Top Tips For Buying a Used Car Through A Private Sale

There are numerous ways to buy a car, and one of those ways is through a private sale. These types of sales happen between two individuals as opposed to an individual and a business such as a dealership. However, while private sales have numerous benefits, they come with a few caveats that every buyer needs to know!

Here are our top tips for buying a used car through a private sale

Don’t shy away from asking the important questions

There’s no harm in asking the right questions when it comes to an important purchase like a second-hand car. Here are some questions you should consider asking the seller:

  • Is there any particular reason you’re selling the car?
  • How long have you had this car for?
  • Are you the original owner of the vehicle?
  • What did you use the car for?
  • Where did you get the car from?
  • Who drove it, and what did they do?
  • Has this car been used in off-road settings?
  • Do you have service records, and can I see them?
  • Has the car ever been in an accident?
  • Are the parts in the car the original parts?
  • Are there any issues with the car, and if so, what are they?
  • Have the airbags ever been deployed?
  • How often did you take the vehicle in for maintenance?
  • Where did you take the vehicle in for maintenance?

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    Never neglect pre-purchase inspections when buying used cars

    Pre-purchase inspections conducted by professional mechanics are so important. Sometimes the untrained eye completely misses the signs right in front of us that the car isn’t in good condition. With a licensed auto mechanic, you are able to get a proper inspection done. These inspections will result in you knowing everything about the vehicle in its current condition. 

    For example, you’ll know if the cosmetic, safety status and mechanical aspects of the car are how they should be while also learning of potential financial or safety issues the car might be capable of in the future.

    The only issue surrounding this process is that it’s not common for private sellers to have to deal with this. As a result, you’ll likely get some pushback. However, you shouldn’t forgo this because of the seller’s hesitation. Instead, ditch the sale as it comes across as problematic that they’re unwilling to engage in this basic requirement.

    Always run a VIN check

    A VIN - ‘vehicle identification number’ - or sometimes known as chassis number, is used to enter into a database to identify the car in question to get its history report. A VIN check can tell you a lot of further information about a car, such as its:

    • Has it had more than one owner
    • Basic repairs and maintenance history
    • Title blemishes
    • Title or odometer fraud
    • Has it been stolen or in accidents previously
    • Airbag deployments
    • Lemon title
    • Flood damage

    The chassis number can be found on the driver’s side on the dashboard or under the hood of the car by the engine. If you’re finding it difficult to get all the answers from the seller, try to obtain this chassis number and be sure to run the checks.

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    Ask the seller if you can take it for a test-drive

    Test-driving the vehicle that you’re considering buying is a must. First, you need to know that the car can drive and figure out what it feels like to drive it. By taking a test drive, you determine if this vehicle is for you. It’s also a perfect way to get some understanding of what might be wrong with the car that might not have been mentioned beforehand. 

    Pay particular attention to details such as:

    • Brakes
    • Road performance
    • Highway performance
    • Windows and locks
    • Brake lights, headlights, and reverse lights
    • Off-road performance
    • Air conditioner
    • Windscreen wipers
    • Cruise control
    • Power steering

    Remember to use a mobile diagnostic tool

    If you’re unable to get a mechanic, you can use a mobile diagnostic tool. This tool allows you to engage a computer diagnosis using a simple handheld device. By plugging the censor into the onboard diagnostics port (OBD-II Port), you get a code reading and a diagnosis of any and all potential issues the vehicle might have. 

    Verify the legitimacy of the sale and the person selling the car

    Scams are everywhere, and private sales for used vehicles are hotbeds of scam activity. There are so many different types of scams out there designed to swindle you out of your money. Prominent scams include:

    Fake Escrow

    This method is essentially used to make the buyer feel like they can send the money and be protected because an escrow company hasn’t given the seller the money yet. It gives you time to verify the purchase before releasing the money. Unfortunately, the companies these guys use for escrow funds are fake. By getting you to agree to this, they’re putting themselves at risk of losing all their money.

    Pay Now, Receive Later

    This is a common scam. The point is to get the buyer to wire the money for the vehicle before disappearing, never to be heard from again. They’ve got the money; you’ve got no vehicle.


    The practice of curb stoning is when a pro car dealer pretends to be just some average Joe selling a car. Unfortunately, they’re usually conducting unlicensed sales where the odometer settings are altered or other serious issues are hidden/glossed over. A great way to minimise the potential for falling for curb stoning is to respond to vehicle ads and ask about the vehicle without being specific. If they answer ‘what car,’ hang up and move on. 

