Buying a car privately: A complete guide

Last updated September 22nd, 2023

Buying a car privately can be a great option if you’re looking for a bargain. If you’re willing to do your homework and know how to navigate the private car market, you should be able to find a used motor that ticks all the right boxes at a favourable price!

Of course, whilst buying privately can help you get more for your money, there are also certain pitfalls to watch out for. To help make the process as pain-free as possible, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide to buying a car privately.

We’ll cover the benefits and drawbacks around buying from a private seller, where to find privately-owned cars – and the checks you should carry out to ensure that a used vehicle is fit for purpose.

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Benefits of buying privately

  • Lower cost

    A private seller will not have the same overheads as a commercial garage, which usually translates to lower prices.

  • Room to haggle

    Private sellers are often more open to negotiation, especially if they are keen to make a quick sale. If you ask the right questions when buying a used car, this will allow you to pinpoint any minor faults and imperfections to help you leverage a discount.

  • No pressure sales

    A private seller is unlikely to try to upsell extras such as on-board equipment, car warranties and regular servicing at an approved dealership. So, if you dislike pressure sales, you may prefer to take the private route.

Cons of buying privately

  • Fewer consumer rights

    If you buy privately, you’ll have fewer consumer rights than if you go through a dealership.

    When selling a car privately, the seller must have the right to sell the vehicle, the car must match their description – and it must be roadworthy (unless the buyer is informed otherwise). These are the only requirements a seller must meet, which means it is often difficult to pursue a refund should you encounter mechanical issues after the point of sale.

  • May not match showroom quality

    Car dealers are subject to more stringent legal requirements than private sellers, which often means they will go to greater lengths to ensure used vehicles meet customers’ expectations. This might include valeting and servicing vehicles, in addition to replacing any worn or faulty components.

    Approved used cars are prepared to an even higher standard, which is usually reflected in higher car valuations.

    Conversely, many private sellers are keen to make a quick sale. They may not be as thorough with checks, repairs and maintenance as a professional dealer would.

How to find privately owned cars

Searching for privately owned cars? Here are a few avenues you can explore:

  • Free car advertising websites.
  • Social media posts.
  • Advertisements in shop windows and on public noticeboards (often found in pubs, supermarkets and community centres).
  • Advertising displayed on parked cars.

Checking a private car before you buy

If you see a privately-owned car that catches your eye, there are a few things you should consider before parting with your hard-earned cash:

Test driving

Taking a test drive can help you decide whether the vehicle’s handling and performance meet your requirements. You might also be able to identify mechanical concerns that would not be apparent from visual inspection alone.

Here are a few pointers to help you get the most out of a test drive:

  • Make sure your test route covers a variety of road surfaces and speed limits. (This will allow you to assess how the vehicle handles in various conditions.)
  • Check that the steering feels good and there is no vibration.
  • Check that the brake and clutch are responsive.
  • Listen out for any loud or unusual engine noises, as these may indicate mechanical faults.

Read our guide ‘How to test drive a car’ for more tips and advice on this subject.


For added peace of mind, enlist an experienced mechanic to inspect the vehicle on your behalf.

Safely paying for a private car

When it comes to paying a private seller, there are several options including:

  • Buying with cash: Paying with cash can be a convenient option, but you should be mindful that carrying a large amount can by risky.
  • Bank transfer: A bank transfer is a safe and secure payment method. The seller may contact your bank to ensure that the payment is legitimate.
  • Cheque: A cheque may take one working day to clear. The seller should not allow you to drive the car away until the funds have arrived in their account.

For more detailed guidance on paying for a car, please refer to our guide ‘Buying a used car’.

Frequently Asked Questions

You cannot usually return a faulty car to a private seller. If you buy from a private seller, you will not have the same consumer rights as if you had bought from a dealership.

If the seller was legally entitled to sell the vehicle and it was roadworthy at the point of sale, they have met all their legal obligations.

Therefore, if you discover a mechanical fault after buying a privately-owned car, you will usually have to cover any repair costs yourself. It will often be difficult to prove that the seller knowingly sold you a faulty vehicle.

‘Sold as seen’ means that that the seller rejects responsibility for faults and repairs - and the onus is on the buyer to ensure they are happy with a car before buying it.

You can report a private seller if you think they've broken the law. For example, if someone is selling new vehicles, trailers or non-road mobile machines that have not been approved to the right safety and environmental standards, you could report them.