Top 15 Questions to Ask a Seller When Buying a Secondhand Car Privately

Top 15 Questions to Ask a Seller When Buying a Secondhand Car Privately

Top 15 Questions to Ask a Seller When Buying a Secondhand Car Privately

We prefer to buy our cars privately due to the great deals you can end up negotiating on, however, there are drawbacks to buying a second har car this way. The biggest one being that you will not be covered by the Sale of Goods Act. However, if you buy safely and sensibly then you greatly reduce the risk of something going wrong.

Here is our list of questions you must have an answer for when looking to buy a car from a private party. These questions don’t necessarily have to be asked in this order and this is certainly not an exhaustive list either.

You should use this article in conjunction with our other articles which help you buy and sell cars the proper way.

1. Is this your car?

Nice and simple, however, you will begin to find that people will tell you they are selling the car for their friend, their neighbour or a work colleague etc. Now there is nothing wrong with that per se, however, you need to know that you are talking to the person who knows most about the car and is in a position to make any potential deal. The last thing you want is to spend 20 minutes having a conversation with someone who has to go and ask ‘permission’ from the real seller, it’s better to have this information upfront and speak to the actual owner of the car.

2. Is your name on the Logbook

This is a great question! The purpose behind this question to find those people who are ‘home dealers’ or ‘traders’ who are selling the car disguised as a private sale. If the seller is a dealer, flipper or trader they are less likely to negotiate down to the level you will want to be at so you will be most likely wasting your time trying.

Most traders and dealers don’t transfer the car onto their own name, instead opting to fill in the ‘yellow traders slip’ on the log book when they purchase it, which puts the car into ‘trade’. This means the log book will still display the previous owner’s name and address. If you ask this question early on in the conversation you will either get a ‘yes it’s in my name’ in which case it’s probably a genuine private seller or a ‘no it’s not in my name’ which they will then probably try to explain somehow, however like previously mentioned the most likely scenario is that they will be an ‘at home trader’. If this is the case we tend to pass unless the car is really special.

3. Is the Car HPI clear?

We have found from our own experience that around 3 out of every 10 cars which we look at will be previously accident recorded. Unscrupulous sellers tend to omit this from the add hoping you won’t ask and ever find out until it’s too late. Again we suggest you ask this early on and get them to commit to an answer. The common responses to this are ‘ Oh yes it is damage recorded and I forgot to list it in the add’ or ‘i’m not really sure, I don’t know much about cars’. We tend not to pick up previously accident damage cars as the values are just not the same as cars with a clean title. Even if the seller confirms the car has a clean title, we note their reply down and double check it later on with our own HPI check. Be sure to read our post on why you need to do a HPI check on a car.

4. How many owners does the car have?

Generally speaking cars with a higher number of owners tend to be worth a little less as opposed to cars with fewer owners. It’s not uncommon for sports cars or cars which are maintenance heavy to have a higher number of owners. This is because the cost of maintenance generally catches up with an owner and they look to sell it rather than fork our another boatload of money on it. If a car has an unusually high number of owners on it, it’s worth establishing why this is. Another downside of a large number of owners is that the maintenance history of the car tends to get blurred and its common to find paperwork and documentation for the car tends to get lost. Sellers with cars that have a high number of previous owners tend to omit this from the advert. Ask this question early on and if they state they don’t know, politely remind them that they can find this information on the front of the log book!

5. How long have you owned the car?

Again we are trying to weed out, home traders, flippers and dealers with this question. If someone claims to be selling the car after only having it for 2 weeks, then you need to find out why? Is it because something is wrong with the car and they want to offload the problem onto someone else? Is it because they are a trader posing as a private seller?. It’s perfectly ok for someone to own a car for a short time and sell it, however, we would like to know exactly how long as it brings us onto our next question.

6. What’s the reason for sale?

Perfectly legitimate question to ask, and one that brings you great bargaining power. As an example, we once bought a car from a lady owner who when we asked this question to informed us she was selling as she was emigrating from the country in 6 days time and needed to sell the car ASAP! From the information that she provided to us, we were able to negotiate a substantial discount on the car and in turn, help her with her problem. Some of the common replies will be; I’ve already bought a new car and I need to sell this one’ ‘ i can’t afford to keep this any longer, or I need to sell this to raise a deposit on a house etc. The purpose is to try and identify the motivation for the sale and if the sale appears genuine

7. What Paperwork do you have for the Car?

A sign of a well-maintained Car is one that has a lot of Paperwork with it, we prefer the more the better. We like to see all old invoices and receipts which provide a real picture of how the car has been maintained throughout its lifetime. Old invoices and receipts also provide a good level of proof as to what repairs and maintenance work has been completed. Having a good comprehensive paper trail also adds value to the car when it comes time to sell.

