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Buying and selling a car

Buying from a dealer vs a private seller

There’s really no right answer to this: on the one hand you have more legal rights if you buy from a dealer - plus, it’s easier to go back to them if something does go wrong. On the other hand you’re likely to pay more than you would if you buy from a private seller.

So while we can’t say what’s right for you, we can make sure that you know exactly what your rights are in both cases.

Both dealers and private sellers are required to sell any vehicle in a roadworthy condition. This means the car must be legally roadworthy, or fit and safe to drive as according to the Road Traffic Act.

They must also make sure the vehicle matches the description. This includes any advertising and any documentation as well as any verbal descriptions given by the dealer.


As well as being able to offer incentives such as finance packages and warranties, dealers are legally required to ensure the following:

  1. The vehicle must be of satisfactory quality
  2. It must also be fit for purpose.

They may also offer breakdown insurance, a guarantee or a warranty – all nice to have, but they don’t affect your rights or a dealer’s responsibilities.

What's meant by 'satisfactory quality'?

This is not an exact science, but essentially it means you should be happy with the quality of the car you’re buying, taking into account:

Don't forget...Any defects should be pointed out to you by the dealer before you agree to buy, but it’s still a good idea to examine the car yourself using WhatCar's used car checklist.

  • Its age and make
  • Its past history and mileage
  • Its description
  • The price you intend to pay
  • What you intend to use it for
  • Any other relevant circumstances

The dealer is NOT liable for fair wear and tear, any accidental damage you cause or any problems brought about by your mis-use of the car.

What's meant by 'fit for purpose'?

The car needs to be able to get you from A to B with an appropriate level of comfort, reliability and ease of handling. If you want the car for a particular use such as towing then let the dealer know – they should make sure the car is able to fulfil any specific requirements.

Private seller

When you buy from a private seller your rights are a lot more limited, but this will generally be reflected in the price. Other than the rights common to private sellers and dealers detailed at the top, it is simple:

The seller must have the right to sell the car

What does that mean..? Essentially, the seller should be a private individual, who is the current legal owner of the car.

Be aware - sometimes a dealer may illegally pose as a private seller in order to avoid their legal obligations. Look out for the following warning signs:

  • Calling the seller to ask about the car and them asking ‘which one?’
  • The same phone number appearing in several different car adverts
  • The seller wanting to meet somewhere other than at their home
  • Going to view the car and seeing lots of cars for sale on the same street
  • The seller’s name not appearing on the logbook as the registered keeper.
  Updated: 07/01/2020

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