Buying a car privately can be a fantastic way to get a bargain as there’s more options at the affordable end of the market available. However, there are risks too. You don’t have the same legal protections as you would when buying from a reputable car dealer and if there’s problems, it may be difficult to get them resolved or your money back.

Doing your homework and taking our time is the best way to reduce the chance of being left with a lemon. Also think carefully about whether the car matches your needs. Even if it’s a great vehicle, you’ll regret buying it if it doesn’t fit your requirements.

Keep safety top of mind, check the car’s safety rating on Rightcar and keep yourself safe by taking a friend with you when you meet up with the seller. When looking online, research the seller. For example, if you’re browsing TradeMe, check the seller’s reviews and read any negative feedback.

Five big risks to consider:

  1. Could your new car be repossessed? If the owner has missed finance payments on their vehicle, the car could be repossessed before the change of ownership paperwork is received. You can prevent this with an AA Vehicle History Report, which scans three million vehicle records to check that the car isn’t an insurance write-off, stolen or about to be repossessed.
  2. Does it have a dodgy odometer? Sometimes the odometers on used cars are tampered with to make it seem as though they have done fewer kilometres. You can rule this out with an odometer inspection from AA Motoring, which will verify that the car’s history and records match its mileage.
  3. Is it a stolen car? An AA Vehicle History Report will cover this, or you can check yourself by searching the Police’s online stolen vehicles database.
  4. Is it a lemon? A ‘lemon’ is a car with a defect that makes it unreliable, unsafe or undriveable. Unfortunately, individual vehicles can be lemons despite the brand and model typically being high-quality or reliable. Remember that a Warrant of Fitness isn’t proof that the car has no current problems. It could have been in an accident since it got its WoF or broken down, so comprehensively check the car when you meet with the seller and drive the car for long enough to test the handling, the parking and the features. Read Top tips for a test drive for a full guide to what to inspect. For greater of peace of mind get an AA Pre Purchase Inspection it is a much better measure of whether ithe car is mechanically sound.
  5. Are you being ripped off? It’s always helpful to look at the prices of similar vehicles, and you can use TradeMe’s free car valuation tool and CarPrice’s What’s Your Car Worth? for an indicator of the vehicle’s value.

What if something goes wrong?

steam car 1

When you buy from a private seller, you are not protected by the Consumer Guarantees Act or the Fair Trading Act. You may be able to take some action if:

  • You bought the car based on false information
  • Your car is repossessed by a finance company because the seller didn’t make their repayments
  • The person who sold you the car had no right to sell it
  • The seller should actually be a registered dealer

However, as you can probably imagine, it’s not going to be easy to get your money back in any of these situations – it’s much better to avoid them by doing your homework and spending a little extra to get the vehicle fully checked out.

 How the AA can help you:

Vehicle experts you can trust

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