How to buy a car privately

In most cases, getting a used car can save you a pretty penny compared to buying a brand new motor. 

There are various ways to buy a used car, including from a used car dealership or via websites and online auctions (all of which are covered in our handy guide on how to buy a used car safely). However, here we want to focus on private car sales, covering what you should look out for and what you always need to check. 

So, buckle your seatbelts, grab a cuppa, and get comfortable as we take you through our guide to buying a car privately. 

Find the right car for you

There are a huge number of second-hand cars out there, but finding and getting your hands on the right one is no small task. By law, all adverts must state whether the vehicle is being sold by a private seller, a used car dealer, or a trader, so you’ll know straight away whether someone is selling a car privately or not.

Of course, the right car for you depends on a vehicle meeting the exact criteria that you’re looking for; that could be four-wheel drive, a spacious boot, or a car that’s safe for the family

Searching for used cars for sale online makes this process a little simpler, as most sites let you filter vehicles down to your exact requirements, trimming out many of the cars that won’t cut it and saving you plenty of time. 

Social media sites such as Facebook Marketplace are becoming increasingly popular concerning car purchases, and people will often start their hunt for a bargain there, before turning to one of the many reputable used car sales sites.

Wherever you purchase from, you should always be careful when buying privately. So, here are some checkpoints to look out for when you buy used cars from private owners.

What to look for when buying a used car

First thing’s first, the more information you can get, the better. So, avoid ads that don’t divulge many details. Here’s the sort of info you should look for:


  • The vehicle’s make, model and engine size
  • Date of the last MOT, and how long is left until the next MOT
  • Date of the last vehicle service and the vehicle service history
  • Year of the car’s number plate
  • Colour and paint finish of the vehicle
  • The car’s equipment and safety features
  • High quality, clear photos
  • The location of the vehicle and time slots when it can be viewed
  • Contact information
  • Asking price

Naturally, you should always run a vehicle history check when purchasing any used car, whether private or not. This simple check will provide a detailed breakdown of the majority of the aforementioned information and more. Remember, it’s always good to double-check.

What to check when buying a used car

Once you’ve sifted through the many private used car sales and whittled down the competition to choose your car, it’s important that you get to know the vehicle and give things a thorough check before signing on the dotted line.

As well as checking the car, it’s important to vet the vendor and determine how trustworthy they are. After all, buying a vehicle from a questionable character could point to there being something wrong with the vehicle itself, or the documentation and paperwork.

When it comes to inspecting the vehicle, it’s important that you give everything a once over. Start by checking the exterior; you should look out for excessive signs of wear and tear, including any chips, corrosion, rust or scratches in the paintwork, as well as dents or gaps in the bodywork. You should also check the tyres for wear and tear. 

Next, move onto the interior and electrics. Check the upholstery and fittings for damage, and if something operates electrically and has a button, make sure you test it. Don’t forget, you can find out more details on what to check when buying a used car in the guide we mentioned earlier. To save you a scroll, click here.

Always test drive before you take the car home


So, the vehicle in question has ticked all of the right boxes, and you’re might be happy with its condition. Job done, right? Not quite yet. It’s vital you take your potential new set of wheels for a spin before handing over the cash. 

Make sure that you take the car for a long enough drive to allow you to discover any niggles or problems that might not be apparent straight away. Pay attention to the engine noise, how smoothly the gears change, and whether the steering is fluid and stays true rather than tracking to either side or juddering.

You can read more on the ins and outs of this in our detailed guide on how to test drive a used car.

Check the paperwork and pay


Lastly, you’ll need to check that all of the correct vehicle documentation is in place. This includes proof of ownership (such as a private car sale receipt in the name of the vendor), the vehicle’s V5 logbook, and the MOT history. 

This is also a good time to check that the vehicle’s number plate and VIN number are both in-check. Thankfully. that comprehensive car history check we mentioned earlier will also take care of much of this process for you, giving you some extra peace of mind.

When it comes to paying, you’ll ordinarily have the choice of a cash payment or a bank draft or bank transfer. Cash payments are swift, easy and upfront, and they also present an excellent opportunity to barter with the seller and try to knock that price tag down a bit. But, on the downside, some people aren’t comfortable carrying large amounts of cash around with them, in which case it might be best to deal with payments via bank transfer.

A bank transfer is secure and easily tracked, but it may mean that the deal is held up for a bit while the seller checks that your account is genuine with the bank. There’s also the possibility of a wait while money is cleared before making its way into the vendor’s account. It’s a little safer, but slower because of it.




You should now be all set to search for private car sales and potentially bag yourself a bargain, all while staying safe. Of course, whatever you find, don’t forget to run the reg through our vehicle history check before committing to a purchase. 

Happy car hunting!