One in three second-hand vehicles has a hidden past, according to a vehicle information expert.
Although the prospect of picking up a used car at a bargain price can seem too good to pass up, buyers must take steps to build the fullest possible picture of a car's history before committing themselves financially, HPI said.
The firm, which provides background checks on used vehicles, has released a series of tips designed to prevent buyers being scammed by unscrupulous conmen.
Hundreds of vehicles are stolen every day in the UK, with many of them sold on to unsuspecting drivers.
The criminal rackets use counterfeit documentation to replace the stolen vehicle's identity with a legitimate one, a process known as "cloning".
Another common swindle is to clean up an insurance write-off and pass it off as a functioning vehicle, HPI revealed.
While the car may look fine cosmetically, the shiny paintwork could be concealing structural damage or a series of horrors beneath the bonnet that leave the vehicle prone to mechanical breakdown.
Used car buyers should also ensure that there is not remaining finance against the car, since the vehicle could be repossessed by the finance company if repayments stop suddenly.
HPI's Nicola Johnson said: "It's understandable that used car buyers look at the price tag first and then take a vehicle on face value, but this can be a costly mistake."
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