Should I buy a car from a professional or a private seller? Your questions answered

gumtreeDeciding which car to buy can be tricky – the financial investment is significant and maintenance and insurance implications, as well as the practicalities of getting from A to B conveniently and safely, means that your choice will have long-lasting consequences. One of the first choices one has to make is whether to buy a car privately or from a professional dealership. There are benefits to both, says Jeff Osborne, Head of Gumtree Automotive.

“There are two sides of the coin to consider. Private sellers will almost always offer you a cheaper deal than a dealership,” says Osborne. “A dealership has to charge a higher mark-up because they have to source vehicles, maintain their inventory and pay staff, which a private seller does not. That’s not to say that you can’t find an amazing deal at your local dealership, but often a private seller is more willing to haggle. However, a dealership can’t knowingly sell a broken car or claim that they are selling it “voetstoots”. Deals between consumers and professional dealerships are governed by the Consumer Protection Act, giving you greater protection when purchasing from a reputable dealership.”

Cars sold from private sellers, unless there is a legal contract in writing stating otherwise, are considered to be sold “as is”, with the caveat that the buyer should beware. “Dealerships usually sell cars with maintenance plans and warranties in effect, which lowers your risk.”

That’s not to say that all private sales are risky. “I’ve come across many reputable private sellers who’ve kept scrupulous service records and who will even offer warranties to sweeten the deal, so it would be tort to assume that private sellers should be avoided.”

Osborne also states that the time spent researching and buying a car privately and professionally is equal for the buyer. “You will find private and professional sellers are using the same online tools to make it easy for you to browse, research and communicate with them. Most professional dealerships have an excellent online presence, so there is no need to visit the showroom floor until you are ready to perform your inspection of the vehicle.”

The same commonsensical rules of purchasing a vehicle from a dealership applies to a private sale, says Osborne. “Look for low mileage and a thorough service history. Any kind of extended maintenance plan is a bonus. If possible, have the vehicle professionally inspected. Test-drive the vehicle for at least twenty minutes, and make a note of any dents, scratches or chips.  Try to negotiate on price or insist on repairs if needed.”

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