When HPI opened its services to UK consumers, it revolutionised the used car industry for the better. Buying a second hand car has never been safer and more risk-free.
Still, HPI checks are quite expensive and competition has become fierce. Should you just use the free information from the DVLA or request a cheap text based test? Or is the original HPI check still your best option?
Overview/Summary [If you don’t want to read the entire article]
If you’re looking for a used car, there are many uncertainties. An HPI check provides you with information about a car’s history which can reduce these uncertainties. It minimises your risk and can help you avoid costly mistakes.
The test was pioneered by the company of the same name in the 1930s. Only in the early 90s, however, did HPI start offering its services to the public at large. Since then, other companies have begun offering similar, competing services.
These tests clearly can not bring down the risk of buying a lemon to 0. But they can be very useful indeed: Almost 90% of all used cars have hidden issues. And if you perform an HPI check, you have a one in four chance of discovering outstanding finance. Very few vehicles can claim the coveted HPI clear tag.
Generally speaking, HPI checks derive their value mainly from four checks:
- Outstanding finance, i.e. whether the car has been paid off in full.
- Write-offs, i.e. whether the car has been written off. (If it has, you are not allowed to drive it on UK roads)
- Theft, i.e. if the car does not belong to the seller.
- Mileage discrepancies, i.e. whether the number on the odometer is correct.
They also check a few other points, which all contribute towards making a more informed decision.
When it comes to deciding which car history check is best, you will find …
… many different opinions.
Generally speaking, many experts still consider the original HPI check to be the best on the market. However, it doesn’t come for free. Competitors, such as mycarcheck, the RAC and Auto Trader essentially offer the same data at a cheaper rate.
Extremely cheap email or text message based services can be helpful as a first indication, especially if you’re considering many different models. The same goes for the free service of the DVLA. But they can not replace a full-fledged HPI check or declare a car HPI clear. Importantly, they’re missing two essential cornerstones of any history check:
- The question of outstanding finance.
- A guarantee that the data is correct. HPI and its major competitors, for example, will cover any errors resulting from incorrect data or its transmission up to £30,000.
A meaningful HPI car history check can never be entirely free.
Still, you can come close. At the end of the article, we show you how to put together a pretty accurate evaluation using only free data from the web.
Surely, you’ve heard of an HPI check before. But what, exactly, is it for? Do you really need one? And, with different offers available: Which is best for you?
In this article, we’ll lead you through everything you need to know to make an informed decision. We’ll go through all the different points an HPI check verifies. We’ll separate the important ones from the less important ones. Finally, we’ll list the various providers of these services and explain the differences between them.
Most importantly, we’ll investigate a key question: Is there such a thing as a free HPI check?
Before we get there, however, let’s start with the basics:
What is an HPI check?
An HPI check is a test which provides you with information about a vehicle’s history. You mainly use it when buying a used car.
Let’s say you’ve found an interesting private offer. The seller tells you all about how his car has never been in an accident. How it’s always passed its MOT and that it’s never had any major repairs done. Do you just believe him? Do you trust him and pay up? Or wouldn’t you rather be able to verify these claims before investing a lot of money?
The HPI check allows you to research all of this and more. At the cost of between £4-£30, depending on the test, you’ll get a plethora of data to help you avoid costly mistakes.
What does HPI check stand for?
HPI is an abbreviation of Hire Purchase Information. It is, however, not just the name of a test, but also of the company which originally introduced it to the UK.
HPI was founded in 1938 by a consortium of six big insurance firms. They were faced with more and more cases of fraudulent re-financing. By pooling their information, they wanted to stay one step ahead of the fraudsters.
Their efforts were not in vain. Shortly after the war, the police started working together with HPI. Over the next decades, it grew from a subsidiary into a nationwide service provider in its own right, selling valuable information to other insurers.
1993 marked an important stepping stone for the company. From this year on, it opened up its services to the general public. This meant that everyone could request a vehicle history report when buying a used car instead of having to go through mediaries. Just shortly before Y2K, the service went online.
Today, buying a second hand vehicle in the UK is incredibly safe. We take this for granted. But things haven’t always been like this. We have a lot to thank HPI for.
Why you should conduct an HPI check
We’ve already touched upon the basic premises of the HPI check. To understand why this information has changed the industry for the better, you need to understand one thing: Unless you verify each single bit of information in a car deal, your chances of getting cheated are still pretty high.