8. What Service History Does the Car Have?

This can be split down into the following three categories – Full, Partial or none.

A Car only has a full-service history if it can be proved via documentary evidence that it has been serviced according to manufacturer guidelines, unfortunately, sellers who claim they have ‘serviced the car’ themselves and have no proof to show of this cannot be classed as full-service history. A vehicle who may have a very good service history but may have been missed even one scheduled service will be classed as ‘Partial’. The final category is self-explanatory however will also cover the situation where the seller claims the ‘ Service History is Lost’, unfortunately if there is no evidence of its existence then we have to assume that it never existed. Full service history adds value to a car, therefore, we suggest you take this information into consideration when it comes time to make an offer.


Every car has certain critical maintenance repairs that must be carried out at certain intervals based on either the mileage or the age of the vehicle. An example of this could be, the gearbox oil on a car with a Tiptronic gearbox would need changing at 40,000 miles. Another example could be the car needs a critical timing belt and water pump change every 5 years. You need to do some research into the vehicle to establish what maintenance is required at what point, you can either get on some car forums and find out or just call up the specific main dealer and ask them. Once you have this information you will begin to see cars being listed for sale at certain key maintenance points. If we were being pessimistic we would assume the sellers are trying to sell the cars before having to pay for the certain maintenance repair it requires. Your Job is to determine if the repair has taken place and if not you should factor the cost of the repair into the price your willing to pay.

10. What’s the Condition of the Gearbox and Clutch

It’s definitely worth asking if there is any funny grinding between gears or any slippage in the clutch especially if the vehicle is a little older. The word of the seller should not be taken as gospel either way as you will need to check for yourself, later on, however, some sellers may be honest from the start and say something like ‘ It grinds in third or the clutch will probably need changing soon. It’s obviously not an automatic block on buying the car, however, these repairs can be very expensive and the last thing you want is to be blindsided with a hefty repair bill that could have been avoided.

11. Are there any warning lights on the dash?

The amount of times we have gone out to inspect a vehicle only to find some kind of warning light illuminated such as an airbag light or an engine management light is astonishing. This will tend to get downplayed by the seller who may say something like ‘ Its Just a sensor; issue’. The bottom line is that a fault exists within the car and it could well just be a faulty sensor iteratively is could be something much greater and costlier. You need to know from the outset and if the seller is unsure there is nothing wrong with you asking for a photo of the dashboard to see for yourself.

12. Have the Mot Advisories been fixed (Optional)

This may not apply in all cases, but it certainly will apply in a large number of cases. We suggest checking to see if there were any recent MOT advisories and asking the seller if they have been repaired. Sellers do not have to have these items repaired however you need to bear in mind that these items are the most likely impending costs you will face when you purchase the vehicle. If these items have not been repaired then this is a good bargaining tool for you to include at least some of the cost into the price, after all a new set of tyres can set you back £400 +

13. What’s the General Condition of the Bodywork

Almost all second-hand cars will have some stone chips and minor blemishes which is to be expected. Here we are trying to establish if anything more obvious exists such as deep scratches or scuffs. You need to bear in mind that on average it can cost £150 per panel to spray over deep scratches, so it’s important to know this from the onset. You also need to ask if there are any signs of rust or corrosion anywhere on or underneath the vehicle, this can be more hassle than it’s worth as it could require expensive bodywork and even panel replacement. There is nothing wrong with requesting a video/photo of the underside of the vehicle or any areas the seller may have highlighted for further inspection. Again if anything requiring work exists you need to factor in the cost before any offer is submitted.

14. What’s the General Condition of the Interior

Similar to the previous point, there is like to be the odd blemish, however, what you don’t want is to have unexpected rips, and burns in the interior. All items such as the infotainment system and climate control should be working along with the AC. If the AC is not working there can be several issues such as compressors which can be expensive to replace. You need an idea upfront before you fo to view what you are going to find. Again if in doubt request further photos and a video from the seller. Any faults again need to be taken into account.

15. Is Your Price Open to Negotiation

We don’t suggest you submit an offer at this stage, however, you need to establish how flexible the seller’s position is, the asking price is just the figure the seller would like to obtain, it does not mean they are not open to negotiation. Some sellers are adamant they won’t case it may not be worthwhile in exploring the deal any further, however, some may say they are open to ‘sensible offers’ and this is what we need to be hearing. We suggest you use our guide on how to determine the true value of a second-hand car.


This list is not exhaustive and you certainly don’t need to ask these questions in this particular order. The idea is to gauge the responses you receive from the seller and decide whether this vehicle is worth pursuing further. You may find after asking these questions, the vehicle may not meet your requirements and we can cross it off the list. The process should help you refine a list of a few cars that could be worthwhile purchases. Be sure to check out our other articles to help you along the process.

Leave a Comment