RAC Cars

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Buying a used car privately

There are various ways you can buy a car privately – online, from an owner’s private residence, at an auction or through an advert in a newspaper. Buying a car privately is often cheaper than buying from a used car dealer, but if there is something wrong with the car, you won't be covered by such things as the Sale of Goods Act.

To help you navigate this potential minefield and to reduce the risk of anything going wrong with the car or your purchase, you can choose to use only Approved Dealers when buying a used car. However, if you are looking to broaden your search with private sellers, there are a few things you might want to take into account before you pay out any money.

Find out about the car

You need to find out as much as possible about the car you intend to buy, whether from a private seller or used carsdealership. Take your time, ask questions, and if you’re not happy with what you see, hear or the answers you’re given, walk away.

As well as inspecting the car thoroughly, you can get a car history check, which will highlight any outstanding finance or insurance claims or whether it was reported stolen.

You can also carry out an RAC Vehicle Inspection, which will tell you more about the car’s condition, whether its faults are reasonable for its price, age and mileage and whether they’re minor or actually symptoms of more serious problems.

Warning signs

Many private used car sales go through with no problems, but you should still be cautious. For example, sometimes dealers pose as private sellers to avoid their legal obligations and to dispose of faulty or over-priced cars. Tell-tale signs include the seller asking you to meet anywhere other than their home, and there being lots of cars for sale if you do visit their home. The seller's name should also appear on the logbook as the last registered keeper.

You should also be aware of potential fraudsters using ‘phishing’ techniques to get you to part with your money before even seeing the car, often with seemingly official looking websites. You can find out more about this kind of private used car sale fraud at http://www.rac.co.uk/community/blog/rac-blog/april-2015/buying-a-used-car-stay-safe-online, but in general if you are in any doubt about the legitimacy of the sale, stop what you are doing immediately and contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040.

Your rights when buying a used car privately

You have the following rights when you buy a car from a private seller:

  • The seller must have the right to sell the car
  • The car must match its description

The car you buy must also be roadworthy. This means it must have working headlights, brakes and seatbelts, as well as a properly functioning exhaust system and tyres in a legal condition.

If you think the car isn’t roadworthy and you haven’t yet paid for it, ask the seller to fix any problems before proceeding with the purchase. If you have already paid for it, you could report the seller to Trading Standards but it’s unlikely they will take action. You can take court action yourself, but it can be costly and time-consuming, so it’s important to proceed with caution and arrange the appropriate checks. You can find more information on our buying a used car checklist.