You don’t have to take our word for it. Hard facts speak louder than a thousand words. And their message is clear: It’s better to be safe than sorry:
- 88% of cars on sale have a hidden history of problems.
- 25% of cars tested by an HPI check have outstanding finance.
- 4% of cars tested by an HPI check were written off and may potentially not be safe to drive.
Some of the more expansive HPI checks also indicate the approximate running costs of the car. This can be useful when considering the total costs of a vehicle, as opposed to just the purchase price.
So,will an HPI check solve all my issues?
This seems like a naive question – what on earth could ever solve allyour issues? Then again, it’s not entirely absurd. After all, if youbelieve the claims by HPI and its competitors, you may well come tothe conclusion that just by performing a vehicle history check youcan steer clear of any purchase-related problems.
This is obviously a mistake.
For one, there are potential errors which lie outside the domain of any of these companies. In an intriguing, if somewhat sensationalist feature, Express pointed out that some garages will enter incorrect mileage data after performing an MOT test. Unless the owner quickly corrects this, the car will show up as a potentially clocked vehicle later on. That means it would probably get flagged as part of an HPI check, although it is, in fact, absolutely fine.
And then, obviously, mistakes can always happen. In a report by AutoExpress, two of the leading HPI check providers did not detect write-offs. Needless to say the complications from such errors can be grave. (Although, as we’ll point out later in this article, you’re usually covered by a guarantee up to a certain amount for any damages due to data errors)
What is included in an HPI check?
An HPI check isn’t cheap. Yes, some of them cost as little as £4. But these ultra cheap services can not seriously be compared to a full-fledged HPI test. You really get what you pay for. A £4 test will only give you some very basic data, usually skipping financial information. A more expensive one, on the other hand, provides you with pages full of data, all of which are potentially relevant.
Let’s take a look at the typical points included in an HPI check. The first three of these deserve a special mention, as they’re clearly more important than the others: Outstanding finance, write-off and stolen cars.
After that, we’ll also delve into some of the other components of the check and explain why they’re potentially useful as well.
The seller may be the driver of the car. But he or she may not be the official owner of the car. If they’re still paying off a loan, for example, the bank or dealer is. By buying the car under such circumstances, you are also buying all financial obligations still related to it.
In other words: If there is still a loan on the car, you will be responsible for paying it off. If you can not meet your new obligations, the finance company can reclaim the vehicle, leaving you with nothing.
We usually think of write offs as heaps of metal and plastic wasting away on a scrap yard. However, there are four different categories of write-offs. And even though most of these cars are no longer okay to drive, they may still look reasonably fine to the naked eye.
An HPI check can tell you exactly whether a vehicle has been written off and what its current status is. In some cases, you should never drive a particular vehicle again. In other cases, a repair will do. Either way, you’re almost certain to face additional charges.
Every day, the police add 30 new stolen cars to their database. The actual number may be higher still. Criminals will do everything in their power to cover their traces and sell these vehicles on.
Theft is the absolute worst-case scenario when buying a second hand car. Not only will you lose the car to the previous owner the second the police identify the car. You also stand no chance whatsoever of getting your money back.
An HPI check provides you with up to date information on stolen cars. There is still a theoretical chance of a stolen vehicle not showing up in the HPI check. But these chances are very slim indeed.
What else is included in an HPI check?
Apart from these three major points, many HPI checks include a variety of additional items. These include the following:
- Mileage discrepancies: Believe it or not, there is something called a national mileage register. Contained within it are approximately 140 million vehicle mileages. So when you’re considering buying a car, you can compare the reading on the odometer with the number in the register. Clocking is still an extremely common practise and the mileage register offers at least some basic protection.
- Exported/Imported: Very few cars these days are still actually manufactured in the UK. When we speak about an ‘imported’ vehicle, however, that’s not what we mean here. Rather, the question is whether a car was originally produced for the UK market. This matters, because cars need to confirm to certain specifications. If a vehicle conforms to Indian market requirements, for example, it may not do so with regards to the UK. Vice versa, a car intended for export can not be used or insured for use here.
- Colour changes: Whenever you change the colour of your car, you need to report this to the DVLA. This allows you to see if a car’s data is truly up to date by comparing the colour on file to the actual one. The same goes for changes in the registration plate.
An HPI check … with HPI
HPI no longer holds a monopoly on car history reports. Over the past years, the market has opened up and diversified considerably. The influx of low cost, text message based services is a major disruptive factor. These offer basic information at a fraction of the price of the original test.
