Car History Check - jargon & terminology

What does it all mean?                                                                   

Cloning, clocking, colours and keepers. Thinking of getting a vehicle history check on that dream used car you’ve been looking at? Better understand the lingo then…

Every industry has its own jargon and terminology and the motor industry is no different. There’s so much going on in this busy and exciting sector that it’s often difficult to keep up: not only with established aspects, but with new developments and technology that comes about every year.

Drill down even further into the world of car history checking and you’ll find an array of terms, expressions and acronyms describing what you get when you pay for a check on a used vehicle. It’s all useful stuff, but you can end up feeling stumped because you simply don’t know what something means.

Motorcheck, for example, offers a huge list of important and useful benefits included in its regular £9.99 ‘Single Check’. But clicking on the page to find out what’s on offer could leave you scratching your head in wonder.

So to help through the minefield of car history checking jargon, here is a list of some of the terminology you might come across:

Clocking: If a car has been ‘clocked’ it means someone has turned back its odometer, or mileage reader, to make it appear fresher and less used than it really is. It’s illegal and dangerous, not least because service schedules (and therefore safety checks) are based on mileage.

Cloning: An illegal practice where a stolen or written-off car is given a new, false identity using the details of another vehicle that’s usually the same in appearance and colour. A history check can weed these out using the car’s identity number (VIN) and logbook.

Colour change: If the car has ever been re-sprayed it should be reported to the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency), with the date of change and the original colour.

Cut and shut: An unglamorous term for a car that has been created by welding together two other cars, probably write-offs. It’s illegal and unsafe.

Engine number: A car’s engine number will include details of engine size, and date and country of manufacture. If an engine has been changed following an accident or theft and doesn’t match with the car, the alarm bells should be ringing.

Exported: The DVLA should be notified when a vehicle is exported to another country and then, if it comes back, that entry is removed. But if the person selling the car didn’t know it was recorded as exported, it means they don’t know its complete history, so buying from them could be risky.

Imported: This alert shows if a vehicle has been used outside of the UK in the past. There’s no issue with buying a car from abroad, but you should be aware of the fact and the reasons why the car was brought into the country.

Keepers: The DVLA should be told each time a car changes ownership and this check reveals that number of people. If several drivers have owned a car, it can mean it’s unreliable or has another problem. It’s certainly worth knowing about.

Modifications: Modified cars can have any number of things done: lowered suspension, new exhaust system, larger wheels, a more powerful engine. Not illegal on their own but worth knowing if the car you’re thinking about has been drastically changed, and why.

Plate change: If the vehicle has had a legitimate number plate change, this check will highlight it. Any discrepancy should be followed up.

Q registration: Some cars are difficult to accurately age or properly confirm identity. It could be an import or a hand-built ‘kit’ car or race car, for example.

Recall: Where car manufacturers discover part failures or safety issues on one of their cars they might issue a recall which allows owners to return their vehicle for remedial work. This check counts how many recalls have been issued.

Scrapped: A car that is marked as ‘scrapped’ should not be on the road at all, let alone up for sale. Similar to checking for a write-off, this investigation will discover if the car has been declared a total loss by an insurance company.

Tax status: This checks to see if the vehicle you like has up-to-date tax or has been registered as SORN – taken off the road without tax or insurance.

Taxi check: Was the car ever used as a taxi? If it was, you’ll want to know about it, because taxis are generally well-used, high mileage vehicles.

Unscrapped: Vehicles do occasionally become marked as ‘unscrapped’. This might be OK but you would need to find out the history behind this marking before deciding to buy.

Vehicle identity: You need to know you are looking at (and buying) the right vehicle. Motorcheck’s VIC (vehicle identity check) will verify the car’s identification number, log book and other identifying certificates.

VIC: If the history check reveals a VIC inspection it means there are questions marks against a car’s identity or it could be a warning that it has been previously written off by insurers. Be wary of this.

VIN: A car’s VIN is its vehicle identification number and is a specific code just for that car. It can be used to check recalls, registrations, and insurance history such as theft. This is a primary check to have done.

Write-off: A car that has been ‘written-off’ was either not worth repairing following damage or has been stolen and never recovered. It’s another important check.

Still not sure about what something means?

Ask the experts – Motorcheck has a wealth of useful information on its website but, if you’re still not sure, you can contact its support team for help.