Traders are often called “dealers” and sell cars as part of their business. Private sellers generally have only one car to sell and are not selling it as part of their business. Your consumer rights vary depending on whether you buy from a dealer or private seller. If you buy from a dealer, you have some protection under consumer law. However, if you buy privately, you do not have the same consumer rights because the person selling the car is not acting as a business. Make sure you understand this by checking out our section on your rights if things go wrong.

Whether you are buying from a dealer or privately, check out our detailed car buyers checklist to help you buy a second hand car.  It has lot of important questions you should ask about any car. Don’t be afraid to ask direct questions – it’s your money you are parting with!

Make sure the car has been serviced at regular intervals and that the service book has been filled out correctly over the years.

Buying from a dealer

Before you go to a car dealer, check if they have a good reputation. Ask some family or friends if they know anything about them. Ask the dealer if they are a member of a trade association or have a quality assurance or guarantee in place.

A dealer must provide you with a Vehicle Registration Certificate when you buy a car, so make sure to get it. Although not always available, you should also ask for the following:

  • A written warranty stating what it covers and its duration
  • The car’s history
  • The car’s service book
  • A car handbook / manual
  • Two sets of keys for the car
  • A signed receipt for payment
  • National Car Test (NCT) certificate if the car is over four years old and/or the Vehicle
  • Registration Tax (VRT) certificate if the car has been imported.

If you buy from an online dealer (and not a private seller online), you need to be extra careful as you may not have a chance to examine the car before you buy it. But you are entitled to a fourteen day cooling off period from the date the car was delivered when you can cancel the deal if you wish.

Buying from a private seller

A dealer trying to sell as a private individual may be trying to deny you your consumer rights. If a dealer does not disclose that they are selling the car in the course of their business, they may be guilty of engaging in a disguised business sale, which is against the law.

If you are buying privately, try to check if a seemingly private seller is in fact a dealer by ringing and asking about “the car”! If the seller asks you to be more specific, it is possible they are a dealer selling more than one car.

Use our car buyer’s checklist to make sure you have asked all the important questions. Private sellers may not know all the answers so you should get a mechanic to look at the car if you are serious about buying it.

If you decide to buy from a private seller, don’t go to see the car on your own.  If you can, bring a mechanic or someone who has some experience with cars or buying cars.

Buying at an auction

If you are considering buying at auction, you should visit one first to see how they work before actually making a bid. If you buy a car at an auction, you will have to pay a fee and you will generally not get a warranty unless the car manufacturer’s guarantee period is still valid.

Remember, it may not always be possible to take an auction car for a test drive so make sure you get a mechanic to examine the car before you bid.

Importing a car

If you are thinking of buying an imported car through a dealer or garage, you need to check if the correct VRT has been paid on the car. If the car was new when it was imported, VAT may also be payable. The seller should be able to provide you with a vehicle registration certificate to show that VRT has been paid.

Shop around

You may find some dealers more expensive than a private sale. Always haggle or try to negotiate with a seller when buying a second hand car. Shop around before you buy, check car buyers websites and magazines so you know the average price for the type of car you want.  Don’t let a pushy seller rush you into a sale. There are loads of second hand cars available on the market, so you have plenty of options.


If you are buying privately and not from a dealer, the seller will not be able to arrange finance for you so make sure you have thought about your finances first.

Whether you are buying or selling a car privately, you should be very careful about how you make or accept payment as almost any method can be forged.  The safest way of accepting payment is probably to accompany the buyer to their bank where they can have a draft made out in your name. The bank will not give the buyer a draft unless there is sufficient cash in their account. Once the bank issues the draft, neither the bank nor the buyer can cancel it. If you are willing to accept a bank draft, you should only do so within normal banking hours when you can ring the bank to check if the draft is valid.