Selling your car safely

Safety tips for private car sales

While there tends to be more risk in buying a car, private sellers are not immune to being targeted by fraudsters. To help you avoid falling victim to a crime, here are our top five things to know when selling your car:

  • As a private seller, you are responsible for making sure that the description you have given of the vehicle is accurate. Details in the advertisement, such as mileage and whether or not the vehicle has a full service history, should be correct. If the buyer asks whether the vehicle has been involved in any accidents, you should answer honestly. It is illegal to mislead the buyer and you are liable for this should anything go wrong.
  • Collect all relevant paperwork together such as the V5C, service history and MOT certificate, along with any receipts you may have for work done on the car. The buyer may wish to check the details such as the address on the V5C and the mileage recorded on the most recent MOT certificate, and this is a reasonable expectation. However, never let potential buyers take copies or photographs of vehicle documents, or keep the originals before buying. These should only be handed over with the car after the money has been deposited safely into your bank account.
  • Be aware that fraudsters may contact you posing as potential buyers. Never share personal details over the phone, as criminals could use this information to create a cloned advert and scam others, or attempt to exploit your identity. Genuine buyers should not have a problem with viewing the car in person and checking the details.
  • Never leave a potential buyer alone with the keys or allow them to go on a test drive without you. You may wish to take a friend or family member along with you for the test drive, and don't be afraid to stop it early if the potential buyer drives dangerously.
  • Never let a buyer drive your car away without first paying you in full. If the buyer has given you a cheque or transferred funds to your account, wait for this to clear fully before you hand the keys over.

It is your responsibility to satisfy yourself that a transaction is legitimate. Remember, you must notify the DVLA of the transferred ownership, as you are responsible for the vehicle until you have done so. If you don't, you could find yourself facing somebody else's motoring offences.

It is important to note that MOTORS takes no responsibility for the legitimacy of any enquiries you receive on your advert. Remember to use your common sense and instinct as to whether a transaction feels legitimate. You are under no obligation to sell the car, and can back out at any stage before you have received the money for the vehicle.

Being cautious of fraudulent buyers

  • Be wary of offers to buy your car without a single viewing
  • Be cautious of potential buyers who claim someone else will pay in their stead
  • Do not let any prospective buyers into your home
  • Consider having someone with you during viewings
  • Never hand the car keys or documents over until payment is cleared and in your account
  • Remember: a cheque will show up in your account after a couple of days, but it won't clear for at least five working days and could still bounce
  • Beware of cold callers asking you for money to help sell your car (aka possible vehicle-matching scams)
  • Beware of 'phishing' email scams - these may pose as buyers or even classifieds websites
  • Take caution with supposed overseas buyers who ask you to cover transportation costs (aka potential shipping scams)

Remember, it is also illegal to sell a car in an unroadworthy condition to an unaware buyer. If the vehicle is not fit to be driven, by law you must make this clear in the advert and sell it 'for repairs or spare parts'.

Advertising your car

Advertising in the classifieds is usually the quickest way to sell your car and for the best price. To the uninitiated, however, it can be a daunting experience, made worse by the risk posed by criminals looking to exploit unprepared vendors. Follow our tips to ensure your car sale goes as smoothly and as safely as possible

  • Ensure the car is in a presentable condition. Nothing will put a prospective buyer off more than being greeted by an empty takeaway carton in the footwell when they step in for a test drive. Try to make the car look as new and fresh as possible, within reason.
  • Take plenty of pictures. Classified adverts without images will largely be ignored, so it pays to put the time in and take plenty of snaps inside and out, in front of a suitable backdrop. If your car's bodywork is damaged, be honest and don't try to hide it - it will save disappointed customers simply walking away later on.
  • Try to get as much information about the car and its condition into the advert as possible. Be open about any defects; not only will you only attract serious buyers, not being misleading will see you staying on the right side of the law.
  • Ensure there is no outstanding finance on the car. Savvy buyers will check this before even considering a viewing, and there are a number of vehicle provenance checks which will give this information instantly. If the car has previously been leased you may not have the right to sell it on in the first place.
  • If the car's MOT has nearly expired, consider getting a new one. A fresh ticket is a good indicator of a vehicle's overall condition and will appeal to buyers. This small expense could make your sale much easier and quicker.
  • Do research on other similar vehicles for sale to ensure you price your car realistically. Unless it is in concours condition or has a very low mileage for its age, buyers are unlikely to pay a premium, particularly if it is a popular model.
  • Try to get as much information about the car and its condition into the advert as possible.

Meeting the buyer

  • Always aim to meet at your home address during daylight hours. Not only is this likely to be the safest possible location for you, it increases the buyer's confidence that you're a genuine seller. If this isn't possible, pick a safe, public place and consider taking a third party with you as a potential witness should things go awry.
  • Have all the appropriate documents to hand. A genuine buyer will want to inspect the car's history and check you have the legal right to sell on the car. If documents are missing or the car has a patchy service history, honesty is the best policy.
  • On that note, be wary of buyers who seem in a rush or disinterested in inspecting the car/taking a test drive. Unless you've advertised the car as a non-runner (so called 'spares or repairs'), buyers will nearly always want to give the car a once-over. Scammers who are more interest in simply relieving you of your keys won't be.

The test drive

  • Before letting any potential customer take to wheel of your car, make sure they hold a valid driving licence and are properly insured to drive it, whether this is under your policy or theirs. Not only will this prevent awkward questions should an accident happen, the buyer's licence will also confirm their name and address.
  • Before embarking on a test drive, make sure the buyer understands that they are liable for any fines arising from speeding or other traffic offences that they may cause for the duration of the test.
  • Ensure you are sat in the passenger seat before handing over the keys, and that you get them back before exiting the vehicle. It has been known for thieves to just drive off at the beginning or end of a test drive, leaving the seller with nothing but a set of fresh skid marks on their driveway.
  • Before letting any potential customer take to wheel of your car, make sure they hold a valid driving licence and are properly insured to drive it.

The sale

  • Once the buyer is happy and you've agreed on a price, it will be time to exchange the keys for cash. Accepting payments by bank transfer is always the safest method - accepting bundles of notes from the buyer may seem convenient, but how can you be sure they are genuine? Always make sure funds have cleared and are available in your account before letting them drive off, particularly if accepting payment by cheque.
  • Write out two identical copies of a receipt, and include the details of the car, the amount paid and the date. Crucially, write 'sold as seen' on it. This isn't a free pass to mislead a buyer over the state of the car, but will cover you should it break down in their possession later down the line. Both you and the buyer should sign both copies.
  • Take responsibility of the v5c document, which will inform the DVLA that the car has changed hands. One section will be handed over to the buyer as proof of they are registered keeper until their own copy comes through. Do not rely on the buyer to fill out the form and send it, or you may find yourself liable for any traffic offences committed once it has left your possession. Similarly, it is an offence to fail to notify the DVLA of a change of ownership.