Buying from a private seller: 10 must-know tips
Would you buy a second-hand car direct from its owner? We would, every time, writes Ray Castle of motors.co.uk. There is something very reassuring in meeting a car’s past keeper. And when buying this way can mean that prices are lower than those asked by dealers, there’s money to be saved, too.
But pitfalls do exist and it’s a route to buying that’s not for the faint-hearted. Don’t worry, though, because here’s the motors.co.uk guide to dodging potential problems.
1 Know where you stand legally...
... or, more to the point, where you don’t. If you buy from a dealer you are protected by the Sale of Goods Act which provides come-back if the car develops serious faults. Buy if your deal is with a private seller, this law dsn’t apply. Instead, ‘what you see if what you get’. Only if the seller deliberately misleads would you have a right to compensation.
2 Paperwork is vital
Ensure that the seller has the registration document and also a MoT certificate for the car (if it is over three years old). If these are missing or ‘in the post’, don’t buy – simple as that. Check that the documents match the car – the registration number, obviously, but also the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). You’ll find this stamped under the windscreen glass at its lower edge on the passenger’s side. You need to check, too, that the registered keeper is also the seller and that the address given is the one you’re seeing the car at. The number of former keepers is listed, too – check that it agrees with what you have been told. Ensure, too that the reg no and VIN given on the MoT certificate match the car and that the mileage shown tallies with what’s on the car now.
3 Check that the car matches the ad
Print out a copy of the advertisement and bring it along. Tick off every claim it makes for the car – mileage, number of keepers, equipment, and length of time before its next MoT test.
4 History is everything
A used car that comes with a sheaf of receipts covering every penny that the owner has spent is a good car. If a fully stamped-up service book is there, too, showing that every maintenance visit has happened on time – bingo! But do check that the service book actually belongs with the car (it should list its registration number, owner’s details and VIN) and, just to be sure, ring the garage whose stamp appears most recently and ask them if they know the car and what their records say about it.
But if the car hasn’t a scrap of paper to shed light on its past, think twice before buying.
5 Check the tyres
They are an excellent way to judge the car’s past life at a glance. If they all match and are of a ‘known’ make, that’s good. But if they are a mish-mash of different makes and tread pattern, some from budget brands, that’s a sure sign of past owner(s) who have skimped on car care.
6 Make sure the car starts well from cold
If the owner has ‘pre-warmed’ the engine before you arrive to view, ask yourself what he or she is trying to hide? We’d say: don’t buy a car unless you know that it starts easily from cold.
7 Watch for wet paintwork
You’d expect the seller to clean the car so that you see it at its best. But be on your guard if he or she is at work with bucket and cloth as you turn up. Water over paint hides dull patches or mis-matches in shade between one panel and another. Check the body only when it is dry and always view it outdoors and in good daylight.
8 Take a long test drive
Reckon on a minimum of 30 minutes at the wheel, taking in town driving, faster A- and B-roads and also, if you can, a sprint along a motorway or dual carriageway. Use every gear – including reverse – and listen hard for clonks or rattles. Take a friend, if you can, to sit in the back and listen for a blowing exhaust or rumbles from worn-out wheel bearings. Travelling at about 40mph on an open clear road, let the car coast with your foot off the throttle. Then, touch the throttle lightly but firmly and lift off, as you do, glance in the rear-view mirror. A puff of smoke from the exhaust will denote a worn engine that’ll soon require expensive repairs.
Do make sure before you set off that you’re insured to drive – on your own policy, or the seller’s.
9 Get a second opinion - from an expert
A full pre-purchase inspection by a professional mechanic is invaluable. Use the RAC or other motoring organisation to arrange this or else pay a local garage to carry one out. While a thorough check-over by a pro should spot most faults, do remember that they won’t see everything because they can’t take the car apart and look inside.
10 Trust your instincts
Do you feel good about buying this car, from this seller? Even if there’s no one thing that puts you off buying, you may feel that there’s something not quite right. If that little voice in your head says ‘walk away,’ obey it. There’ll always be another car to buy – and the next may be even better than the one you’re looking at now.
For more great car buying advice and to view and buy new and second-hand cars, click on to motors.co.uk. While you’re there, check our new, faster car search, too. Surf the web using your mobile phone? Click here or text ‘motors’ to 65056 and we’ll send you a link. Or if you’ve an iPhone, download the motors.co.uk app from the ‘utilities’ section of the iTunes store.