Top 10 tips to buying a car privately
Follow our buying advice below to make sure that your next used car is a good one.
Build in the cost of insurance and servicing when working out how much you can afford to spend, bearing in mind that older used cars can be cheap to buy but more expensive to run and repair. Compare prices of equivalent models from different sources - dealers, ads, auctions, and websites - and get some estimates of typical repairs.
Arrange a daytime viewing at the seller's home so that you can confirm that their address is the same as in the vehicle's V5 registration document. You should be suspicious when:
- the seller's advert only gives a mobile number or specifies a time to call a land line, as it may be a public phone box
- the same phone number appears in several different ads
- the seller insists on meeting you away from their own home
Ideally, take a friend for security and to act as another pair of eyes.
Lowering the mileage of a car by turning back, or 'clocking', the odometer is a common trick used to increase the perceived value of the car. Excessive wear on the steering wheel, gearshift, seats, and foot pedals are all clues to a car that has been driven for a long time. Contact the previous keepers in the V5 registration document to ask if they remember the car's mileage when they had the car, to help you check the current mileage. However, remember that the first keeper usually has the highest mileage and UK-issued V5 registration documents only show the last two keepers; you may be able to find the original keeper's details in the service book.
Make sure you validate the details in the V5 registration document. Check that the service and insurance records, MOT certificate (if applicable) and receipts match up, and also check the service history. Use the V5 registration document to contact previous keepers to confirm the car's history. If the car turns out to be stolen or is being used as security for a finance agreement, it will not belong to you - even though you bought it in good faith. And you may have to go to court to prove that you had no idea there was anything wrong. If it is proved that you had reason to be suspicious, you could end up losing your money.
Check the V5 registration document issue date and serial number, as well as those on any MOT certificates. Compare the date of any keeper change in the V5 registration document with the results from your HPI vehicle registration check to ensure the documents haven't been forged or altered.
Separate keys for the driver's door and boot may indicate prior damage or theft.
Make sure you are properly insured and then test drive the car for at least 10-15 miles on different types of road. Watch for smoke when you start the engine and listen carefully to ensure that it's running smoothly. Also, pay special attention to the steering, checking to see if it pulls under braking. Ideally, take a friend with you for a second opinion.
An independent inspection by organisations such as the RAC or Green Flag can help to identify potentially expensive mechanical problems and signs of major accident repair. The results will either reassure you that the vehicle is a good buy, tell you to walk away, or give you greater bargaining power.
Avoid handing over any money until you've checked the car's history and status with HPI. Make sure the information we supply matches the vehicle and the documentation in every respect for total peace of mind and to ensure that you're covered by our guarantee.
Try not to get emotionally attached to a car or let the paintwork or price blind you to other aspects that don't feel right. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.