Another has been the RAC’s radical price reduction for its own history report. At £15.50 for a single check, it is currently by far the cheapest deal. Despite its cut-cost price, it is almost identical to the offerings of the other major players on the market.
That said, HPI remains by far the most popular car check provider. Some of its success may stem from its name-given advantage. But HPI has also used its leading position to continually improve its services.
It maintains a mileage database of its own, for example, which is arguably better than the national mileage register. It is also the only publicly available service giving you insights on whether your car may have been ‘cloned’ (stolen and then given a new identity). What’s more, it offers a £30,000 guarantee against errors in its database which lead you to a bad decision.
What about the competitors?
Before we take a look at claims of a free HPI check, let’s see what the competition has to offer.
Many of the super cheap HPI checks have improved considerably. Take mycarcheck.com, for example. This service offers three levels:
- Free, which checks just Vehicle Details, Valuation and MOT Status & History.
- Basic, which includes a far more thorough check. The basic package verifies whether or not the car was stolen. But it will not check if there is outstanding finance on it. At £1.99, this is a very cheap deal.
- Comprehensive, which adds a finance check as well as a 30,000 Pound ‘data guarantee’.
The comprehensive check is the one you should consider. Costing just £9.99, it is not quite as comprehensive as the bigger checks. But it is quite a lot cheaper.
The big players
Of the more expansive offerings, those by Experian (called autocheck) and Autotrader (called vehicle check) are essentially as good as the original HPI check. There are only minor variations between them, so you can base your decision on:
- Price – especially multiple checks differ widely in terms of costs. The RAC’s offer is slightly cheaper than the rest, for example. So you can save some serious money here.
- Guarantee – many companies have responded to HPI’s £30,000 guarantee. But not all have. Also, there are differences when it comes to the details of the guarantee, so be sure to read the fine print.
- Some specific points you would like to verify.
In a test by Auto Express, Experian finished first, ahead of the RAC and Auto Trader. But the gaps between the competitors are narrowing.
What about an HPI Check by email?
Surely you’ve seen them: email HPI checks at rock bottom prices. They’re really simple. Usually, you just send a text message to the number specified in the ad. Shortly afterwards, you’ll get a car history report sent to your mobile.
The costs of these services are often well below those provided by the major car history companies. Whereas a real HPI check will set you back around £20 and CarVeto (see below) has a £13 tier, some of these email HPI checks cost as little as £2-5.
And yet, the companies making these offers claim that they’ll give you peace of mind.
Can this be for real?
Curiously, very few of these offers are literally rip-offs. They tend to work with the same data as the big players. They do offer information which can not be had for free.
And yet, their value is limited at best.
This is because almost all of these services omit the one piece of information that is most important to you: The question of car finance and outstanding debt. Some don’t even include the question of whether or not the vehicle is a write-off.
Does this mean that email HPI checks are useless?
Not entirely. As we’ll show you towards the end of this article, they can be useful after all. When you’re in the process of buying a car, you will most likely look at several vehicles. If you were to run a full HPI check for each one, you’d end up broke before you could sign the contract.
So, instead of doing that, you can run a few preliminary smaller checks by email. These will only set you back a few Pounds and can help you in eliminating some contenders from your list.
Once you’re in the final stages of the buying process, a full-fledged HPI car history report may be warranted in making sure you’re really taking the right decision.
So, all in all, HPI checks by email can serve a purpose. Just don’t treat them as more than that: A helpful and cheap way to get a first impression.
DVLA: A free HPI check?
As we’ve mentioned, an HPI check can be quite pricey, especially if you need to request several of them when looking for a used car. Little wonder, then, that a free HPI check is an extremely popular search term.
If you remember, mycarcheck.com claims to offer a free car history check. So why not just use that one instead?
The simple reason is that this free test can not even remotely be compared to its ‘basic’ and „comprehensive’ packages. In reality, there is no free HPI check. And at least for a while, there won’t be.
Technically speaking, you can get quite a lot of valuable information for free. As we’ve explained in our article on the DVLA car check, you can get the following data just by entering your registration number:
- Vehicle make
- Date of first registration
- Year of manufacture
- Cylinder capacity
- Fuel type
- Euro Status
- Export marker
- Vehicle status
- Car colour
- Vehicle type approval
- Wheel plan
- Revenue weight
- MOT results
- Insurance status
At the same time, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Most of this information deals with the technical specifications of your car. It’s interesting, but hardly a ‘car history report’.
The DVLA data is great for getting a feeling for whether or not the car may be a good choice. The MOT information will also give you a rough idea of the condition the car is in.
