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Buying a car privately? 10 tips to make it work for you

Posted on 12 February 2016

If you’re in the market for a used car, then you may end up buying a car from a private seller. Buying a car privately is a very different process to making the same purchase with a dealer, so it’s a good idea to do some research and planning up front to make sure you get the best deal without being taken for a ride. Here are ten straightforward steps for buying a car privately.

1. What can you afford?

As with most purchases it’s a good idea to set your budget upfront before you get tempted to buy something that you can’t afford. Buying a car is certainly no different. Taking the time to talk to one of our team or use our online calculators before you begin your search is a great investment. You can review your potential repayments and work out what size of car loan you can afford. If you’re happy with the numbers, it can be a good idea to put through your application and be confident that you have a pre-approved car loan ready should the right car become available.

2. What are you looking for?

There are a lot of cars out in the marketplace so if you want to speed up your search it’s a good idea to make a shortlist of the features that you need. Take some time to review what you want from your car and make sure you focus on day to day requirements. For example: if you need a dependable car for picking the kids up from school then the sporty 4x4 vehicle that might be good for surfing when you decide to take it up again is probably not the right choice.

3. Start the search

Armed with your list of features you can begin the search for the perfect make and model. Once you’ve shortlisted a couple you can start looking online, in auto classifieds, in newspapers, and through our personal network for the perfect car.

4. Read between the lines

Remember that adverts are written to sell a car, and just like buying a house they can often present a difficult truth in a positive light, or omit details in the hope of fast-tracking a sale. This is a great time to play detective and read between the lines. If you feel important details are being held back or you’re not happy with information provided, don’t be afraid to look elsewhere. There are plenty of used cars on the market and you shouldn’t have to compromise in your search.

5. Contacting the seller

When you spot a car that meets your needs and your budget, then it’s time to get in touch with the seller. You should have access to contact details that make it easy to get hold of the seller, and possible to have a chat with them about the car before arranging a viewing. If you have any difficulty getting in contact or having your calls returned then consider what this could say about the car you are buying. Buying a car privately is easier if the seller is proactive and easy to contact: without this you might want to move on to the next car on your list.

6. Confrim the car's details

Once you do make contact with the seller, use this opportunity to verify all the key details about the car. This will sense check that there are no unexpected typos or errors in the advert that could upset the sales or negotiation process later on. ‘No surprises’ is key. Whether they appear in the advert or not you will want to confirm make/model/year/mileage/number plate/and the general condition of the vehicle.

The warrant of fitness on the vehicle should be no more than one month old at the point you complete the purchase so it’s a good idea to ask about this upfront. Ask the seller why they are getting rid of the car and confirm whether there is any wear and tear that you should be aware of. All of these details will allow you to perform a search later and confirm what the car is worth before you enter into any negotiations.

7. Meeting the seller

Still like what you see? Then it’s time to make a date. Make an appointment to meet the seller and their car in a public place where you will feel safe and have the opportunity to take a good look at your potential purchase. You will probably find that you are assessing the seller as much as the car in this situation - don’t feel pressured into making a purchase until you are completely happy with all the details. This is a good opportunity to ask for a complete maintenance history for the car and check in person that all the paperwork is in order.

8. Inspect the car

Meeting with the seller will give you a great opportunity to really inspect the car. You can perform a complete visual inspection - check out the NZTA website [here] for their list of what to look for when you are buying a used car.

Whether you are mechanically minded or not, once you are close to making a purchase it’s advisable to take the car for a pre-purchase inspection with a registered mechanic. They will be able to inspect the car in detail both inside and out, and review its condition to make you aware of any major accidents or repair-work.

You should also try to test drive the car before you reach a decision about buying it. Make sure you take a companion along for safety, and take the time to experience driving the car both on the open road and in a town setting so you can understand both power and maneuverability.

9. Make an offer

If you’ve completed all the checks needed to be sure that the car is in good working order and you know exactly what you’re making an offer on, then it’s time to start negotiating. If the value of the car is less than the asking price then why not start with a low offer and see if you can get the price down. Take into consideration any issues that you have encountered through the inspection process and be mindful of the amount that you can afford to pay. Don’t be afraid to negotiate: a car is a big purchase and it’s important that you walk away feeling that you’ve achieved the best deal possible.

10. Complete the paperwork

Once you’ve reached a price that works for both parties and agreed a sale, it’s time to make sure that all the paperwork is in order. Each time a vehicle is sold in New Zealand a new Certificate of Registration is issued. It’s important as a buyer that you complete your end of the paperwork before you exchange funds. You can find all the details on the [NZTA website]. Once your paperwork is complete the seller will be able to notify the NZTA for a change of ownership.

If you’re getting ready to go car shopping and would like to talk your car loan options, give the team at Online Car Loans a call. We’ve helped thousands of Kiwis get on the road by providing them with a car loan that works with their budget.

 Please note, this article does not represent personal financial advice.