Sunday 17 November 2019

The risks of buying a car privately

It's a tricky business and if something goes wrong, you have little legal protection, writes Geraldine Herbert

Caution: Buying a used car privately can be a minefield of potential problems
Caution: Buying a used car privately can be a minefield of potential problems

Geraldine Herbert

A former Olympic athlete has highlighted the perils of buying a used car privately. Shane Healy told Claire Byrne Live last week that he had been scammed out of €2,000 in a terrifying ordeal at Tyrrelstown, Dublin, when buying a second-hand car.

Healy, who reached the semi-finals of the 1996 Olympic Games, revealed how he had arranged to view and buy a Skoda Octavia advertised online.

However, when he arrived, the car was not the one advertised and he was forced to hand over the money under the threat of violence.

While this case is particularly nasty, it should remind anyone buying a car privately that there are risks involved.

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Aine Carroll, director of communications and policy with the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, warns that "the most important thing to be aware of is that 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".

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.

There are also some important questions you should ask the seller. These include, has the car ever been crashed, has any body-work or major mechanical work been undertaken, is the mileage correct, how many previous owners have there been and is there outstanding finance on the car?

The interior of a car can also reveal a lot, worn carpets in particular, can indicate high mileages. 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.

Take the car for a test drive and if you are happy to proceed, get a qualified mechanic to inspect it. Check all the paperwork and verify that the NCT cert is legitimate. You can do this by entering the vehicle registration number on www.ncts.ie and carry out a history check.

Always use your common sense, be cautious and remember if the offer seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Sunday Independent

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