Buying a used car through an online classified website

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Buying a Car Through a classified Website? Research before you buy

When thinking of buying a used car from a classified website such as DoneDeal or it is so important to do your homework. Figure out what kind of car you are looking for and especially what kind of car you need as want and needs are not always the same thing.

A good idea, is to talk with family and friends and get any advice you can on your choice as they may own a similar car or have owned one in the past? When shopping for a car, most people focus too much on the price and want to get it as cheap as possible but sometimes there can be a false economy in getting the cheapest car as down the road it could end up costing you more in repairs and higher maintenance costs.

Prepare questions

Private sellers on classified websites often describe their cars poorly so it's important to recognise this. You need to think about what you need to know about the vehicle and have a list of questions you want to ask about the vehicle. For example, are there any issues with the car? Why are they selling it? After researching you may have found out about common faults related to a particular vehicle and ask the seller if these signs are exhibited in this particular car?

Make an arrangement to view the car in a safe place, ideally at the seller's place of residence and the address the vehicle is registered too. Sometimes sellers are hesitant to bring you to their place of residence but they should have nothing to hide. The important thing is that if you are buying a car from cash, you should always bring someone with you for your own security and be very careful about buying cars from quiet public car parks such as supermarket car parks.

Make the call

At this stage, you will want to make contact with the seller. Be prepared that the care you have set your heart on has already been sold to another buyer who got in there before you so try not to get your hopes up too much. You will have prepared some preliminary questions about the car so you can ask them over the phone or in and it is a good idea to keep the majority of your questions for the seller for when you actually meet in person.  

Ask the seller

When you meet the seller, you will obviously have a good look around the car. You will probably have a list of questions that you have prepared for the seller. For example, Is he/she the registered owner of the car? Is his/her name on the vehicle registration document? If not, why not? Ask about the number of previous owners, mileage, reasons for selling, if it’s insured/taxed/and NCT certified etc. Ask to look at a documented service history of the vehicle.

History check

When you have decided upon a particular make, model, year and price of the car you are looking for and you have contacted the seller and made arrangements to view the car, it is at this stage that you may want to consider purchasing a Vehicle History Check from My Always do your own car history check before viewing the vehicle. If what the seller tells you is different from the car history check, be wary and certainly never hand over any money before doing a background check.

This report could flag up issues with this particular vehicle that would save you a lot of time, energy and money on pursuing the car in the first place. A car check report may tell you that the vehicle is damaged, is still under finance, has been stolen, or has a mileage discrepancy or some other issue related to the vehicle.

A Car History Checks can also give you partial VIN and engine number for verification purposes a well as is taxed, if it has a valid NCT, or has been used as a taxi.

What a Car History Check Will Include

  • Written Off
  • Previously Damaged
  • Previous Taxi
  • Clocked
  • Under Finance
  • Large Number of Owners
  • Last date of sale
  • UK Import
  • Auctioned

Make a checklist

  • Does the name and address of the seller match the details on the VRC? Yes/No
  • When viewing, is the car located at the address on the VRC? Yes/No
  • Do the VRC details match the vehicle's physical description? Yes/No
  • Does the VIN on the vehicle match the VRC details? Yes/No
  • Does the registration number on the vehicle correspond to details on the tax/insurance/NCT discs? Yes/No
  • Is the seller going to register the change of ownership? Yes/No

View & Test Drive

After you have purchased a car history check and this report does not raise any cause for concern or alerts, arrange a viewing with the seller. Once you have contacted the seller to arrange a viewing, it is strongly recommended that you try to arrange for it to take place during the day as viewing in daylight will give you a better idea of the car's condition, particularly the paintwork.

If you can only see the only a night, don’t do it when it’s raining or wet as this will make you rush the inspection. Bring with you a mechanically-minded friend, or even pay your local mechanic, to inspect it for you. offer a Pre-Purchase Inspection service which is available if you so choose. This service is available nationwide at a cost of €199. Again when viewing a car at night, bring a good torch. Meet the private seller at their home address and make sure it’s not a dealer trying to disguise a sale.


  • Walk around the vehicle and look for marks, scuffs, Scratches, etc
  • Check that all panels line up correctly with no unusual gaps
  • Check to see if the paintwork is all the same shade and quality
  • Does bonnet open, close and line up correctly
  • Check oil levels and colour (should be golden or dark brown, not black)
  • Check that all fluid levels are okay


  • Look for excessive wear and tear (steering wheel, seats, door handles, etc)
  • Check for dampness on and under carpets
  • Lift carpet in the boot and feel for dampness
  • Check that all instruments work (every button, windows, seats, radio, etc)
  • Check that the central locking works


  • When the car is started, check that all warning symbols on dashboard initially come on and then go off again
  • Listen for any strange or loud noises whilst driving the car
  • Bring the car for 10 – 15-minute drive and try to go up and down through all gears
  • Test the steering to ensure road handling is good
  • Test the brakes to ensure discs and pads are good

