You are most likely to be buying privately at the cheaper end of the car market as generally owners of higher value cars are still selling and buying their cars through dealers although sometimes dealers will advise that they might achieve better prices for their intended trade-in by selling privately or they may simply discourage a particular trade-in by offering a low value although this generally applies only to cars over 4-5 years old.

If you are buying privately, or think you are, you are probably buying from a newspaper classified ad or from one of the weekly car sales papers and despite the best efforts of the newspapers and magazines many smaller, less scrupulous, traders do not declare themselves as such attempting to pass themselves of as private sellers. All newspapers and magazines require the word trade, trader or simply "T" to be included in adverts so look out for it but, of course, newspapers don't have the resources to check the bona fide of every advertiser.

Buying privately is a bit like buying at auction in terms of the legal safeguards you have, or more accurately, have not, for you have no real legal redress against a private seller of the car you just bought, caveat emptor again, your car, your problem, their money. The situation is the same with the pretend private seller as they are making themselves out to be private seller simply to evade their legal responsibilities as a dealer.

Many private sellers of cars are perfectly genuine and are selling or buying their own car at this end of the market simply because that's what they can afford. Like you they're trying to keep their motoring cheap. If in doubt walk away.

It is very difficult to tell the honest seller from the rogue but a bit of careful investigation will usually expose the villain.

If If in reading the papers you see the same phone number, usually a mobile, coming up again and again you can be sure you have found a dealer. Most of these small "dealers" operate almost entirely from a mobile phone and have perhaps a dozen cheap cars parked around the streets near their homes.

An easy check is to phone expressing interest in "the" car, if they answer "which car" you know they are a "dealer". Beware instructions to "phone  between 5 and 6" that usually means a phone box, try ringing it outside of those times. If it says "ring after 6 pm" that's OK it probably just means it is someone's home number.

Never accept an offer to bring the car to you, you want to see them at their home, you may need to go back there if there is a problem. Ensure the vendors name and address - ask for proof - are on the registration document if not he is probably a dealer. Does the "owner" seem unfamiliar with the car's controls or which key opes the doors, perhaps it's because it isn't their car. Can they show an insurance document for the car.

Buying near the bottom of the car market you need to carry out all checks on the car and it's legality and ownership very thoroughly before parting with any cash although usually you can get a feel for the integrity of the vendor during your inspection, if in doubt don't buy because this is the most difficult end of the car market where dishonesty is rife.

Be suspicious of everybody and if the paperwork isn't perfect, you mistrust the seller and the deal doesn't smell right walk away.  

Abstracted from the book “Buying a Used Car” © G Benge 1997-2007

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