Buying a used car privately - what to look out for | Blog

Published by Fresh on March 17, 2017
Buying a used car privately - what to look out for

There are so many places you can buy a used car these days. You can choose from Autotrader, Gumtree or even the AA - but there's always the draw that buying private can almost always be much cheaper. With this, however, comes with a range of issues and pitfalls that can lead to scams, cons and overall exploitation of new buyers that you need to be careful of. Here’s the 5 things you HAVE to make sure to check when buying a used car from a private vendor.

1. Always ask for documentation    

When you’ve found a car that you like, is in your price range and most importantly you can get insured on easily - you want to make sure that it isn’t being sold illegally, unethically or in bad condition. The key document to ask for is the vehicle's ‘V5C’, which identifies the car’s registered keeper and it’s key information (which you can check against a range of government databases) which if it is different from the person who is selling you the car - then some questions need to be asked. You should also make sure that you are provided with an adequate service history and MOT certificates and if anything looks fishy, ask questions or walk away.


2. Look out for ‘cut-and-shut’, cloning or clocking scams.

On the bigger dealer websites, these are much more rare due to the checks that sellers need to go through - but you always need to be wary. Clocking involves rolling the car’s odometer back to show less mileage than it’s actually done - even a few thousand miles less can increase the car’s value massively, cloning takes the identity of another car of the same make and model by using fake, or stolen number plates to avoid the sketchy past of the actual car and ‘cut-and-shut’ scams involve welding two scrapped vehicles together to pass off as one of the originals - trust us, it can be harder to spot than it sounds. If anything seems fishy in any of these categories, it’s better left well alone - if you buy a car that’s victim of any of these, you can lose it and the money you paid for it.

3. Make sure you check for any outstanding finances

While you may be able to buy it straight up in cash, there’s no guarantee that a private seller has been able to. With more and more cars being bought on finance than ever before, it’s always good to check that the owner of the car who’s selling to you, actually owns the car. If you suspect something is amiss, always ask for proof of ownership, and if they’re unwilling to disclose, that usually means your suspicions were correct. You can, however, get a comprehensive vehicle check from the AA for just under £20 - which is far better than shelling out for an unfulfilled car only to have it seized by the original dealership and ending up at square one.

4. Make sure you go through the full test-drive checklist


You can buy the most legal car in the world, and it’s service history can be as clear as day in front of you - but if that car doesn’t drive well, or something is quite clearly wrong with it, you’ll be glad you noticed it on a test drive rather than on the M25. There’s a big, long checklist that lists all the things you’ll need to take into account, including making sure the car doesn’t veer when steering or braking, the clutch is smooth and you can pull away easily and that all of the doors and boot open and close easily. When you’re buying privately - you need to check that all of these are tested.

5. Make sure you are protecting your money

Even if everything seems okay and you’re coming close to finalising the deal - you can never be too careful when it comes to making sure your money is safe. If you happen to be able to pay for your car in cash, always make sure you pay at the owner's address and never arrange or accept a meeting anywhere else - more often than not, they will be hiding something. If you’re paying by debit or credit card, make sure to check if your bank offer a ‘chargeback’ scheme under section 75 (where you can claim back money for undelivered, faulty or unfaithful goods) to protect your payments - you can never be too careful.
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