used car jargon understanding it

buying a used car can be a confusing time. do you understand the difference between a clone and a ringer? what is paper car fraud? what is the difference between a pcp and a plp? more to the point, how do you protect yourself, if you don't know what to look for?

A good start is to make yourself aware of the meanings of commonly used - and misused - terms in the used car market.

The Used Car Market Jargon Buster

A Ringer: A ringer is a stolen vehicle with a false identity. The name comes from the phrase 'dead ringer', as the stolen vehicle has the registration number - and often the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) - of another car.

Clone: The identity of the car is duplicated onto another car and provides duplicate and forged documents. Thus seemingly identical cars are driving around with the same number plate.

Cut & Shut: Sections of different vehicles (often crashed or unroadworthy) are welded together to make one car.

Clocking: The odometer mileage reading is changed to increase the value of the car. Often difficult to detect.

VIN: Vehicle Identification Number (VIN, or chassis number), a much better identifier than the registration plate. The VIN usually has 17 digits, and is found on a metal plate in the engine bay of the car. It is also stamped into the car's floor, usually near the driver's seat.

Paper car fraud: The car doesn't actually exist, except on paper. A fraudster might then try to get finance to buy this fictitious "paper" car.

Lemon: A dud car; a bad buy. Mechanically unsound or a vehicle with a dubious history.

Write-off: A damaged or stolen car which the insurance company has decided to pay an agreed value for, rather than paying for the cost of repairs. May still be roadworthy depending on the category, see below.

Categories of Write-Off:

Category A: A vehicle that should be totally crushed, including all its spare parts.

Category B: A vehicle from which spare parts may be salvaged, but the bodyshell should be crushed and the car should never return to the road.

Category C: An extensively damaged vehicle which the insurer has decided not to repair, but which could potentially be repaired to a high standard.

Category D: A damaged vehicle which the insurer has decided not to repair, but which could be repaired and returned to the road.

Category F: A vehicle damaged by fire, which the insurer has decided not to repair.

Theft Category: These vehicles have not been recovered and ownership rests with the insurer who made the total loss payment. They are able to repossess the car as soon as it is identified even if it has been bought innocently.

Other Important Terms:

Personal Contract Purchase / PCP: A type of finance agreement. With a PCP you pay a deposit and then regular monthly instalments, but at the end of the agreement you can choose to make a large final payment and keep the car. Alternatively, you can hand the car back, or 'trade it in' and negotiate a fresh PCP for a new car. The cost of the instalments and the final payment often depends on the perceived residual value of the car (see below).

Residual Value: What the car you are buying will be worth at a point in time, e.g. at the end of your finance agreement

Personal Leasing Plan/ PLP: A relatively new form of finance. You never become the owner of the car, but lease it from the finance company for an agreed monthly sum. The agreement sometimes - but not always - includes maintenance.

Grey Import: A "grey" import is a vehicle designed and built for sale into a country outside the EU, and imported into the UK independently of the manufacturer or his appointed agent. Because such a vehicle was not originally intended for sale into the UK or Europe, it may not be manufactured to European specifications and may not have undergone 'European Type Approval'.