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Unreliable used-cars cost Brits dear

Press release   •   Sep 08, 2006 00:01 BST

Poor purchasing decisions leave Brits shelling out over £238 million* on fixing faulty used cars each year, new research reveals today.

Poor purchasing decisions leave Brits shelling out over £238 million* on fixing faulty used cars each year, new research reveals today.

Lack of motoring knowledge and hasty decision-making mean almost a third (29%) of buyers fail to spot problems before driving off and later pay needlessly for repairs.

Such faults are not necessarily well hidden, as a significant number occur shortly after purchase. For a quarter (24%) of buyers who experienced difficulties, mechanical problems occurred within just one month.

The research, which was carried out by RAC Vehicle Examinations to look at the problems encountered by motorists when buying second-hand cars, also revealed that these nasty surprises can cost blasé buyers considerably. In more than one in ten cases (11%) of mechanical faults with a second hand vehicle, motorists have paid up to £400 for repairs. In one in twenty cases (6%), faults were serious enough that buyers had to pay out up to £800, almost a fifth of the price of the average second hand car**.

Poor mechanical and motoring knowledge are the major reasons that consumers end up with ‘duds’. Worryingly, almost half (48%) of those surveyed admitted they know little or very little about cars yet only 29% paid for a professional vehicle examination, despite the fact that choosing a car is one of the most expensive purchasing decisions after buying a house.

In addition, too few motorists are allowing adequate time for thoroughly checking potential purchases, questioning the current owner and taking a vehicle for a test-drive. Almost half of buyers (48%) spent less than thirty minutes carrying out checks on a used-car. Buyers should allow enough time to view the car thoroughly, take it for a good test drive, review the vehicle documentation and ensure it matches the car, and ask questions on the car performance and history.

Motorists justified not paying for a professional check in a number of ways:

  • 44% relied on the advice of mechanically minded friends/family
  • 22% blamed cost – despite the fact that RAC’s ‘Essentials’ vehicle examination costs only 3% of the value of the average second hand car
  • 15% were too short of time
  • 14% didn’t know such a service existed

However, as a result of the high incidences of mechanical faults, more than one in ten buyers (11%) wished with hindsight that they had paid for a professional examination.

Nick Lindsay from RAC Vehicle Examinations, said: “It’s easy to be persuaded into buying a bargain. Consumers must approach the business of buying a second-hand vehicle with caution in order to avoid disappointment. All too often, buyers treat the process too casually and suffer the consequences as a result.”

To help motorists avoid the pitfalls of buying used cars, RAC Vehicle Examinations has the following advice:

  1. View the car in daylight, at the seller’s address so you can confirm the address is the same as the V5 vehicle registration document
  2. Look for signs of clocking – does the condition of the car match the mileage?
  3. Is there wear on the seats, pedals or steering wheel. Check for rust and general corrosion on the bodywork. How worn are the tyres?
  4. Take the car for a test drive on a variety of roads, but make sure you are properly insured. Listen out for any odd noises from the engine and suspension
  5. Get an RAC Vehicle Examination, which can help to identify potentially expensive problems and signs of major accident repair.
  6. Check out the history and status of the car with an RAC Vehicle Status Check– the check will reveal whether the car has any outstanding finance against it, has been written off or reported stolen by the Police. RAC Vehicle Checks cost £24.99
  7. Check engine numbers/chassis numbers match the V5 documentation provided with the vehicle.
  8. Beware of 0 keys – separate keys for the driver’s door and boot may indicate previous damage
  9. Check under the bonnet for signs of undue wear and tear – is anything leaking, are all the fluid levels correct?
  10. If you feel something’s not right – walk away. Don’t get too attached to a car – if something’s too good to be 1, it probably is.

For more information about RAC Vehicle Checks and Examinations, visit or call 0800 975 5867

- Ends -

RAC Press office contact

Amanda Glover or Jasmine Agbulos at Lexis PR on 0207 908 6462 or 0207 908 6402

Lucy Haughey / Liz Kennett at RAC Press Office on 01603 354337 or 01603 688263

Notes to editors

* Industry figures from HPI estimate that 3 million second-hand cars are sold privately in the UK annually. 29% of buyers surveyed by RAC Vehicle Examinations (equates to 870,000 people) encountered problems with a second-hand vehicle, with the mean spend for repairs being £274.

** Figures from the survey by RAC Vehicle Examinations reveal that the mean spend on second hand cars is £4450

RAC Vehicle Examinations commissioned ICM research to interview a random sample of 1,000 adults aged 18+, by telephone between 25th and 28th August 2006. Interviews were conducted across the country and the results have been weighted to the profile of all adults. ICM is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Further information at

About RAC

With around seven million members, RAC is one of the UK's most progressive motoring organizations, providing services for both private and business motorists. Whether it's roadside assistance, windscreen repair and replacement, learning to drive, vehicle inspections and checks, legal and financial services or up-to-the-minute traffic and travel information - RAC is able to meet motorists’ needs. RAC incorporates BSM, RAC Auto Windscreens, RAC Direct Insurance and HPI.

Aviva bought RAC in May 2005. The acquisition brings together RAC's powerful brand and customer base with the expertise and leading position in motor insurance of Norwich Union Insurance (part of Aviva). Norwich Union is the UK's largest insurer, insuring one in seven motor vehicles and with a market share of around 14 per cent.

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Notes to Editors

For all media enquiries, please contact the RAC press team on +44 (0)1454 664 123. The line is manned by an on-call press officer outside office hours. ISDN radio studio facilities are available for interviews Monday to Friday.

About the RAC

First formed in 1897, the RAC has been looking after the needs of its members and championing the interests of drivers for more than 120 years.

Today it has more than eight million members and is one of the UK’s most progressive motoring organisations, providing services for both private and business motorists. Whether it's roadside assistanceinsurancebuying a used carvehicle inspections and checkslegal services or up-to-the-minute traffic and travel information – the RAC offers a solution for all motoring needs. The RAC is committed to making motoring easier, safer, more affordable and more enjoyable for drivers and road users.

The RAC is the motorist’s champion and campaigns to support the interests of its members and UK drivers at a national level. This includes voicing concerns about the increasing cost of motoring, particularly the price of fuel and the high level of tax levied on it, advancing levels of road safety, and supporting the needs of all drivers, from young to old.

The RAC’s annual Report on Motoring – first published in 1989 – is one of a kind and provides a clear insight into the concerns and issues facing today’s motorists.

For the very latest news on UK fuel prices, check RAC Fuel Watch. It provides a comprehensive guide to the latest UK unleaded petrol and diesel prices – both at the wholesale level and at the pump - and tracks these prices daily to help drivers check if the price they pay to fill up is a fair one.