Skip to content

Warrantywise’s guide to buying a car privately.

Purchasing a car is one of the biggest financial decisions you’ll make, and with so many different makes and models to choose from, sometimes it’s hard to know where to begin your search.

If you visit a dealership you’ll have access to seasoned professionals equipped to give you the latest and greatest advice. You will also be able to access reviews on the dealership and have peace of mind that you’re in the safest hands.

But what if the car you have your eye on is being advertised by a private seller? We’ve put together a handy checklist of car buying tips loaded with the key things you should consider when buying a car from a private seller.

Car key being handed over to new owner

Who were the previous owners?

It’s not uncommon for potential buyers to want to know about the origin of the car they are looking to buy.

Typically, the fewer owners a car has had, the better! Keep a close eye out for vehicles which have had one careful owner, as they are more likely to have driven the vehicle consistently and treated it with care and respect.

Finding out about previous ownership is super simple to do and can reveal a lot about the car you’re looking to buy. For instance, if the car has had many previous owners, this could be a sign of owners trying to pass on a problem.

From the car’s next MOT date to its estimated mileage, tapping into this information will put you in the best position possible to decide whether the purchase is right for you. There are loads of websites available that will be able to provide more information, like the MOT site.

You might also have additional questions about where the car has come from or why the current owner is choosing to sell the vehicle. If something seems suspicious to you, it’s important to flag it, particularly if you believe the car you’re interested in isn’t being sold legitimately.

It’s also important to consider what it means for you as a buyer if you purchase a stolen car in good faith. Although you weren’t to know, the vehicle will have to be seized and your investment will vanish, not to mention the fact that it can cause a whole host of legal problems too.

There are many stolen vehicle checking tools available online which will help you determine whether the car you’re interested in buying is being sold on legitimate grounds. These checks are free and will provide a rundown of the car’s history in just a matter of seconds. Checking the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) can be very useful to track the history of a specific car – you can find the VIN usually on the driver’s side dashboard, windscreen or inside door.

Benchmark the price

If you’re buying a car privately, it’s important to make sure it’s been priced correctly and in keeping with current market value.

It’s also worth mentioning that the price of used cars has also risen, so what you might have paid last year might no longer be the case. We also have a useful guide on part exchanges vs selling your car privately.

If you’re using the internet to guide you on price points, don’t just stop at the first website you land on. Instead, form an independent decision based on a good amount of research.

There are plenty of great websites you can visit to assess the going rate for makes and models of specific cars including Auto Trader or Go Compare. Alternatively, visiting owners’ forums on social media platforms are a great way to hear the latest on price trends within the used-car market.

If you want to make sure what you’re paying stacks up, here are a few things to consider…


The mileage of a car is something to think about before buying any used car. Low mileage on a used car is always a great thing, and a good indicator that there is loads of life left in the car.

A car’s mileage is usually reflected in the price and could be the reason an older car might be for sale at a higher price.


The condition of a car is one of the most important things to bear in mind when looking at a used car. This is because the car’s overall condition has a bearing on how much it can and should be sold for.

Is the car reliable? Has the vehicle had any major repair work? It’s always a good idea to ask the seller these questions when viewing a used vehicle, so you’re fully informed before making a final decision.


A well-maintained car says a lot about an owner of a vehicle. Carefully check over footwells, glove boxes, boots, and cup holders, as a well-kept car will also preserve its value for longer.

Odours such as smoke, pets, and water damage are also something to watch out for. Not only can these be costly to remove once the car is yours, but it isn’t guaranteed you’ll be able to remove them at all.


How desirable a car is will greatly impact its market value and mean you’ll either be saving or spending. Of course, desirability often comes down to personal preference. Is the car a family favourite? Made famous by film or tv? Or a particularly trendy make or model? All of these factors will have a bearing on the price.

Modifications, particularly on classic cars, can significantly alter the price you would expect to pay for a car.

If you’re looking for more guidance on how to get the best price, whether it’s from an auction, a dealership or a private seller, read Warrantywise’s ‘6 ways to get a good deal when buying a used car’.

Ask for the service history and MOT certificate

Having visibility of a car’s service history is really helpful for future buyers, as this information paints a clear picture of any issues that have occurred in the car’s lifetime. If the car is more than three years old, make sure it has an up-to-date MOT carried out by an authorised MOT test centre.

Engine oil dipstick

You can visit the UK government website and input the car’s registration plate number to ‘Check the MOT history of a vehicle.’

