Should I buy a used car from a private seller?

11 Nov 15

For the thrifty-minded amongst us, there are plenty of ways to help ensure you get the best deal when purchasing a car. Buying a used vehicle is a good place to start, as new cars can depreciate at a startling rate once the keys are handed over. 

In addition to being less expensive, the right pre-owned car can be as reliable and economical a choice as any. However, the question that remains is: How can I be sure I'm not buying a lemon? 

I'm buying from a private seller - how can I avoid being ripped off? 

When you're purchasing a car through a reputable dealership, you can usually be accorded some insurance against this happening, but when you are buying from someone who has simply posted their car on the internet, it can feel like risky business. 

Fortunately, whether you're buying from a dealership or Joe Bloggs down the road, you can rely on a CarHistory report to reveal any important details, from possible odometer rollback to financial encumbrance

Do I need to do anything differently when buying from a private seller?

The Royal Automobile Club of Queensland advises that, as private vehicle sales are unregulated, they come with a certain risk-factor attached, which means that you'll need to be particularly cautious and thorough when you inspect a car1.  

Buying a used car based on pictures alone is as close to asking for trouble as you can get. Always make sure to check over a vehicle and take it for a test drive before you consider handing over the cash. 

In addition, when buying privately, check that the seller's ID and registration match. Your CarHistory report can also give you an indication of whether the car could be stolen. 

What should I look out for? 

No matter where you're buying your used car, the same vehicle checks will apply. Make sure you take your time, and if you can, take someone with you - two pairs of eyes are better than one! 

On your test drive, try out all the car's features, from the AC to the radio, wipers, lights and horn. In addition, test if the hand brake holds the car on a slope, and that the shock absorbers aren't worn.

Speaking of wearing away, check the tread depth of the tyres - legally the minimum is 1.5 mm. If they're too worn, you may have to spring for new ones, which could be an unwanted expense. 

1​RACQ, Buying a new or used car. Accessed August, 2015.