All existing HPI car checks make use of the data provided by the DVLA to bolster up what else they have.
you should not consider this a ‘free HPI car check’, however. Don’t be fooled by claims that you don’t need to pay to get a car history report. If you really want to protect yourself from expensive mistakes, you’re going to have to invest a bit of cash.
More reason why an HPI check can not be free
There is another very simple reason why an HPI check can never be entirely free: Some of the data requested as part of the process actually costs money to procure.
In fact, many of the most relevant sections of the HPI check are not for free. This includes, for example, the passages about car finance. If you really want to know whether there is outstanding debt on a vehicle, you’re going to have to fork out some cash. The same goes for information about whether or not a car is an import model.
That said, there’s not an awful lot you can’t get for free these days and the information on an HPI car check is no exception. Still, there is one more extremely important reason why companies like HPI or the RAC charge money for their reports.
The big guarantee
When you request an HPI check, you rightly expect more than from a free DVLA check. Not just in terms of the quantity of the information. After all, even HPI vehicle checks still contain quite a lot of points which are probably not, strictly speaking, essential. In short: They contain more than you’ll need or would ever want to know.
What they mainly offer, is a higher quality level of information. What does that mean? Simply put, when you sign up for an HPI check, you base your decision on whether or not to buy a car on this. Let’s say you want to know if a used car you’re interested in still has debt. HPI data suggests it doesn’t and you buy it – only to find out that there’s several thousand Pounds of car finance still to be paid and the previous owner is nowhere to be found.
If you had looked up this information for free on the Internet, you’d now be burdened with an enormous financial load. HPI, however, guarantees that its information is correct. And it will cover the costs resulting from any incorrect data it may have transmitted, up to £30,000. The same goes for the condition of the car, only here the maximum compensation ends at £15,000.
This guarantee is the single most valuable benefit of the HPI car check. And it will remain relevant even when, as will eventually happen, all information can be obtained online for free.
A cheaper car check from Car Veto?
As with any part of the car market, the competition for HPI checks has been tough. Today, you can get a fact sheet similar to a full-fledged HPI-check by email for just a few Pounds. Admittedly, these are not up to par with the more expansive bigger vehicle checks. But in the early stages of the process, they can definitely provide useful points of departure.
Car Veto has been one of the most interesting additions to the market. Set up by Marcus Rockey, founder of car information portal Used Car Guy, this service has chosen a slightly different approach:
- A focus on those factors which truly matter.
- A clear straight pass, warning, fail recommendation at the end of the report.
- A deeper customer support as part of the process. CarVeto claims it can and will assist with applications for further information with the DVLA, for example.
- Their car history check is cheaper, but essentially offers the same guarantee as an HPI check.
Still, even a website like CarVeto is not entirely for free. If you really want to save some money, you’ll need to be a little more creative.
Create your own free HPI check
So, here’s our guide to building your own free HPI check. Yes, it’s going to cost you a little more time. And no, it won’t cover every single point included in a ‘professional’ car history check.
The good thing, though, is that it offers plenty of valuable information and won’t cost you a single penny. If push comes to shove, you can still apply for one more HPI check at the very end of the process.
Until then, however, these free informations provide you with a great start.
Here, then, are the parts of the HPI check you can genuinely get for free.
We talked about this already, so there’s no need to spend too much time on it. Suffice it to say that the new and improved online MOT history check is one of the greatest and deservedly most popular web services in the UK. If you log in once this year, do so in the knowledge that 4.5 million others are going to do the exact same thing.
The MOT check provides you with basic but very relevant information about potential defects and the way previous owners have treated the vehicle. It also makes it a lot easier to spot clocking. All in all, the MOT check is an excellent start to your free self-made HPI car history check.
In the second step, grab all the relevant data from the DVLA website. As mentioned above, this data is a veritable treasure trove and packed to the brim with insights.
The core of most paid-for reports is actually based on and built with this information.
The DVLA data complements the MOT results. Together, they’re like a powerful fact sheet on your car which makes for a great basis for a more detailed look. In some cases, you may already want to abort the process right here – if, for example, the odometer has clearly been tampered with or if there have been far too many fails on past MOT checks.
The insurance status of your prospective next car is another interesting piece of the puzzle. Strictly speaking, after all, no car is allowed to be driven on UK roads without being properly insured. So if the current owner hasn’t paid for adequate coverage, this is a clear red light in terms of buying said car.