Similarly, there should also be a log of the car’s service history, which you may be able to find online in some cases. This works as proof that the previous owners have looked after the vehicle, and that everything is running how it should be.

If you’re looking for more information on servicing a standard combustion engine, and why it’s important for you as a prospective owner, visit our Ultimate car servicing guide.

What covers are in place?

It doesn’t matter whether the car you’re buying is three years old or thirty years old, it’s always a good idea to check what warranties are in place to protect you for the future.

It’s important to have breakdown cover and car warranty cover in place as a precaution. If you’re looking to purchase a new car privately or from a dealership, ensuring these covers are in place and will protect you should something go wrong.

If you’ve already bought you car or thinking about buying it soon remember to start a Warrantywise car warranty quote. It gives you peace of mind, knowing that you won’t face expensive repair bills. 

Take a test drive

Taking the car out for a test drive will help you to determine if the vehicle is comfortable to drive and has all the features you’re looking for.

It’s important to think about insurance for your test drive. If you’re unsure whether your existing policy covers you to drive other vehicles, contact your provider for more information or check your documents. Alternatively, you can purchase temporary insurance which will cover you for as little as 30 minutes.

Test drives are also a great opportunity for your family to try out the car too. Are the passenger seats comfortable? Is there plenty of room in the back? Gathering opinions from family and friends is a good way of sense checking your purchase.

Although a private seller might be hesitant, if you’re properly insured and treat the car with care and respect, a test drive should be totally fine. It is completely up to the seller though; it is still their vehicle after all! If they aren’t comfortable with you driving, they may still be willing to drive you around so you can get a feel for the car from the passenger seat.

Book a vehicle inspection

If you’re looking for a professional opinion to make sure your dream car doesn’t turn out to be a nightmare, booking a vehicle inspection is a fail-safe way to ensure you’re making a wise investment. 

Mechanic removing wheel from vehicle on ramp

Decide how to pay for the car

If you’ve gone through all the checks above and you’re happy to commit to the sale, there are still a few crucial things to remember when buying from a private seller that are different to a dealership.

An independent seller won’t be authorised or regulated as a dealer would usually be. Therefore, it is very important to assess the situation and make sure that you’re comfortable and happy with the sale.

Before making any bank transfers, make sure you have seen the vehicle in real-life, and that you trust the person to whom you’ll be sending the money. It is also advised not to send the money in advance, and to wait until you’ve seen the car in person.

The same principle applies for the exchange of documents, as the seller won’t want to hand these over until the transaction has taken place. These documents are important and should be kept safe for the entire time you own the car. The car’s log book should now be available online.

If you are paying a lot of money for the vehicle, it can be a good idea to use a mediator or escrow who will be able to handle the transaction for you. In simple terms, this is an independent third party who will handle your payment, while you wait to receive the goods.

This option is often popular with people who might be paying out large amounts of money for purchases like houses. This option is great for peace of mind, adding that all-important extra layer of reassurance. 

Protect yourself with an Extended Warranty

While this checklist aims to help you navigate some of the common challenges buying a used car privately can create, the safest way to buy a used car is to use a reputable dealership. The good news is, whatever route you choose for buying a used car, there’s always the option to protect yourself with an extended warranty. Speak to Warrantywise today to find out how much a warranty could cost on your car.

Warrantywise and Warrantywise Logo are trademarks of Warrantywise. The website "" and contents herein are for information purposes only. This does not form part of any contract of protection. Any and all Warranty Plan confirmation including Warranty Plan Documents and Application Forms will be issued upon purchase. It is important that you read our information supplied and then make your own choice of warranty cover together with any plan additions that you may need as a vehicle owner who demands to ensure that your vehicle warranty requirements are met now and in the foreseeable future. Terms and Conditions apply and are provided by Warrantywise available to download here or upon request by calling 0800 169 7880. Warrantywise Limited (No. 07963594 ) and Warrantywise UK Limited (No. 14775172) both trading as Warrantywise are companies registered in England and Wales at The Rocket Centre, 3 Trident Way, Blackburn, Lancashire, BB1 3NU and both are part of Wise Group Holdings Limited, Company No. 10613336. Warrantywise Limited (VAT registration number 264 8618 71) and Warrantywise UK Limited (VAT registration number 437 8119 76) are VAT registered companies. All prices and monetary figures are quoted include VAT at the current rate.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
*Please refer to specific plan terms and conditions.