If you are happy so far with the overall look and feel of the vehicle, before you begin discussing price, just ask the following additional questions:

Additional Questions:

  • Is there a spare wheel
  • Is there a wheel jack and iron
  • If lock nuts, is there a key?
  • If the vehicle has more than 60,000 miles, has the timing belt been replaced? (look for proof in service history)
  • Ask if a spare key is available
  • Ask if service history is available (review)

Verify Documents:

  • VIN / Chassis Number
  • Engine Number
  • Vehicle Licensing Certificate Number (VLC)
  • NCT Certificate Number
  • View the Legal Owner’s name in Vehicle Licensing Certificate
  • Ask to view Identification to ensure this is the same person

Once you are satisfied with the seller’s response to your questions, now just ensure that all of the vehicle’s identification and documentation numbers are correct. These can be cross-checked with the numbers provided in your car history report.

Tips for buying a car on a classified website



What every buyer of a used car should remember is that there is a greater risk of problems, breakdowns, or wear and tear with a used car and that all cars over four years old must undergo their first NCT. It’s the law. It is also good to remember that your consumer rights are stronger if you buy a used car from a trader or dealer rather than from a private seller or at an auction house.

Buying from a private seller

Now that part that most people dread, negotiating a price. It is worth remembering that buying from a private individual is normally always cheaper than buying from a garage, but that it does come with risks, as you have very little comeback in terms of being refunded if something goes wrong. In saying that, you should always try and get the vehicle for a price that you feel is fair and that you can obviously afford, taking into consideration any additional mechanical work or repairs that will need to be done.

  • It is illegal to sell a car which is not roadworthy.
  • Private sellers must give accurate and truthful answers to any questions asked of them.
  • A private seller does not have to provide information that is not requested.

When buying from what seems to be a private seller you should be aware that this seller may be in fact a trader just passing themselves off as a private seller. Some unscrupulous traders use classified ads to sell cars and often ‘problem cars’ as they know you have no redress or comeback after a private sale. One good way to catch a rogue trader out is, when you make the call, just ask them about ‘the car’. If they have to ask which car you’re talking about, then chances are they are a trader in disguise.

Buying from a dealer

When you buy from a dealer you are protected under the law and legislation, specifically the 1980 Sale of Goods and Supply of Services Act. Under this law, you have the same consumer rights whether you’re buying brand new or second hand. If, for example, you find a fault with the car after you buy it, the dealer is responsible for any repairs.

Buying from an auction

By all means, you should visit the auction house and see how the process works. It is worth noting that you will not be able to test drive a car that is being sold as part of an auction. You should also remember too, that you will generally not get a guarantee or warranty as you would from a dealer (unless the manufacturer warranty period is still valid).

If there is a major fault with the car, you may have the right to reject them within a short period after the sale. As with all auctions, making a bid means you comply with the auctioneer’s terms and conditions. Find out what they are and above all, be vigilant and check the car over.

Negotiating on Price

Make sure you have done all your homework and you are satisfied with the condition of the car, its roadworthiness and the price.  If the price of the car is way below its current market value be careful of anything that sounds too good to be true as it usually is too good to be true.

  • Compare seller’s advertised price with fair market valuation for this particular vehicle (comes standard in every full check)
  • Deduct the cost of any repairs needed to the bodywork
  • Deduct cost if new tyres are required
  • Deduct cost for any mechanical repairs that are required
  • Once you’ve agreed on a price, most private sellers will gladly accept cash or a bank draft.
  • If you pay cash, you may have no way of contacting the seller if something goes wrong, especially if you didn’t verify where they live.
  • Be wary of the seller who insists on cash for various reasons. Never feel pressured into buying.
  • Always try to get a landline number for the seller, as well as their address.
  • A bank draft creates a paper trail.
  • If you pay a deposit, get a signed receipt.

For any substantial payment, we would advise paying by either a bank draft or a bank transfer. For cash deals, we always recommend that you bring a second person (Friend, Brother, Sister, Mother, Father, etc) and count the money in front of the seller and second person.

Excitement can tend to take over at this stage, but this is the final and one of the most crucial steps when buying from a private individual, making sure that the vehicle transfer of ownership papers are completed correctly.

Filling in the VLC:

  • Fill in your name and address
  • Fill in the exact date of sale
  • Sign accordingly
  • Seller’s signature
  • Take a picture of the completed Vehicle Licensing Certificate (both sides)

These steps are really not too difficult to follow so we would urge any individuals that are considering buying a vehicle from the private marketplace and classified ads to take note of the above guidelines to avoid the potential pitfalls that prevalent in this marketplace.


Justin Kavanagh
Justin Kavanagh is a recognised leader in automotive intelligence and vehicle data supply to the entire motor industry. He has almost 20 years experience in building systems from the ground up. As the Managing Director of Vehicle Management System, he understands the need and importance of trustworthy and reliable vehicle history and advice to both the trade and the public.
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