There is a direct link from the government MOT website to the free insurance check. The service is called askmid and comes at no additional cost. It is a very simple form which requires you to fill out no more than a few basic pieces of information. After that, you can check and see whether the car in question is included in the Motor Insurance Database.
So far so good. Although there are still far too many UK drivers who have never heard about the free options mentioned above (up to almost 50% according to some studies), more and more people have understood that they can collect quite a lot of valuable and reliable information on a car online.
Now, let’s focus on some of the less well-known checks you can perform for free. One of the most important things you’ll want to know when looking for a used car is whether it was stolen. This data does not cost any of the HPI check providers any money, but you can not collect it straight from the police.
Thanks to a few new web services, you now no longer need to pay for it, either.
Is it nicked is probably the biggest of these. Simply enter the Vehicle Identification (VIN) number and within a few seconds, you’ll know if you’re safe or not. This information may not be quite as valuable if you’re buying from a dealer, as these cars are very unlikely to be stolen. But it can be quite relevant if you’re buying used on the private market.
Write Off check
Many users have suggested using a workaround to create a free write off check.
On Autotrader, create an ad for the vehicle in question without actually intending to sell it.
As soon as the ad is created, the status of the car will be displayed in the ad. This means you can access this information for free.
As this seems to go against autotrader’s intended use of its services, we can not endorse it. It does suggest, however, that the cost of this check are not very high or even zero. We therefore expect that there will be services quite soon which will provide this information at no additional charge. As soon as that happens, you will have access to all the main information to base your decision on – except for the finance check – without having to pay for it.
In the meantime, many email HPI checks will offer you this information at a much reduced price. Total Car Check, for example, offers a silver level inquiry which costs just under 2 Pounds and includes the information.
As mentioned before, email HPI checks can in general be a useful tool in the early stages of the process, to help you separate the wheat from the chaff. As soon as you’re closer to clinching the deal, they probably won’t be thorough enough. Until then, however, they will do just fine to save you some money.
Until that happens …
… one of your best strategies consists in buying at a reputable used car dealer. Dealers will always check the status of a car before buying it. There is absolutely no benefit in them trying to sell a stolen vehicle, as the risks associated with such malpractice are far too high. Instead, car dealers are working very hard at improving their image and building a more solid foundation for their business.
Although Whatcar reported that some dealers are still trying to pass on these costs as admin fees to buyers, most are no longer doing this.
At CCC, you will find a showroom filled with great cars, guaranteed to be non-write-offs, non-stolen and without any outstanding finance. Each of them has been meticulously tested, repaired and cleaned to feel as good as new.
Convince yourself of our services and visit our showroom now. Either on location in Manchester or in our digital showroom here on this site. We’re looking forward to you!
What does HPI Clear mean?
HPI Clear is the gold standard for any used car in the UK. Essentially, it means that there are no unknown negative facts in the car’s history.
More concretely, it indicates that the car does not have any outstanding finance, is not a write-off or stolen car and that its actual mileage matches the number on the odometer.
HPI Clear is a stamp of excellence and a reason for deciding in favour of a particular vehicle.
It does not, however, mean that the car is a great deal or even that it does not have any mechanical issues. You will still need to check for problems using a sensible vehicle inspection check list.
What are the alternatives to HPI?
There are many companies offering services similar to or almost exactly like the ones offered by HPI. We’ve mentioned a few in this article. The most well-known alternative test is by the RAC. It has the double benefit of essentially offering the same basic functionality and being quite a bit cheaper.
Many experts still recommend using HPI if money is not an issue. The reason is that HPI has an extensive history in this field, offers a very high guarantee and its services are the most expansive on the market. It also goes without saying that you can rely on their information to be accurate and correct.
This is not to say that other providers can not work as well. Just make sure to check whether they truly offer all the data you are looking for.
How much should I spend on an HPI history check?
We are very hesitant to give you a concrete number here. The reason being that it all depends on what kind of information you need and how much you can trust the seller to be truthful.
At the same time, we do feel that your car history check should include the four big points mentioned in our article: Outstanding finance, theft, write-off and mileage. This by default means that your HPI check won’t come for free and that it will probably cost more than just one or two Pounds.
In practical terms, it makes sense to approach this pragmatically. In a first step, use our free HPI car check to separate the wheat from the chaff until you arrive at about 5 good choices. Then, consider text based messages or email HPI car checks to narrow things down even more. Then, with only one or two cars left, a more expensive test can help you finalise your decision.