Steps to staying safe and making a wise purchase,
from 30 years of car buying experience.
How to Buy a Car for Sale Privately
During 30 years of being a car dealer, I have bought lots of used cars privately as there are some great bargains.
However, using this method to buy a second-hand car is fraught with risk so extreme care is needed at every stage of this process.
With decades of experience, I continue to make mistakes and have been ripped off a few times too.
To the average layman, there are many hurdles to buying a car that is genuine and good value.
I have taken some time and composed a thorough car buying guide that holds all my experience, tips and knowledge to buying a car. You get the guide included with a car history check via my sister website, CarVeto.
Don’t be put off by private car sales. This page will help you find a good car provided you act with caution and an extra-large dollop of common-sense.
The benefits of a private purchase
Mostly, it’s about price. Buying a car directly from the registered owner offers the chance to find the car you really want at a reasonable price. There are some real bargains to be had if you know what to look for.
But this route is certainly riskier than buying from a dealer because you have almost no legal protection.
It can also be more difficult ensuring the car is genuine and above board. As I’ve just mentioned, a CarVeto check is the first step to seeing if the car has any kind of hidden history that would steer you away from buying.
Let’s jump ahead quickly and assume you have shortlisted some cars and you want to view them.
The musts of buying privately
Always, always, view the car at the private seller’s home address ensuring the ‘registered owner details’ (that appear on the V5C logbook) are identical to where the vehicle is being sold. This way, you know where the seller lives in case a serious legal problem crops up down the road.
This simple check is a reasonable way of keeping yourself safe. Ideally, call up the seller first and ask if the logbook name and address is the same as where they live. Oh, and try to take a friend or family member along with you for a second pair of eyes.
Always avoid viewing a private car sale in a supermarket or pub car park (or some other neutral location). If the seller refuses to invite you to their home or business address (where the vehicle is registered) don’t go along and see the car.
Over many years, I have heard all sorts of excuses as to why I can’t visit the registered address. One of the more common ones is “you will never find my house because we live out in the sticks”.
Viewing the car at a neutral location is an unacceptable risk and not worth it.
Find out about the car
Take your time to find out what you can about the car by inspecting it thoroughly. Carry out the checks listed in my car buying guide, one by one.
Again, 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 and are still interested in the vehicle it’s time to go through the car documentation with a fine-tooth comb, before taking a test drive.
Car document checks
Scan through the V5C logbook and 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’ve already mentioned one of the reasons offered as to why a car is not registered in the seller’s name and at their home address.
Here are my top picks:
- “It’s my sons/daughters/mothers/fathers/friend’s car and I’m selling it on their behalf”
This can be legitimate although not that common
- “The DVLA have made a mistake and I forgot to get it corrected”
Suspicious but plausible – just be very cautious
- “The dealers where I bought it from made the mistake with my personal details”
Again, this is suspicious but not out of the question – continue to act with caution
- “I never bothered to get it registered in my name”
Very suspicious – personally, I’d walk away at this stage unless I really liked the car
- “I took the car in part exchange against my last one and I’m just reselling it”
Again, this could be legitimate but quite rare
- “I’m a dealer and am selling this car from home”
This is the answer that waves a huge red flag. In all circumstances, if I hear this statement I say goodbye.
Whatever reason given it 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.
You need to distinguish if the seller is telling the truth or not.
In fact, selling on behalf of someone else is the only legitimate reason I accept, without taking additional steps to look after my money.
If the seller really is helping a friend or family member I need to see some identification of the registered keeper. Typically, a driver’s license that has photo ID with full name and address.
Maybe take a picture of the ID on your phone?
Ultimately, I will 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 seller how long they’ve owned the vehicle. Using the logbook, check that the information they’ve given is the same as that on the V5C logbook.
If the dates are out by a couple of months it is probably fine, especially if they have owned the car for years.
But if there is a clear mismatch in the details do you really want to risk it? Perhaps if the car is a few hundred pounds but anything more than this and I’m just going to say no thanks.
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!
I use advisory items to buy for a lower price. If discs and pads are advised it typically means I want a few hundred pounds reduced from the asking price.
If a drive-shaft if worn I’d expect £300 or £400 as a reduction.
Is there a spare set of keys? Do they unlock the car remotely and in the door lock? Does the spare set start the car?
Key reprogramming is usually a few hundred pounds to fix.
If you’re happy with the car and its documentation, it’s time for a test drive.
Ideally, a 20-minute test drive is needed on bumpy and twisty roads and a dual carriageway.
My aim is to test the car under a variety of stresses and conditions. This is a way to identify ware, tear and short to medium term repair costs.
Again, my guide includes all this detail. Get a vehicle reg and head over to my sister site CarVeto.
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, as third party only.
If the test goes well and you are happy to buy the car, you’ll need to run a vehicle history check.
Use my service at CarVeto. I provide a free, basic check that confirms vehicle details, tax, mot, insurance and export status. There’s one option to buy my full check for a small amount of money. The service knocks the socks off of hpi check and RAC passport, and it is cheaper.
I have never, ever bought a car privately without running a quality online history check. CarVeto has this covered in detail so do not avoid this vital step.
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 whilst at the seller’s address
Always get a descriptive receipt that includes both parties’ names, addresses and the details of the car including the vehicle registration number, mileage, colour and any additional information.
The registered keeper has the responsibility of sending the V5C log book off to the DVLA.
As the new keeper, you take home the green V5 section C slip known as “the new keeper’s supplement, to be retained by the new keeper”
One last item to mention:
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
- 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 and the seller asks “Which one?”
- 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
Used Car Guy
Car check for private buyers
My sister website CarVeto holds all data for any vehicle sold privately:
Finance, accidents, mileage, theft, insurance, export, scrapped, mot, tax, import etc.