Car Buying

The 6 Step Guide to Buying a Car From a Private Seller

There are a lot of different ways to buy a used car, and with online car buying bigger than ever and dealerships cropping up all over the country, understanding just how useful buying a car privately can be is a great thing to know. Just make sure you know exactly how to do it, what to expect, and what some of the best tips and tricks of the trade are before you do it.

Generally, the process is pretty simple. You find the car, turn up, and if you like the look of it, you exchange funds and walk away. When you look a little deeper into it though, there are a few other major steps you should really take to protect yourself and your investment. It’s a lot of money to be laying out, after all, and there’s even less protection when buying privately than there is from buying from a business in a lot of cases.

Learn About the Car

The first thing to do, after you have found a car that takes your fancy, of course, is to check the price. You need to make sure it’s fair and something you’re willing to pay. If it isn’t, then you may need to keep looking. To make sure that the price is fair, though, there are a few different things to do.

Initially, you need to learn a little bit more about the car and the factors that have the largest effect on its value. Typically, it comes into four different areas:

The Car

The make and the model of the car are of course the starting point. Different cars are worth different amounts of money, just like everything in life. The more expensive the vehicle is when new, the more it’s likely worth when reselling.

The Age

Older cars are worth less money. It stands to reason. The older they get, the more outdated they become in every way. On top of that, they are also subjected to more wear and tear, and that’s the biggest factor leading to issues later down the line.

The Mileage

The mileage, just like the age, has a big implication as to what the car is worth. Although it isn’t everything, mileage can still be a big indicator of wear and tear. When the numbers really rack up, they can help you spot issues like cambelt problems or more serious issues. Remember though, motorway miles or business related miles may have a less detrimental impact.

The Condition

Lastly, there is the condition of the vehicle. Dents, scratches and bumps, interior issues, and the condition of the parts on the vehicle all lower the value. The more likely you are to have to replace something, the less the car is worth.

Check the Value

After you know everything that you can about the car’s citation, you can get some more accurate prices. There is a number of different ways you can do this. The quickest ways to get a value are with services like motorway, where a simple make, reg/age, and mileage give you an estimate of what they’d pay for it. This is the lower end of the market value, but it’s a starting point.

Aside from these kinds of cheap vehicle purchasing companies, you can also check the prices of other cars on the market. Make sure you factor in what you know, but check out models from other sellers and even from dealerships. Autotrader can be a great way to see the market value, especially if it is a reasonable common vehicle.

If the price is reasonable, you’re in good standing to take the next step.

Check the history as much as you can do

The next step in buying a car privately is checking out the history behind it so that you can get a better picture of what kind of condition it’s in, and to make sure that everything is above board in case you choose to buy it.

The easiest way to do this is by checking the vehicle’s MOT history. This can be done on a website like ours, or the website where you can see previous MOT results for the vehicle of that registration, or you can use other means too. You can explore the car’s service history, if it has one (which is a great thing to have and makes the car worth more), its previous owners, and just about anything else you need if you use a premium paid 3rd party provider like CarExamer’s.

You are also able to check the financial health of a vehicle which is another important thing to remember. Buying a car privately means that there is no larger business who is doing these things as standard, and if the car has anything like outstanding finance or criminal history, then you need to know. If not, and anything should happen, you may lose the vehicle and not receive your money back.

Inspect the car inside and out

Moving onto the physical side of the vehicle purchase, make sure to check out the condition of the vehicle. That goes for both inside and out. The best place to start is with the inside of the vehicle. Ideally, providing the vehicle is clean and the engine is started, you’ll be able to see any diagnostic information on the dashboard. That’s a good start. You’ll also be able to see how much care has been taken of the vehicle’s upholstery, which can be a good way to get an idea of the owner and how they treat the car. Keep that in mind.

Moving onto the outside of the vehicle, there are things you can check out when buying a car privately even if you know nothing about cars. The best thing to do is to take a look under the bonnet for anything suspicious. Corroded battery nodes, rust… general marks of poor health. Outside of the engine, be sure to check the cosmetic health of the vehicle. The paintwork, any dents or bodywork issues, and even the tyre condition are important to get a good picture of.

Take it for a test drive

Now, whether the car looks like there may be issues or it looks perfect, a test drive can tell you more than you could realise. You’ll get a feel for the car, and have a unique opportunity to tell if there are any underlying issues with how the car drives as well as how it runs when in use.

On the other hand, even if there’s nothing wrong with the car at all, test driving a car even when buying privately is still a crucial part of the buying experience. If you don’t like the way a car drives, then it’s still not the right car for you if you’re planning for the long term.

Discuss the Finances

Once all is said and done, if you’re still happy with the car and the price that it is being sold for, the only thing left to do is to actually make the purchase. Buying a car from a private inspector doesn’t always feel quite as safe as buying from a business, but it is still something a huge number of people do on a daily basis.

It is also a lot easier to barter when buying a car privately than it is when buying a dealer, so this might be the perfect time to try this too. You can take into account everything that you have learned about the car to get a better price, factoring in things like the number of months left on the MOT, the tyre health, and practically anything else.

Actually paying for the vehicle is also something that you’ll both have to agree on. Cash is often the preferred way to go about private car sales, but at a certain point, this can become inconvenient. You have cheques as an option, but these do have a layer of risk as they can bounce, and you may need to wait until you exchange ownership as a result. Bank transfers are quickly becoming the most popular wya to do it, but again, some people simply don’t trust the more modern methods involving digital funds.

Whether you do, just make sure that the car is exactly what you want and that the current owner is able to register you as the current owner with the relevant documentation like a V5c, sp that you can show you are the legal owner, and so that you can sell it easier down the line.


All in all, buying a car from a private seller is slightly riskier than buying for a dealer, but it’s still more than doable. There are precautions you can like getting history checks or even professional inspection services like CarExamer to do the dirty work for you and give you an exact picture of what you are buying, but when all is said and done, it’s just another way to buy a used car.

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