Have you seen the perfect car for you, advertised for private sale? Buying a vehicle privately has different benefits and drawbacks in comparison to buying from a dealer or showroom.
The private market can give you access to a wide range of driving options, often for a very good price. Here we take a look at the pros and cons of buying from a private seller and the questions you should ask before completing a private sale.
We also offer some top tips to get the most from your private sale experience. Finally, we detail your legal rights (by state/territory) when it comes to privately purchased vehicles.
The advantages and disadvantages of buying through a private seller
Pros of a private sale
- You can often pick up a bargain!
- It's possible to find a far wider variety of vehicles than you are likely to find in a showroom, especially much older vehicles.
- Private sales can be completed quickly once you find the right vehicle.
- Private sales don't have the same amount of legal protection as a showroom car sale.
- You will need to complete more checks yourself to ensure your vehicle isn't stolen or can't be legally sold, some of which cost money.
- It can be time-consuming to find the car that's exactly right for your needs.
Questions to ask before buying through a private seller
- Does the car have a safety certificate (Road Worthy Certificate)?
- Does the car come with a service log book?
- Has the car been involved in an accident?
- Does the car have any modifications?
- Has the car had any significant repairs?
Tips for buying from a private seller
- Never take cash with you to pay for a private sale.
- Before going to view the car, ask for the VIN, registration and engine number. Using this information, you can ask your local police station to check the national database to ensure the car isn't stolen. You can also check that finance isn't owed on the car (using the Personal Property Securities Register).
- Check that the car comes with a vehicle registration paper and that the address matches the address where the vehicle is located. Always arrange to meet at an address to view the car rather than a public place, where a stolen car can more easily be disposed of. Check that the build date matches the first registration date.
- Check photographs and the vehicle for signs of a significant crash. Signs may include uneven lines and spacing between features, a fresh paint job or modifications.
- View the vehicle during the day, so that you have better light to view it.
- During the vehicle inspection, check that the VIN matches the one on the registration documents. If you're not confident about your ability to check the vehicle competently, ask a mechanic to do it for you.
- Check when the vehicle last changed hands. The information is on the registration document. If it's in the last few months, alarm bells should ring! If someone is eager to get rid of a car quickly, it may well be because something is seriously wrong with it.
- If the price is too good to be true, it probably is! Be wary of a car that's being offered at an unbelievably low price.
In general, most private sellers are genuine and want a fair price for their vehicles. That said, there are some unscrupulous people who may try to sell you a stolen car. Others may try to off-load an insurance write-off/badly damaged vehicle that they've completed basic repairs on, then try to pass it off as a good buy.
Consumer rights when buying from a private seller
It's important to remember that buyers have far fewer rights when they purchase a privately owned vehicle in comparison to a used model from a dealer. Although you may pay slightly more for a vehicle from a dealership, you do enjoy far greater protection under the law in the event that there's a problem or you change your mind. Consumer rights by state/territory are summarised below.
Private buyers don't benefit from the 24-hour cooling-off period that buyers purchasing from a dealership can enjoy. They also don't benefit from a warranty and have no access to compensation should a problem appear after purchase. Full details are given here.
Helpful guidance about buying a car privately in Tasmania is given here. Australian consumer law doesn't apply to cars privately purchased in Tasmania.
A private buyer has no right to the 3-day cooling-off period allowed to buyers who purchase from a dealership. There is no statutory warranty offered for a private sale. The buyer is also responsible for checking that the vehicle isn't stolen or the property of a higher purchase company. Further information is available here.
New South Wales
In NSW the law is similar to that for VIC and QLD. Private buyers don't benefit from the legal protection offered to those who buy from a dealership. Although sellers are required to provide a registration document, they don't have to provide a cooling-off period and if a fault develops once the sale is complete, there's no recourse to compensation or a refund. NSW consumer law on private vehicle sales is summarised here.
Vehicles acquired through a private sale are not covered by a statutory warranty in Western Australia. It's therefore vital to ensure the vehicle has a thorough inspection prior to purchase. Further details are given here.
Guidance is very similar to that for other states/territories - private sales are not covered by Australian consumer law, so buyers have far fewer rights. Further information is given here.
Although not covered by Australian consumer law, if a seller has misrepresented a vital fact about the car, which can later be verified, buyers may be entitled to claim compensation. Further information here.
Australian Capital Territory
ACT guidance notes that buyers may have some recourse to compensation under sale of goods legislation covering implied warranties. Further guidance is given here.
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