    Research the make and brand of the car

    It’s essential to research the used vehicle you’re considering buying to see what kind of replacement parts it could one day require, how much they cost, and how easy they are to find. The last thing you want is to get a car that eventually requires extensive repairs through replacing expensive parts. Additionally, you don’t want to have a vehicle that is difficult to get parts for in Australia. 

    By understanding your used car, you’re more prepared for whatever might happen and will be more comfortable addressing it.

    Advantages of buying a car from a private seller

    You’re more likely to find the perfect car for you

    Being open to buying a vehicle privately can lead to you finding more options that aren’t available in showrooms due to them being older models. Just because a car is an older model doesn’t mean that it’s not a good vehicle. It’s just not new enough to be on display in a showroom in a dealership. So take this opportunity to explore your options, all of your options. 

    You can often negotiate a bargain!

    Not only are private sales the best place to get a great price for a good vehicle, but they’re also perfect for negotiating power. You’re more able to negotiate because it’s more personal. Dealerships have employees who need to make sales. They’re not in a position of power to drastically change the price of the vehicle if they are at all.

    Disadvantages of buying a car from a private seller

    Finding the perfect used car privately is time-consuming

    While there are many advantages of going through a private seller, one con is that it can slow you down on the search for the perfect vehicle. You’re going to find that certain factors will slow you down on your way to making a final purchase as you try to tick off every box on your vehicle's wishlist. We think it’s important to ensure the car is everything you need and want. So, if it takes time, it’s worth it!

    You’ll have less legal protection in the private market

    Showrooms and car dealerships are required by law to have adequate consumer protection, protection you don’t get when you go through a private seller. You’re dealing with individuals looking to get rid of their personal car, not stock in a showroom. They may have finance owing on other loans and desperate to arrange a buyer to sell to - at all costs. Even though this is quite rare, it always pays to take extra notice and dig for further information when buying a car from a private seller.

    Now when you see a ‘Private car sale’ ad, you’ll be ready to snatch a bargain!

    Knowing what you know now means that next time you find a great car sold through a private sale, you’ll be ready! Driva is the best place to go when it comes to finding a loan right for you and your potential purchase. We showcase 30+ lenders to give you options. So, get started with your finance application today, and we’ll have you behind the wheel of your new car ASAP!


    How does the private sale of a car work?

    When a vehicle is sold in a private sale, it means that two individuals engage in the sale. There are no corporations, companies or dealerships involved. First, the person buying the vehicle needs to ensure that everything is as advertised, roadworthy, and up to scratch. Then, the seller needs to produce a sale agreement form and an invoice so that the registration of the car is properly transferred from the seller to the buyer. When the sale agreement, invoice, and signatures have been exchanged, then the private sale is complete and the buyer legally owns the car.

    Private seller vs car dealer - which is better?

    Both options have pros and cons, and it depends more on what you’re looking for and what you’re willing to deal with. Dealership vehicles are more often new, easier to find, easier to finance, come with a statutory warranty and safety certificate and you’re more protected under Australian consumer law. 

    On the other hand, they’re often more expensive and there are usually less options to choose from - especially if you’re looking for an older model. When it comes to buying a car from a private seller however, you’re more likely to find cars that suit your needs and at a lower cost. 

    Keep in mind these tips are applicable to any type of private vehicle sale not just a car, we can help at Driva with a range of products available from boats to camper trailer loan solutions.

    How should I pay for a private car sale? Can I get a loan?

    Yes, you can get a loan to purchase a privately sold car! Of course, the lender will need certain information to verify vehicle ownership from the seller, among other things. Still, it’s 100% possible to get a loan for private sales.  You could arrange to pay the seller in full and in cash, or you can directly transfer payment bank account to bank account - it’s completely up to you. In fact, if the person selling was old school and wanted a bank cheque, or even settled on a price of 25 tomatoes, it’s okay as long as all details are agreed upon between both parties. If you currently don’t have all the cash you need, securing a loan to help you cover any money owing on the vehicle is also an option. 

    From personal car loans to business car finance, we can help you find the perfect solution for your budget and circumstances.

    Declan Flaherty

    As the Digital Marketing Manager at Driva you can find Declan during the day transfixed by a flurry of spreadsheets, mar-tech, Slack emojis and graphs all pointing in the right direction and keeping up to date with the latest car finance trends.

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