It’s so incredibly sexy: Buying a fantastic car from a private seller and saving thousands of Pound in the process.
Are you wondering if this is a good idea? Then read on.
In this special, we help you set up a plan to decide which option is best for you: dealership or private sale.
First off, though, you may ask yourself:
Are people actually still buying privately?
The answer to that is simple: Absolutely!
In fact, until very recently, this was decidedly the most popular way to purchase a used model. Still today, each year, thousands of UK drivers are chasing that dream.
Dealerships may have gained ground of lately. But around 40% of all cars in the UK do not involve them. Clearly, this is not a niche. It’s, in its own way, big business.
At the same time, most buyers are extremely nervous when looking for a car “on the street”.
A private sale, after all, means that you carry all the risk. Imagine the car breaking down the day after you bought it. With a dealership, you can simply take it back to have it repaired. With a private seller, there is no recourse.
The solution seems clear: Set up a list of advantages and disadvantages and base your decision on that.
Unfortunately, that’s not the best plan.
Why pros and cons don’t work here.
Ask anyone about the best way to buy a used car. Chances are not only will you get plenty of opinions. They’ll probably also be contradictory.
Here’s a sentiment we found in an online forum:
“All dealers are out to screw you. All private owners are clueless idiots.”
Clearly, this isn’t true. The thing, however, is that the answer to the question is complex. It hinges on many subjective / personal factors. Typical pros and cons lists tend to confuse the issue because they don’t take your personal situation into account.
Which is why we have instead developed a list of nine questions you can ask yourself to analyse which alternative is best for you.
If you answer these honestly, you should be able to arrive at the best solution for you.
1. Do you worry a lot?
Psychologically, this is the biggest question of all.
Buying from a private seller is not a transaction like any other. You’re buying an extremely expensive product – one of the most expensive ones available to the average consumer – without the typical consumer protection if something goes wrong.
Even if you consider yourself an expert and know a thing or two about cars, you can take a wrong value judgement.
The big question is: Can you live with this uncertainty? If you’re a worrier, a private sale is definitely not for you. Every time you’re getting in the car, you’ll probably worry about the consequences and whether it will break down on you.
Adding to this is the fact that most warranties will no longer be valid in a private sale
2. Do you have a little financial wiggle room?
We can’t deny it: Purely based on the purchase price, buying a used car from a private seller is going to be cheaper than the same car from a dealer.
As we’ll explain later in this article, dealership deals can still be a better choice for you. But if you really do not have any financial wiggle room at all, then a private sale can be your only option.
That said, consider the following points which are closely associated with this:
Can you wait just a little longer and save up until you can afford to buy from a dealer?
Can you wait until you can get a great deal at a dealer? As we’ve pointed out before, prices at dealerships are cyclical. Which means that patience and strategic buying really pay off.
3. Are you okay with less attractive models?
If you set foot in a used car dealership, you’re often entering a world of artificial beauty. Dealers like to have all the most popular models available at all times. Their cars are rarely very old and they have very few serious defects.
Dealerships have become a lot more professional. But this also means that if you desperately want to save some money, things may have become harder.
In a private sale, on the other hand, you can buy really old vehicles, which may (or may not!) drive perfectly – such as models from the 80s! You may find cars which don’t look that great and which have obvious defects.
But – all of that makes them cheap as well!
So if you’re looking for the cheapest option available to you, then the dealership is probably the wrong place to look.
4. Can you deal with the paperwork?
Buying with a dealer is a pretty smooth experience.
Dealers take care of pretty much everything for you. Any car at a dealership has had a recent MOT, a check-up and all the paperwork will usually be in order (can’t hurt to double check, however).
After you’ve bought a car at a dealership, you can drive it off the lot without having to worrying about formalities. With a private seller, all the paperwork is up to you – including changing the registration, making sure the MOT is on order etc.
Also, a dealer needs to comply with regulations about what is included with the sale. This means: Two sets of keys, the car’s manual, a handbook etc. With a private sale, some of these items may be missing. You may decide to go ahead with the purchase – but in some cases, this can be a serious issue.
So at the very least, if you buy privately, you need to know exactly where to draw the line.
5. Do you have the time to look around?
You may sometimes urgently need a car. But that kind of urgency is usually a little different from urgently having to get something to eat. Usually, you’ll have at least a couple weeks to scan the market, take a look at a few options and take a decision.
If your time is extremely limited and you can potentially pay a little more, dealerships are your best bet. They offer a wide selection of models, which means that you should usually be able to find something to match your needs.
The private market is harder to navigate.
Fortunately, online portals have made the process a lot easier. Still, you’ll want to take at least a casual look at each offer. Which means that it’s going to cost you time you may not have.
6. Can you give a good estimate of the value of the car?
We mentioned earlier that a certain model with a private seller will usually be cheaper than the same model with a dealer. In theory, this is true.
The thing is: Those two cars are never exactly the same.
Dealership cars have definitely been cleaned and checked, usually they have also been refurbished and, if necessary, repaired. Dealers don’t tend to buy cars that are below a certain quality level simply because they are forced by law to offer a degree of consumer protection for them.
The private market, meanwhile, is the wild wild west.
Whether or not a private sale is a fantastic deal or a total disaster depends, therefore. Assuredly, it depends on you being able to gauge its real value. If you can not do that with at least a little confidence, you’ll need to take an expert with you.
If that’s a friend or family member, that’s great. Although it does mean you could fall out with each other if they end up giving you the wrong advice.
If it’s the RAC or AA, then you can be pretty certain that they’ll do a decent enough job. But it’s going to cost you! And if you end up spending 250 Pounds on a check-up, this seriously reduces the very benefit of a private sale in the first place.
Would we recommend the RAC car check?
7. Can you repair or fix problems you didn’t spot yourself?
Sometimes, when buying from a private seller, the car is fine in principle. Still, after driving it for a while, you’ll usually notice a few issues.
Even if these issues are fairly minor, taking your car to a mechanic can be expensive. If they’re more serious, they are sure to cost you.
Very few drivers in the UK these days can deal with even the most basic repairs themselves. Of course, Youtube can come in handy. But relying on video assistance comes with its own risks, too.
And so, if you can not perform a few basic steps yourself, it may be safer to opt for a dealership.
8. Do you need financing?
There’s a serious conundrum when it comes to used car buying.
Private car sales are most alluring for those with bad credit. At the same time, those with a small budget usually can not afford to pay for a car in cash. Which instantly means that dealership deals are their only option.
Improved car financing has been the key reason why dealerships have become the dominant force on the car market. In fact, dealers have managed to virtually eliminate the bank-financed car loan which used to have an 80% market share not that long ago.
If you need financing, dealers are really your only alternative. In itself, that’s not a bad thing. At CCC, for example, you can get excellent deals even if your credit score is low.
Talk to us now about how we can help you find a great car at affordable monthly payments.
9. Do you have a trade-in / part exchange?
It is true that right now may be one of the worst possible times to buy a used car. In some cases, the price of a second hand vehicle is higher than that of a similar new one!
“Thanks” to the pandemic, the market has gone from a buyer’s to a seller’s market. And most of the time, that’s bad news if you’re looking for a new car.
Of course, the situation isn’t half as bad if you actually own a car and merely want to replace it for another one.
In this case, you can seriously improve your chances of getting a good deal. Dealerships are desperately looking for product so they’ll do everything they can to come to an agreement with you.
If you’re savvy enough, you can get an even better deal with a part exchange for the car you want than you could get on the private market.