Auto advice: How to buy a second-hand car with confidence

Our motoring editor answers your questions on how to avoid the pitfalls when it comes to buying

"While buying privately rather than from a dealer may save you money, if you buy from a dealer you have some consumer protection"© Getty Images/Westend61

Geraldine Herbert

What is the difference between buying from a dealer and a private seller? While buying privately rather than from a dealer may save you money, if you buy from a dealer you will have the protection of the Sale of Goods Act. This ensures the car must be roadworthy; of reasonable quality, given its age and history, and as described in the advertisement. If you buy privately and the car doesn’t come up to scratch, your options are limited. You should always ensure that you verify the seller’s identity. Ask for a copy of their driving licence before you arrange to see the car and when you do view it, do not go alone. What should I look for when viewing a car? The interior of a car can reveal a lot – worn carpet under the pedals, in particular, can indicate high mileage. Does the condition compare with the mileage and age of the car? Other tell-tale signs include worn-out upholstery, dashboard instruments and pedal condition. Paintwork should be in good condition, the same colour and consistent all over. Make sure all the panels line up correctly and that none is a different shade or heavily chipped by stones. Look also at the tread depth, as well as the general condition of the tyres, including the spare. Uneven wear can signal suspension issues or if they are just generally worn, it may be a sign of a car that hasn’t been properly looked after. Make sure everything works as it should – turn the air conditioning or fans to full. Open and close all locks, doors and windows and look for signs of water leaks, paint on door rubbers, windows or uneven door shuts. If I decide to buy, what should I do next? Take the car for a test drive. Then, if you are happy to proceed, get a qualified mechanic to inspect it. Check all the paperwork and verify the NCT cert is legitimate by entering the vehicle registration number on Carry out a history check as this will tell you if the car has been stolen, has been written off by an insurer or if it is subject to outstanding finance. Always use your common sense, be cautious and remember, if the offer seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Top Tip If you buy a car from a private individual, you do not have consumer rights, because you are not buying from a business. Consumer rights concern transactions between traders and consumers, not two consumers.

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