don’t be tempted to bury your head in the sand, get them dealt with or prioritise the work – it will only come back to bite you in the wallet. So in a nutshell, Graham did not buy the Rover – and to close, I’d like to offer a few simple nuggets of advice that cost nothing for when you next rush out to buy that used car….

  1. Check the MoT history using the VOSA website – its free and can make for some interesting reading!
  2. Nice cars tend to come from nice areas and driven by nice people – not allways the case but mainly true!
  3. No one ever became offended by saying a polite NO – refuse to feel obliging, if it’s not right WALK AWAY!
  4. Any vendor worth his salt selling a genuine car WILL NOT bat an eyelid should you take an experienced person with you.
  5. Advisory notes potentially are just as serious as a fail, use your bargaining skills and negotiate acordingly.
Mike Humble


  1. must admit i hadn’t realised that. Although i tend to only consider having a car with an MOT as meaning i dont have to worry too much about getting it sorted in a rush.
    Having one doesn’t mean the car isn’t a heap of turd. If the car is a shed then i’ll walk away no matter how long the MOT is, although i might report it to VOSA if it’s that bad.

  2. Sound advice. Unfortunately I don’t think NI offers this facility though.

    I thought I knew a bit about motors, but was caught out once, bought what turned out to be a Cat ‘C’ (cheap car, seller ‘waiting on logbook’, slightly off-shade coloured bumper – and this was from a seller in a reasonably nice area who kept us waiting on a Sunday as he was ‘returning from church’….) I now insist on a vehicle check before buying anything other than a £100 disposable banger.

  3. Never knew about that feature, although I doubt garages would tell buyers, and the general public just wouldnt know. I had the experience of driving cars in the US where they didnt/dont have a test… A Hyundai Auto with a box of neutrals and a 9mm handgun on the drivers seat and a Plymouth Voyager that never managed a straight line in its life. both would have failed here (the Plymouth needed half a turn lock to hold a straight course) but over there were paragons of engineering excellence.

    Jewish Racing Gold? Really… If I were you and a 5″6 brunette shows up answering to the name Ziva – I would have a clear run to the back door and a BMW 850 with the engine running at all times. Not funny.

  4. I use this a lot. It is also useful if your car is in for a test and you want to find out the outcome before you phone for the bad news…..! 🙂 Also stops the garage telling you there was more wrong that there really was

  5. This is superb advice Mike… well worth checking. Nowadays I buy almost new cars so usually only need to have one MOT before re-selling/trading in. I’m proud that I look after my cars and always have receipts for everything including tyres, to back up the service book.

    By the way I think that Rover jewish racing gold colour was called Sienna Gold?

  6. £700? It must have been gold plated! Fine if you get time to write the VOSA document number down, but a duff car is a duff car and if it don’t look right or drive right there’s no point pursuing it any further no matter how cheap it is. And as soon as I saw the area the car was for sale in I wouldn’t bother knocking the door anyway.

  7. I Recently bought a “Cat C” 1998 Rover 100 for my Dad, to replace a stolen Metro.The car had had the OSF wing bumped, no other damage, but the insurance had insisted on writing it off as just the wing was £900 of damage. It had been repaired and sprayed nicely for £120.The point here is that just because it is CAT C it does not really mean “substantially damaged/repaired” it means “check carefully”.

    The vendor (who lived in the same street) gave me the keys,all the records,and told me too check it as much as I liked,which I did and checked that the advisories and fails for the last 5 year had been done-the VOSA service really is very useful.
    Result? a nice 50K R100, with no welding, good history,and peace of mind for £350

  8. obviously the mot test is a good thing (once yearly)proposals are being dicussed for 4-2-2.The new mot certificate is now printed on blank paper with advisories printed in a box to the right,some car dealers are moaning about this because buyers may walk away if those advised jobs hav’nt been done i.e shock absorber misted with oil and so on.i think its another way of weeding out the second hand corner of the market-£500-£1500 sheds in other words,the seller may only have a small margin in the car and no-one wants to buy work do they?and dont forget an mot does’nt mean a thing only that the vehicle presnted on the day has met the minimum standard on the testable items.

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