Purchasing cars from a private seller

Last updated on November 25th, 2021 at 09:46 am by Bill Tsouvalas

Purchasing your dream car from someone who only wants to sell it to you is a great way to save money. Buying a car privately can often net you up to 20% less than buying a comparable car from a dealer or used car supermarket.

But what should you know before you buy? Here’s a guide to purchasing cars from a private seller. If you have a budget set and a shortlist of cars you have your heart set on, here’s ways to make sure you make the most of your buy.

First thing’s first: roadworthiness and safety

Any car without a roadworthy certificate isn’t worth your time. If your seller can’t produce a RWC, don’t buy it. Walk away! Your seller should show you all the logbooks and service history of the car, and better yet if the car has a recent safety check.

Make sure everything’s above board

Unlike dealer sales, when buying from a private seller you’re essentially in the wilderness. There aren’t any “cooling off periods” or consumer protections, as you’re making a transaction between yourself and another person, not a business. You should check that the sellers’ registration matches the VIN number and the engine number on the car. You must also check the Personal Property Security Register to make sure the car you intend to buy isn’t a write-off or has money owing on it.

A simple checklist to weed out the lemons

Sometimes, some cars are more trouble than they’re worth. Here are some simple tips to make sure you aren’t buying a lemon.

  • Check for discolouration or paint bubbles on the bodywork, as this can indicate rust or filler. To make sure, use a fridge magnet. Magnets don’t stick to filler!
  • Ill fitting panels or doors
  • Look at the oil dipstick – milky residue indicates problems
  • Check the coolant and radiator cooling fans
  • Look at the upholstery for signs of wear
  • Look under the carpet for signs of rust
  • Make sure the jack and toolkit is in the boot
  • Start the car with the bonnet open and listen for irregular or rattling noises – these mean trouble!

Your test drive

A private seller should accommodate a test drive at a time that suits both of you. This is a perfect way to figure out if the car is really for you. You’ll be able to tell if it handles well, is comfortable over bumps and other surfaces and if the engine feels smooth and doesn’t rattle. You can test the brakes and the steering, plus figure out if the visibility is good enough for you.

Arrange an independent inspection

If you’re keen on a privately sold car, you can arrange an independent inspection with one of your state or territory auto clubs. If the seller is reluctant, you know that’s a bad sign!

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