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What is an HPI check and do I need one?

What is an HPI check and do I need one?


Motoring journalist, John Swift take a look at what an HPI check is and whether you should consider buying a car without one.

Do I need an HPI check when I'm buying a used car?

Many used car  dealers incude an HPI check as part of the package with evefry used car they sell. But what if they don't? What is an HPI check; what does it cover:

  • Theft - it wll show if the car you're looking at buying has been reported as stolen
  • Finance - it will show if the car you're interested in has finance outstanding on it
  • Write-off - it will show if the car has ever been the subject of an insurance write-off
  • MOT - it will check that any MOT certificate is valid
  • Mileage - it will verify that the mileage is correct
  • Recalls - it will check that the vehicle has had any manufacturer recalls actioned

What is an HPI check and do I need one?

Getting an HPI check, for that used car you’re interested in buying, is the same as having a surveyor check the background of a house you want to buy. It’s a check to make sure that the vehicle is legitimate, can legally be sold, has not been clocked or welded together from two written-off cars to make a cut ‘n’ shut death trap, and a host of other things you really need to know before parting with your money.

Franchised or large used car dealerships will do an HPI check as a matter of course, but if you’re buying privately or from a smaller retailer, you may find there’s a charge for the HPI check; please do it, trust me, it’s money well spent.

An HPI inspection – it stands for Hire Purchase Investigation – is the best protection you can have against buying an old banger, losing your money and perhaps driving off in something you wouldn’t put your worst enemy in.

There’s a long established company which is called HPI, but there are other reputable organisations, such as the RAC for example, which provide a similar service.

Here are the main things a HPI type check will cover:


HPI gets its data from the Police National Computer so can see if a car is registered as being stolen; if the vehicle’s been stolen it is not legally yours, even if you’ve hand over money to the seller. If the police recover it and return it to the rightful owner you lose both your car and your money.

Car with window broken as thief tries to break in


A bit similar to theft in the sense that if the car has outstanding money owing on it, the vehicle still belongs to the finance company which funded the previous purchase and whoever is trying to sell it to you doesn’t own it. The finance company is absolutely entitled to reclaim the car leaving you out of pocket and without any wheels.

How big a problem is this? One in four cars checked by HPI show a finance hit.

Write off

The check can access the MIAFTR database – the Motor Insurance Anti-Fraud Theft Register – run by the Motor Insurers’ Bureau. Cars or vans which have been in a crash are rated in one of four categories of severity of damage.

Quite apart from the obvious safety implications, you don’t want to pay for a car which is later found to be unfit for the road and therefore uninsurable and unsellable. Again, you stand to lose your money, but in this instance perhaps something even more valuable… your health.

Badly smashed up car on the back of a transporter


As it does with the theft, finance or insurance checks, HPI works with the motor trade to look up a vehicle’s MOT ensuring the vehicle is road legal and safe. A seller may not have all the MOT certificates to hand when you go to try the car, in which case you could take them at their word, but the HPI check will tell you for certain if the vehicle has been MOT’d.


Cars which are MOT’d have their mileage recorded, so it’s possible to see if a vehicle has been `clocked’ i.e. the odometer fiddled with to show fewer miles covered. Despite the best efforts of the professional end of the industry, clocking is still a serious problem. Last year it around one in 16 cars looked at were red-flagged as being at risk.

HPI works with the NMR, National Mileage Register, to access the data and verify a car’s true degree of wear and tear.

Cars odomeer showing the clock turning round to 70,000 miles


Thankfully the UK has a very good track record with owners returning cars which have had a recall notice issued. If a pattern of a potentially serious fault is established the manufacturer will find a fix and invite or advise owners to take them into a dealership to have the remedial work carried out.

Manufacturer recalls have around a 90% success rate, but you wouldn’t want to buy one of the other 10% would you? Not when you consider that recalls can cover things like the car catching fire, wheels falling off, brake or steering failures etc.

HPI can now access the files on each car by registration number, check any recalls issued and if so, whether the work’s been done.

How much?

Many dealers will simply include this in the price as a matter of routine and have the paperwork proving it is `HPI Clean’, but if you’re paying for one yourself, they start at around £20. Not much for the peace of mind that should the worst happen and something later shows up that affects your ownership you can claim compensation, usually up to a ceiling of around £30,000.

In total there are around 80 points of data HPI will query to ensure a vehicle (a) can legally be sold (b) is mechanically safe (c) has a mileage/MOT history as advertised. There are other aspects, ranging from whether it has had a registration plate change, been imported by other than the manufacturer, as well as other areas to give you as complete a picture as possible of its true history and the confidence to go ahead with the purchase – or to walk away and find a better one.

For more information go to https://www.hpi.co.uk/