People looking to buy a new car are being warned to be on their guard after the RAC discovered that more than half (52%) of vehicles have a hidden history that could cause problems for new owners.

A sample of RAC Vehicle History Checks covering more than 32,000 used cars for sale in the UK revealed a multitude of possible issues, the most common being a change of number plate. More than a quarter (27.5%) of vehicles analysed had recorded such a change. While this could indicate a change to or from a personalised number plate, it could also be a sign that a former owner has tried to hide the vehicle’s true identity.

Almost one in five vehicles (17.6%) had not yet been paid off by previous owners despite being advertised for sale. This is likely to mean the car is still being leased or is legally still owned by a finance company under a hire purchase or personal contract purchase arrangement and cannot be sold on.

The RAC Vehicle History Checks data also found that 14.2% of vehicles were deemed insurance write-offs, while 1.9% were either imports or exports, vehicles that warrant closer inspection as they must always be sold with particular documentation. A small number of vehicles for sale were either recorded as stolen (0.2%) or technically scrapped (0.1%).