How to Buy a Car For Sale Privately
Despite being a car dealer I have been buying used cars privately for over 20 years, because there are some great bargains to be had. But you need to take extreme care when you buy a private car. With a lot of experience, I have still made a good number of mistakes and been ripped off a few times too. So to the average laymen, there are many hurdles.
I’m not trying to put you off of private car sales in the UK. Rather remind you to act with caution.
The main benefit of buying a car directly from the registered owner is the chance to find one that’s reasonably priced. There are some real bargains to be had if you know what you’re looking for. But it’s riskier than buying from a dealer. You have very little legal protection, and it can be more difficult ensuring the car is genuine and above board.
This page outlines the key things you need to remember when considering private cars for sale.
Let’s say you’ve shortlisted some cars and you’re ready to go and view them…
- Always, always view the car at the private seller’s home address to ensure the owner details on the log book (V5C) are the same as where the vehicle is being sold from. This way you at least know where they live in case something suspicious crops up if, when and after you have bought the vehicle
- It’s also a reasonable way of keeping yourself safe. Ideally, you should take someone else with you
Never agree to view private cars for sale in pub car parks or other neutral locations. If the seller insists on a neutral location or claims that “you will never find my house because we live in the sticks”, don’t go and see the car – this is an unreasonable car buying risk and it’s just not necessary to put yourself in that kind of position.
Find out about the car
Take your time to find out what you can about the car by inspecting it thoroughly. Carry out all of the checks I’ve listed in my car buying guide, one by one. Take your time and avoid chatting with the owner too much at this stage, to avoid distractions.
If you’re happy with your initial checks it’s time to go through the cars documentation with a fine tooth comb, before taking a test drive.
Scan through the log book (V5C) and first check the registered keeper’s address is the same as the address where you’re viewing the car (see image below.)
If the keeper’s registration details do NOT match the location where you are viewing the car it’s time to ask some questions.
I have heard a wide variety of reasons why a car is not registered in the seller’s name and at their home address.
- It’s my sons/daughters/mothers/fathers/friends car and I’m selling it on their behalf (maybe legitimate)
- The DVLA have made a mistake and I forgot to get it corrected (suspicious)
- The dealers where I bought it from made the mistake with my personal details (suspicious)
- I never bothered to get it registered in my name (very suspicious)
- I took the car in part exchange against my last one and I’m just reselling it (possible but still unlikely)
- I’m a dealer and am selling this car from home (red flag and a good reason to walk away from the car)
Whatever reason they give needs careful consideration, and let’s not forget that there are genuine car sellers out there that are selling a car on behalf of somebody else. So you need to distinguish if the seller is telling the truth or not.
In fact, this is the only legitimate reason you can possibly accept, without walking away immediately.
If they really are selling the car privately on behalf of someone else, and you end up doing a deal, you MUST see I.D proof of the registered keeper. A driving licence or utility bill is best. Just make sure the I.D has their name AND address for verification. I seriously would never buy a car privately without this kind of verification.
Your next V5 logbook check is the date of change of ownership. Start by asking the owner how long they’ve owned the vehicle. Using the logbook, check that the information they’ve given you is the same as that on the V5C logbook.
If the dates they tell you are out by a couple of months I’d say that’s just fine. But if we’re talking years, you should ask more questions or simply walk away from the vehicle. Inconsistencies with such important information are just too risky.
Scan through the service history and check when the car was last serviced. If the car has a cam belt find out when it was last replaced and check for an invoice to prove it.
Look through previous MOT’s and the advisory sections on the right-hand side, particularly for the existing MOT. Advisories here mean repairs (and added costs) on the next MOT!
Tip: Use advisory items as leverage to get money off of the price, should you end up purchasing the car.
Is there a spare set of keys? Do they unlock the car? Do they actually start the car?
If you’re happy with the car and its documentation so far it’s time for a test drive. Ideally, a 20-minute test drive is needed on bumpy roads, dual carriageways and twisty roads too. This will give you a chance to test the car under a variety of stresses and conditions.
I can provide you with a 17 point test drive check-list that you must carry out before buying a used car. When you become a Private Member of The Used Car Guy you gain access to my exclusive mini video guide and full car buyers text guide. I have combined 25 years of direct experience in the motor trade into one comprehensive supplement. Visit my Members Page for more information.
Make sure you are fully insured to test drive the car on a public highway. Many comprehensive car insurance policies allow you to drive any car third party.
If the test goes well and you are happy to buy the car you’ll need to run YOUR OWN vehicle history HPI check. Enter a car registration number in the menu bar on the right-hand side of this page.
I have never bought a car privately without running an HPI check first.
WARNING: Not running a check may result in you losing every last penny of your hard earned money on that used car! It costs just £19.99 and is ESSENTIAL.
If the HPI check is all fine and the car has no mileage discrepancies, has never been stolen and is not a category C or D insurance total loss, you have the green light to purchase.
Always be safe.
Here’s what to do:
- Never pay for the whole car in cash (maximum of £500)
- Never leave a cash deposit without a receipt
- Always pay for the car via a bank transfer on your mobile phone when at the seller’s address
- Always get a descriptive receipt that includes yours and their names and addresses, the details of the car and the agreement price
The registered keeper has the responsibility of sending the V5C log book off to the DVLA. You keep the green V5 section C slip known as “the new keeper’s supplement, to be retained by the new keeper”
That’s the basics of buying a car for sale privately in a safe manner. If you still haven’t got your copy of my definitive used car buying guide from the private members area I recommend you buy it now.
A Final Word:
Sometimes car dealers pose as a private seller to avoid their legal obligations and to dispose of faulty or over-priced cars. It is illegal for a car dealer to pretend to be a private seller. Look out for these warning signs:
- Adverts which give a mobile phone number or specify a time to call (it may be a public phone box, not the seller’s home)
- Cars advertised for sale in car parks, roadsides or other public spaces as well as in local newspapers and shop windows
- When you phone about the car, the seller asks “Which one?”
- The seller wants to bring the car to you or meet you somewhere, rather than you going to the seller’s home.
- When you get to the seller’s home and there seems to be a lot of cars for sale on the street
- The seller’s name does not appear on the logbook as the last registered keeper
- There has been a very recent change of ownership
Hope you found my private car buying guide useful and it helps you make a wise purchase.
The Used Car Guy