How Do HPI Checks Work? And Are They Worth Paying For?

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HPI checks, also called car history checks or car data checks are a way to look into the history of a car you are thinking of buying or selling. As a buyer, this can protect you from scams and allow you to make an informed decision. As a seller, it can give you the most accurate valuation based on the car’s mileage and service history.

How Do They Work?

Once supplied with a vehicle’s license plate number, an HPI company will draw from a number of databases maintained by the DVLA, the police, and various insurance companies to build up a complete history of the car.

These checks are used and trusted by large, professional car dealerships, and the single checks that a private individual can order draw on the same databases so you can expect the same level of detail and accuracy, including things like the car’s accident history and Vehicle Identification Number.

Are They Worth Paying For?

The industry seems to think so, since they use professional services. However, a quick search online will reveal free options, and why would you pay for something you could get for free?

The answer is quality—in this case the quality of the information and of the service. Free online car data checks will not reveal whether there is outstanding finance on the car, or whether it has been reported stolen. In both these cases the car is, in fact, not the legal property of the seller meaning they have no right to transfer ownership to you, and the vehicle could be seized with no recourse to claim back the money you spent on it—shady dealers have a habit of disappearing as soon as money has changed hands.

They also won’t reveal if a car is written off, and if a car has been classified as a category A or B total loss it may be unsafe and shouldn’t be on the road.

Paid services also offer a degree of insurance against buying an inferior car because of incorrect information—up to £30,000 in some cases!

There are also apps that are free, but make individual types of check (finance, mileage, valuation, etc.) in-app purchases. These might seem like a healthy middle ground, but they aren’t exactly great value for money, with the seemingly innocent small purchases adding up over time, and charging for just the information you could get with an inferior free check. It doesn’t help that many of these apps have a reputation for bugs and crashes.

In short, if you’re making a significant investment in a used car—especially when buying privately—it’s always worth the money to get a full professional HPI check.