Buying tips

Article reviewed: 2013/01/26 | Next review due: 2014/08/14

If you’re buying a used vehicle from a private seller, dealer or auction house, make sure you know your consumer rights.
When you buy a car from a car dealer or an online car dealer (also known as traders), the car must be:

  • of satisfactory quality, eg the windscreen should not be chipped
  • fit for purpose, eg if you ask for a car that can tow a caravan it should be able to
  • as described, eg the car should match its description given in conversation or in an advert

If a car doesn’t meet any of these points, it is faulty and you will usually have the right to a:

  • repair
  • replacement
  • refund

If you buy a car from a trader online or over the phone, you also have the right to a 'cooling off' period. This gives you seven working days after the car has been delivered to cancel your order for any reason and get your money back.
If you buy a car from a private seller or at a car auction for traders, you have fewer rights. The car only has to:

  • match the description given by the seller
  • be theirs to sell, eg the car isn't stolen or owned by a finance company because the car loan hasn't been paid off

Before you buy a car, you should carry out checks to reduce the risk of it being faulty or stolen (see link below).

Car dealers who say they are private sellers

Some car dealers pretend they are private sellers to get rid of faulty cars. Signs that a private seller may be a car dealer include:

  • the seller's name doesn't appear on the logbook as the last registered keeper
  • the same phone number appears in several car adverts
  • cars are advertised for sale in car parks or other public spaces

If you believe a private seller is a car dealer, report them to Consumer Direct.

If you buy a faulty car from a private seller who turns out to be a car dealer, you would have the right to a repair, replacement or refund.

Step 1: Before seeing the vehicle

Here are some things to consider before you see the vehicle:

  • be careful of mobile phone numbers – owners are hard to trace
  • watch out for adverts giving a landline number and times to call – criminals often use phone boxes
  • check the market value of the vehicle – if it’s offered much cheaper, ask yourself why
  • check the Vehicle Identification number (VIN) and engine number against the registration certificate (V5C) - your main dealer can help you locate them
  • arrange to see the vehicle in daylight at the seller’s home and not in a public car park; always consider your personal safety
  • ask if the seller is the registered keeper, so you can view at the registered keeper’s address (shown on the V5C)


Vehicles can be clocked to reduce their mileage and get a better price

Step 2: Checking the vehicle’s registration certificate (V5C)

Thieves can change a stolen vehicle and its paperwork to make it look like a real one (this is known as ‘cloning’). Hold the V5C up to the light – there should be a ‘DVL’ watermark.

Make sure the seller has the right to sell the vehicle. If the seller has had the vehicle for some time, they should have any of the following:

  • a bill of sale (receipt)
  • service records
  • MOT certificate

Remember, the V5C is not proof of ownership. Make sure the V5C matches the vehicle’s details and all other documentation provided.

Look out for stolen V5Cs. If the seller has a blue V5C with a serial number in the following ranges don’t go ahead with the sale and contact the police when it’s safe to do so.

Serial number: BG8229501 to BG9999030 and BI2305501 to BI2800000

The serial number is in a white circle in the top right hand corner of the V5C. Be careful, even if the serial number doesn’t fall within the above ranges. Don’t buy the vehicle if you think the serial number has been altered, or if part of the V5C is missing.

There have been a number of changes to the V5C. These include a new colour and improved customer information.

Step 3: Checking the vehicle

Remember, don’t buy the vehicle if the VIN has been tampered with or is missing.

Before buying a vehicle you should check:

  • if the engine has been changed in any way
  • that all locks open with the same key – thieves change locks that have been damaged
  • if there are two keys available – clones are rarely sold with both
  • that the VIN and engine number match those on the V5C and that the surrounding areas have not been altered or covered
  • the condition of the vehicle
  • if the mileage seems reasonable for the vehicle age and condition

If in doubt, trust your instincts. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Don’t be pressured to buy - there’s always another vehicle.

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