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Considerations When Buying a Used Car Privately In The UK

15 September 2020 | 0 comments | Posted by Claire Wouters in Petrol heads

Check used car before private sale

As the economy begins to contract, and consumers are looking for value for their money, the new car market has taken a knock, but that doesn't mean people are no longer buying cars. They have merely shifted their focus to purchasing vehicles where the depreciation curve has flattened, and they can source deals that are more practical for their budget.

The second-hand car market is flooded with dealerships that look to secure cars that hold resale value better than others and try to sell it to consumers and make a healthy profit. The reason consumers tend to opt for second-hand dealerships is that they assume the liability for many issues the car could have post-purchase as well as making sure all the finance and legal paperwork is filed correctly.

This trade-off for convenience means that you do pay a premium on buying a second-hand vehicle from a dealership. If however, you feel confident in your knowledge of cars and you can spot a bargain, or you're a good negotiator, then the private market is an excellent alternative.

Buying in the private market

If you are thinking of buying a used car from a private seller, you must remember that you won't have the same legal protection that comes standard if you purchase through a dealer. So, the first step when reviewing a potential vehicle is to check MOT and tax before going any further. Luckily, this is a pretty easy process, and all you will need is the vehicle's registration number to start with your various checks.

MOT checks

An MOT test is an annual test of vehicle safety, roadworthiness aspects and exhaust emissions required in the United Kingdom for most vehicles over three years old. Having a valid MOT is imperative because if it has lapsed or has been issued illegally, the onus will be on you once you drive the car away and the registration document is transferred into your name. It's not only the MOT and tax check you can carry out either, but you can also do a historical MOT check online.

If your vehicle is more than three years old, you can't drive without an MOT unless you're on the way to the garage for your pre-booked MOT appointment.

Do the vehicle check yourself

There are car check services that you can employ, but this costs money and you can just as well DIY if you have the right checklist handy.


The seller should produce a V5C registration document because you won't be able to tax the car without it. Some second-hand vehicles come with a certain amount of tax already paid; this is a good sign.

On the registration document check for its watermark, any spelling mistakes and does the number plate, engine number and colour match what's been declared.

Service history

Of course, this type of documentation can be counterfeit but ask for it anyway. Look out for the service centre's stamp and, if not and you are suspicious that not all is what it seems, take down the name of the garage and give them a call to verify that the car has been serviced there.

What's on the clock?

Digital odometers can be tampered with electronically, so you need to see if the age and condition of the vehicle match the declared mileage. Good service history will give you this information. The mileage is recorded not only at each service, but on the MOT certificate as well. This is why it is so important to check the MOT history.


Tyres form a vital part of an MOT test, so check to see if they are in good condition. Remember, tyres tread less than 3mm means you will have to replace these at some point soon.

Safety first

When you lift the boot check to see if the spare wheel is there and in good condition, also, the jack should be there in case you have a puncture.

If the car has airbags fitted look on the dashboard to see if there are any warning lights in this regard. They will come on initially when you turn on the engine but should go out soon after. The seatbelts, back and front, should all be in good working order and not be frayed or damaged. When you turn the ignition key, take the opportunity to see that the windscreen wipers and lights work and if there is washer fluid in the reservoir.

All checked out

Once you've decided that it's the right vehicle for you, it is crucial to take note of when you need to book your MOT so that you won't be driving on the roads without a certificate of roadworthiness.

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Recommended reading

If you enjoyed this post and have time to spare why not check out these related posts and dive deeper down the rabbit hole that is vehicle management.

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