Private Car Sales: Buyer's Guide for Purchasing Used Cars

If you’re in the market for a used vehicle, are you tempted to buy one privately? And why not? There's a good chance of scoring a great deal however, you also know that it comes with a certain amount of risk.

Whether you’re trying to decide to go with the private sale or have already decided and want more details regarding the process, the paperwork, and much more, this guide should help you.

What’s the Process?

Many people have been scammed and have paid their hard-earned savings away to a criminal for a car that never existed. Never, ever deposit money to anyone selling a car without going through these important steps.

Basic steps

  1. Before meeting the seller, take your time to ask questions over the phone. (Use the list below.)
  2. If you decide you want to view the car and take it for a test drive, arrange to meet in a safe location, in public, with a friend or two.
  3. Check that all of the information provided matches up. It's one way to tell if the seller is honest and trustworthy or not.
  4. Check all documentation – licence disc, proof of ownership, service history, police clearance, ID, etc. (See full list below under Paperwork.)
  5. It’s worthwhile to have the car inspected at a testing centre for mechanical issues and other damage, where they can also issue a roadworthy certificate at the same time.
  6. Once you’re happy and agree to purchase, it’s time to draw up a sales agreement.
  7. Finally, you can make the exchange and drive home with the car you just paid for.
  8. Remember that the onus is on you to register the car in your name.

Important: Trust your gut and always make double sure everything looks and feels right. If you need to test drive again, make the request. If you need to double check any information on the documents, do so.

Questions to ask

Before arranging a visit to view, ask the seller everything you can think of about the car. Generally, a seller's advertisement should provide all the important information.   

  1. Are you the seller? You want to know the history of ownership.
  2. How long have you owned the vehicle? You want to make sure the car is not stolen.
  3. What's the mileage? This will influence the price.
  4. Does it have service history records? You want to know the car has been serviced regularly.
  5. Is it still under finance? If so, are you prepared to take over the payments?
  6. What condition is it in? Specifically, the mechanical condition.
  7. Has it been in any accidents? You want to avoid buying a car that has been involved in a major accident.
  8. Is there any cosmetic damage? Both exterior and interior.
  9. Are there any extra features? You want to ascertain whether any of these are useful to you or that they might bother you.
  10. What price are you asking for? And then do your research to see if it sounds like a fair price. Remember: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.


The one disadvantage of buying a car privately is that you and the seller will have to handle a lot of documentation yourselves, which potentially means queuing at testing stations, police stations, and banks.

Roadworthy Certificate

This piece of paper means that the vehicle meets the minimum safety requirements for driving on the road. It is not a guarantee that the car is problem-free or even in good condition. A roadworthy certificate can be obtained from a testing station with the following documentation:

  1. The vehicle's registration certificate
  2. Your identity document
  3. Completed application form

VIN and Engine Number

You can ask for a police clearance certificate from the seller, but to be extra cautious also take down the details of the number plate, chassis number (VIN*) and engine number and run a check at a police station to ensure that you are not buying a stolen vehicle. You can also check the VIN number online with VehicleCheck.

You should also make sure that these details match up with the registration papers.

*A VIN is a 17-digit alphanumeric number and can be found on the licence disc, on the inside of the driver’s side-door, or where the windshield and dash meet.


Once the deal has been agreed to, the vehicle must then be registered in the new owner's name. Both the buyer and seller are involved in this procedure. The following documentation is required:

  1. Identity document
  2. The seller's vehicle registration certificate
  3. A roadworthy certificate
  4. Proof of purchase or Sales Agreement
  5. A valid motor vehicle licence
  6. The completed registration application form

Sales Agreement

This contract is necessary for the transfer of ownership of the vehicle, and should include:

  1. Names, addresses, ID number, and contact details of both parties
  2. Details of the vehicle: make, model, registration number, VIN number registration number, colour, odometer reading
  3. Time, date and location of the sale
  4. Purchase amount

You can find sales agreements such as this one online.


There are different ways to make payment for the sale of a used vehicle.

  1. If the vehicle is still under finance, the balance should be paid directly to the bank, and proof of payment sent to the seller. Once the seller has received the registration papers from the bank, the net amount can be paid to the seller.
  2. If the vehicle is paid off, the seller will expect a cash sale by means of hard cash or electronic funds transfer. 


It’s well-known that the benefit of buying a car privately is a good way to find a bargain, if done cautiously and correctly. But what are the cons?

  1. You will spend a lot more time and effort looking for the right car, setting up appointments with sellers to view, making sure the car is in roadworthy condition and worth the asking price.
  2. You will have to draw up your own paperwork, making sure all the documents are signed, such as an agreement of sale, change of ownership, and registration.
  3. Buying a car from a private seller will not be covered by the Consumer Protection Act (CPA). This means that if you discover any unidentified faults within the first 6 months after buying a car, you won't have the right to request for repairs or a refund.


Is it a good idea to buy a car privately? It can very well be a bargain and save you money. However, it does come with higher risks. If something goes wrong, you do not have legal protection under the CPA and in worst case scenarios, the vehicle could be stolen or end up being a rotten tomato. Buying privately also takes more effort on your part, and can be a real time-sucker.

There's no doubt that buying or selling a car privately is a complicated procedure, so tread with caution and don't hesitate to get advice. In doing so, you could be rewarded with a great car for years to come.

If you’re looking for more great used car deals, see our latest promotions.


Disclaimer: Auto Pedigree and the authors make no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information on this site or by following any link on this site. Auto Pedigree and the authors will not be liable for any errors or omissions in this information nor for the availability of this information.