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13 tips on how to buy a car privately – and not get ripped off!

Robin Bowman

Robin Bowman
May 2, 2017

Buying a car privately can a be great way to land a bargain. 

It can also be a quick route to ending up with a lemon, or worse – a stolen set of wheels.

The bottom line is most of the time, when you don’t buy from a dealer, you don’t really know who you’re dealing with – and that’s where the danger lies.

So, here’s our list of Dos and Don’ts that should help make the process a successful one.


1. Do your homework on price.

These days it’s no big deal to go online and do this kind of research. Check the specs of the car you’ve got an eye on against what else is on the market.

Of course, you’d expect a private seller’s price to be lower than a dealer’s because you have none of the safeguards a dealer might offer – then again, a lower price is the main attraction of buying privately in the first place. Check What Car and Parkers for price comparisons.


2. Limited comeback

Bear in mind a private sale means you won’t be protected by the Sale of Goods Act. The car must be what it’s claimed to be, but any kind of recourse if it turns out to be a dud is probably not going to be easy. So, don’t hurry into paying up and driving off just because the price seems irresistible.


3. Only view a 'for sale' car at the owner’s home

If the seller suggests anywhere else explain that you can’t do this as it’s a primary precaution against the car being stolen to link it with an address.


4. Don’t be sucked into pretending you know all about cars

If you’re a bit of a tool when it comes to motors and don’t know the difference between a cambelt and a seatbelt, take someone along who does. If you’re spending a lot of money and you don’t know a car expert, then it may be worth paying for a professional appraisal. 


5. Check the car is kosher

The last thing you want to do is drive away with a hot vehicle. It’s easy these days to carry out all the checks you need at the DVLA – cross check all details, including: colour, engine size, registration date, year of manufacture.

Also go online to check the car’s full MOT history.

You can do that here. All you need is the car’s reg.


6. Does the car have a registration document? 

This is otherwise known as a V5C. If not, don’t go near it! It’s probably stolen – either way, without one, it’s unsellable. Does the V5C match the seller’s name and address? And don’t be embarrassed to explain you need to check the seller’s ID, by seeing their driving licence.


7. Check the vehicle identification number (VIN) matches the one on the car’s documents

You can find the VIN under the windscreen, on the lefthand side of the car. The VIN sticker can normally be seen under the bonnet.


8. It may also be a good idea to get the car’s full history checked out

Motoring organisations, like the AA and RAC, will do this. It will, of course, cost you, but it will offer piece of mind because you’ll be able to see, for example, if the car’s been involved in a serious accident or, importantly, if there’s still money owing on it.


9. Make sure you take the car on a good test drive

Make sure this covers varying driving conditions of at least 20 minutes. Don't forget to test the electrics.


10. Check you are insured to drive another vehicle before you get behind the wheel

If you don’t already own a car, you can get insurance to cover you for just such test drives. 

But, be aware, the police report that many motorists are caught out thinking they’re OK to take a car for a test spin only to find they are stopped and then end up with three points on their licence when it’s discovered their insurance doesn’t cover them after all.


Road silhouette

11. Check any special tools are included

Especially the one for changing tyres, which can be unique to the car model.  And, make sure a legal spare tyre is included in the sale.


12. Paying

Once you’ve negotiated like the slickest car dealer around, it’s time to hand over the readies. A banker’s draft is as good as cash; but transferring money online can also be done within seconds and can be verified just as quickly.

Cash is, of course, an option, but if handing over large amounts in cash, it might be wise to carry out the process at the seller’s bank where it can be paid into their bank immediately.

Either way, always get a receipt that is signed and dated and carries the identifying details of the car and the price paid. It should also show the names and addresses of both buyer and seller.


13. After the sale you and the seller will need to complete the V5C document

The seller needs to send their completed section to the DVLA. You, the buyer, must be given the new keeper part of the form. Collect all other documents, including receipts for services and any work done, MOTs, even old ones, as well as other docs and manuals.


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