Number Plate Check: What You Need to Know Before Buying a Used Car

Number Plate Check: What You Need to Know Before Buying a Used Car


Buying a used car can be exciting, but it’s essential to approach the process cautiously and thoroughly. One often overlooked but crucial step is performing a number plate check. The number plate, a license plate, holds valuable information about the vehicle’s history and legitimacy. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk you through why conducting a number plate check is essential, how to do it, and what key details to look out for when considering a used car purchase in the UK.

Why Is a Number Plate Check Important?

A number plate check can provide critical information about a used car’s history and legality. Here’s why it’s essential:

  1. Vehicle Identity Verification: A number plate uniquely identifies a vehicle. Verifying the number plate helps confirm the vehicle’s identity and authenticity.
  2. Check for Stolen Vehicles: A number plate check can reveal if the vehicle has been reported as stolen. Purchasing a stolen car puts you at risk of losing your investment and has legal consequences.
  3. Outstanding Finance: A plate check can uncover if the vehicle has special finance, ensuring you won’t inherit someone else’s debt.
  4. MOT History: You can access a vehicle’s MOT (Ministry of Transport) history through its number plate. This reveals crucial information about the vehicle’s roadworthiness and maintenance.
  5. Accident History: By checking the number plate, you may uncover any accident history, which is vital for assessing the car’s condition and potential repairs.

Can I find the car owner’s information by number plate?

In the UK, it is not legally possible for the general public to access car owner information solely by using a vehicle’s number plate. The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) strictly regulates access to such data to protect individuals’ privacy and security. While some online services claim to provide car owner details, they typically offer limited information, such as the vehicle’s make and model. Accessing personal owner information through a number plate is illegal and breaches data protection laws. If you need to contact a vehicle owner for a legitimate reason, it’s best to go through appropriate channels or authorities, such as the DVLA or local law enforcement agencies.

How to Perform a Number Plate Check:

1. Online Plate Check Services:

Several online services in the UK offer number plate checks. These services can provide comprehensive reports on a vehicle’s history. Examples include the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency) and various private services. You’ll typically need to enter the registration number (number plate) to access the information.

2. DVLA Website:

The DVLA’s official website provides a free service to check a vehicle’s MOT history and tax status by entering its number plate. While this resource is valuable, it may provide only some of the information you need for a comprehensive check.

3. Contacting the Seller:

Feel free to ask the seller for the vehicle’s number plate and perform your checks. Legitimate sellers should be willing to provide this information.

What to Look for in a Number Plate Check:

  1. Stolen Vehicle Status: Ensure the car you’re considering isn’t reported as stolen. If it is, do not proceed with the purchase.
  2. Outstanding Finance: Check if there’s any special finance on the vehicle. This can be a significant financial burden if not addressed.
  3. MOT History: Review the MOT history to understand the vehicle’s roadworthiness and potential maintenance issues.
  4. Accident History: Be aware of any accident history. While accidents can happen, an account of severe damage may affect the car’s value and safety.
  5. Matching VIN: Verify that the number plate matches the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) on the car. Inconsistent information could be a red flag.
  6. V5C Document: Ensure that the seller has the V5C registration certificate (also known as the logbook) and that the details on the document match the number plate and VIN.

What happens if a car is bought with outstanding finance?

If you buy a car with outstanding finance, you could face several consequences. The finance company, still owning the vehicle, may reclaim it, leaving you without the car you paid for. You will legally own the vehicle once the finance is fully settled, so you’re essentially buying something that isn’t entirely yours. Additionally, your credit may be affected if you’re unable to resolve the outstanding finance. To avoid this situation, it’s crucial to perform a comprehensive outstanding finance check, including checking for outstanding finances, before purchasing a used car. If you discover outstanding finance, it’s best to negotiate with the seller to clear the debt before finalizing the purchase.


A thorough number plate check is a crucial step before deciding to buy a used car in the UK. It provides valuable insights into the vehicle’s history, including potential issues such as outstanding finance, accidents, or stolen status. By following the steps outlined in this guide and carefully reviewing the information from your number plate check, you can make an informed and confident decision when purchasing a used car, ensuring your investment is safe and reliable for the future.

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