Buying a second hand car from a private seller

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When a car is purchased from a licensed automotive dealer a warranty must be provided to show that there is no money owing on the car. However, when purchasing from a private seller there are no guarantees of this sorti. Without this warranty, your risk of being scammed is ultimately dependent on your own judgment, knowledgeii and research. This guide has been written to equip you with useful information before you purchase your next used car from a private sale.

Is there money owing on your car?

Be safe rather than sorry; make sure that the used car is debt free. It is always good to check that any finance owed on the car has been completely paid off. The Register of Encumbered Vehicles (REVS) in your state or territory holds information about motor vehicles that have money owing on them. It is important to run a REVS check on the car you intend to buy, as a failure to identify any money owing on the vehicle may render you liable for the debts owed and at worst could result in the repossession of your purchased cariii.

There are several ways to run a REVS search. One relatively simple option is to conduct an nationwide online search at Alternatively you may be able to conduct a REVS search via your respective state government consumer protection website such as the QLD or NSW Fair Trading sites.

To run a REVS search, make sure you have the following details: the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), the registration number or chassis number and the engine number.

According to new legislative reforms, in early 2012, REVS will move to the Personal Property Security Register (PPSR), which will enable you to conduct national research on the car you are interested in just by entering your vehicle's unique serial numberiii. The serial number may also be referred to as a vehicle identification number (VIN) that appears on your car registration papers.

Purchasing a used car from a private seller may come with risks, stay informed to avoid being a victim of fraud

Watch out for fraud

A few things can help you to decrease the risk of becoming a fraud victim. First of all, ask the seller for a current certificate of registration and crosscheck the vehicle’s VIN, chassis and engine number. Demand to have a copy of a current safety report of the vehicle that outlines the roadworthiness of your vehicle. Depending on the state you live in, the safety report of your car may be named differently, for instance in New South Wales it’s called a Safety Check Reportv, in Victoria it’s known as a Vehicle Information packagevi and in Queensland it’s the Safety Certificatevii. Another important step is to make sure the person selling the car is the car’s legitimate owner. Determine this by asking for the seller’s driving licence or any other forms of identity – be thorough with this, ask for more than one form of identity if possible.

The precautions outlined above may protect you from getting ripped off. However, apart from foisting a stolen car or an accrued debt upon you, car scammers may employ other strategies to con you.

Odometer tampering is a fraud to watch out forviii. Just last year in Australia, an unlicensed motor dealer was charged with a fine of more than $37,000 for this crime and the illegal sale of vehiclesix. Others have also been prosecuted for rolling back the mileage recorded on the odometerx, with a Queensland car mechanic found to have illegally slashed more than four million kilometres off actual mileages of written-off carsxi.

With the emergence of digital odometers, odometer tampering fraud may be hard to detect – even for the highly skilled mechanic. To combat this scam, ask the private seller for the car’s service log book or previous service invoices – they should reveal a recorded history of the used car’s odometer readings. Look for tell-tale signs and be suspicious if the private seller cannot provide you a service log book or service invoices. Armed with the knowledge of the car’s mileage history, you may be in a better position to detect any car history inconsistencies and find out if the odometer has been rolled back.

Watch out for odometer tampering fraud: car scammers may trick you and roll back the odometer to increase the car value

Score a deal

With these simple tips in mind, you may increase your chances of finding and purchasing a hassle-free second hand car. There are also some useful checklists online which you can follow, such as thisCar Buyer's Checklist.

After putting in such a great effort to obtain your new automobile, protect it by making sure your investment is financially secured with car insurance.

i NSW: REVS - Buyer's Guide - Private Sale, QLD: Rules about statutory warranties for selling used vehicles in Queensland : Department of Justice and Attorney-General, VIC: Consumer Affairs Victoria - Motor cars - Buying a used car - Buying from a private seller

ii NSW Fair Trading - The car buyers handbook, p. 3

iii REVS

iv Personal Property Security Register (PPSR)

v Safety Check NSW

vi Vehicle Securities Register VIC

vii Safety Certificate QSL

viii Fair Trading warns car buyers on odometer tampering, Courier Mail

ix Unlicensed car dealer fined for odometer tampering, NSW Department of fair Trading

x Car salesman fined for odometer tampering, ABC News

xi Worst case of odometer tampering sees A1 Auto Care Nerang wind back cars four million kilometres, Courier Mail