Buying a car privately? Read this first! - Barwon Community Legal Service

Buying a car privately? Read this first!


The top 5 things you need to know when buying a car privately or online. We often speak to people who bought a car from a private seller after seeing an ad on social media or a website. Here are 5 things we wish all our clients knew before they buy a car by private sale or online:

  1. Private sales come with less legal protections

For instance there is no 3 day cooling-off period and the car is not covered by the statutory warranty, both of which apply when you purchase from a licensed motor car trader (LMCT).

  1. Find out who the seller really is

If anything goes wrong with the car, you need to have the seller’s name, phone number, address and ideally a photograph of their driver’s license so you can contact them and ask for a refund or compensation. Details from social media won’t help you if your car engine blows up two days later and they’ve blocked you or changed their social media account.

  1. Check out the vehicle before you buy

Get the car inspected by an independent vehicle inspection service, like the RACV or a qualified mechanic. If the seller doesn’t agree, don’t buy the car.

If the vehicle you are looking at purchasing does not come with a Roadworthy Certificate (RWC), watch out! You may then have to pay the costs of repairing it and getting the RWC before Vic Roads will allow you to transfer the vehicle to your name.

It is also your responsibility to check that the car is not stolen, has no money owing on it, is not on the written-off vehicles register and is registered. You can check these by going to these websites: Check vehicle registration : VicRoads, PPSR – Quick motor vehicle search .

  1. Buying at auctions is high risk

Generally, when you buy at an auction, either in person or online, you get no legal protections at all – no cooling off period, no statutory warranty, no ability to test drive the car, no roadworthy certificate and it’s not even covered by the consumer guarantees in the Australian Consumer Law that the car be of ‘reasonable quality.’ It’s like buying a mystery box, with nothing you can do if inside there is just a mouldy lemon. Even worse, if the auction house is based interstate, you can’t even take the case to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal if you want to try to get your money back.

  1. Watch out for private car sale scams

Fake advertisements are appearing on genuine car sales websites, in online classifieds and online auction sites. These scams offer non-existent second-hand vehicles for lower than expected prices. Be wary of purchasing a car you have not seen in person. If you decide to buy a car online advertised by a private seller then check its status at the VicRoads website Check vehicle registration : VicRoads and ensure the registration plate, car identification and engine numbers match the details you obtained through the VicRoads vehicle status check. For more information, visit the Auction and shopping scams page on the SCAMWatch website.

Shane Foyster is a community lawyer at Barwon Community Legal Service and has also worked as an investigator for Consumer Affairs Victoria. The last time he bought a car by private sale it broke down after one week, and the seller drove 2 hours to Geelong to repair it himself. Why? Because Shane had the seller’s name, phone number, address, ABN and he knew how to use them!

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