How many owners has my car had?

How many owners has my car had?

When buying a used car, it's important to understand everything you can about the vehicle and what it’s been used for. One thing you might consider doing is checking how many owners a car has had before buying it.

The number of owners a car has had can impact its performance and long-term reliability. Different owners will have different driving styles, preferences on how often the car is serviced, and who does the servicing. All of these factors can affect the quality of the car.

So how do you check how many previous owners your potential new car has had? We’ve broken down the options for you here.

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Ask the current owner

The simplest way to check how many owners a car has had is to simply ask the current owner. They should know all the necessary information about the car’s history, and there’s every chance that they’re the only other person who has owned it anyway.

The more questions you can think of to ask the seller the better. Some examples of questions you might want to ask are:

  • Do you know how many people have owned or driven the car before?
  • Did you buy the car from a dealer or a private seller?
  • Did you know the previous owner personally?
  • How many people in your family have driven the car since you’ve owned it?
  • Has the car been in any accidents?

Once you feel satisfied with their answers, you can cross-reference them with the car’s service history (we’ll go through how you can do that below).

The only downside to asking about the number of previous owners of a car is that it largely relies on trust. A private seller will likely know a lot more about the car’s history than a dealer, but in either case, to some extent, you’ll have to trust they’re telling you the truth. Either way, it’s always worth digging a little deeper.

Check the logbook and vehicle service history

Once you’re satisfied that the owner of a car has answered your questions, if you’d like to be extra thorough you can check their answers against the car’s logbook and service history. In the UK, this information should all be present with the car, as owners are required to keep all of these documents and pass them over when selling.

A car’s logbook can help you to figure out how many owners it has had, but you might have to do a little detective work! The logbook will always contain the information of the current and previous owners, as well as the dates of ownership, but no further back than that. So, if the dates match up to when the car was new, you can pretty much guarantee the car has just had two previous owners. If the dates don’t go back that far, you might need to do some more digging (we’ll explain how to do that in a moment)!

Similarly, looking at a car’s service history will help you figure a few things out. If it looks like the car has been consistently serviced in one or two locations, you can assume it’s likely only had one or two owners. However, even though a car may have only had one owner, it might have been serviced all over the country. This is worth talking about with the car’s current owner, as you may find they have used the car to do a lot of long-distance driving, or their children might have used it as their first car when they left home.

Pay for an online car history check

The most common and easiest way to check how many owners your potential new car has had is to pay for an online vehicle information check. There are unfortunately no free options for this, but there are a number of trusted and reliable providers available.

These services are completely legal and offer a lot of information about a car’s history. They can tell you how many people owned the car, give you a full-service history, and even tell if the car has changed colour over the years. They are also a great way to find red flags in a seller’s story about a car. For example, if the person selling you a car says that it has had 2 owners, and the check tells you it has had 5, it might be worth revisiting those first few questions.

These services are very useful to find out the number of owners a car has had, but it’s important to note that no independent service will ever provide you with the details of the previous owners. Names and addresses are protected by data privacy laws, so if you need to find someone specific, you’ll probably need to ask the DVLA.

Check with the DVLA

It is possible to do a full check on your car's background with the DVLA, and find out exactly how many people have owned the car before. It’s a fairly simple form to complete, but you’ll need what the DVLA call ‘reasonable cause’ in order to get the information.

This is because all of the relevant information is protected under data privacy law, but with the right reason the DVLA can provide you with the car’s full ownership history. This includes the names and addresses of all previous owners. So you can find out not just how many owners your car has had, but get in contact (but only if you really need to).

You can complete the form here, but remember for an individual (aka not someone who owns a company trying to hand out a parking fine), the DVLA can only really help if you are:

  • Finding out who was responsible for an accident
  • Tracing the registered keeper of an abandoned vehicle
  • Tracing the registered keeper of a vehicle parked on private land

(Those last two are useful if you’re reporting a car parked illegally, you can check out more about that in our blog 'How to report a car that's parked illegally'here.)

So really you’re only going to be able to use this option in very specific situations. Essentially, if you find out a car you bought was in an unresolved accident years ago, you can find out who the owner was so you don’t get in any trouble yourself. So that’s nice.

A few final tips...

So these are your options for finding out how many previous owners your car might have had. When you’re going through the process of buying a car, you can try:

  1. Asking the current owner everything you would like to know
  2. Checking that their answers line up with the information in the logbook and service history
  3. Cross-reference with an online background check to find any red flags
  4. Finally, you can ask the DVLA, as long as you ask them really nicely

Always remember to make sure that everyone’s stories line up and you’ll be driving into the sunset in your new (used) car in no time.

If you’d rather not buy a used car, you can always lease one. You can read more about leasing a used car in our blog 'Leasing a used car' here.

Urban Jungle is not a financial advisor and information in this article should not be taken as advice or recommendation.