How do I avoid scams when I sell my car?

Carlton Boyce / 27 November 2015

Don't fall victim to criminals when you sell your car privately with our guide to avoiding the car selling scams and dodgy buyers.



We’ve already covered the scams you might fall prey to when you’re buying a car but what about the perils of selling one?

The days of simply popping an advert in the local paper are long gone and while the internet does offer a far greater number of ways to sell your car, it also exposes you to a greater number of scams, which is why we’ve written this guide to help keep you safe!

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How to sell it

Selling to your local garage – or asking them to sell it for you on commission - is the easiest and safest method but the return is probably going to be the lowest.

Selling privately will get you the most money, but it does expose you to more risk.

Advertising it

You should use the ‘safe number’ option if the advertiser offers one. This means that callers won’t see your real number, minimizing the possibility of it being picked up and abused by cold callers.

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Third-party agents

You will almost certainly be contacted by a third-party agent who claims to have a buyer for your car lined up – providing you pay them a small fee. I don’t need to tell you that this is a con, do I?

Describing it

The legal principle of caveat emptor (‘buyer beware’) applies here, providing you have described the car accurately. So, if you know of a problem, you need to be open and describe it accurately.

It’s not unknown for a buyer to complain weeks, months, or even years after they’ve bought a car privately in the hope that they can obtain a full or partial refund when and if a problem occurs with the car. This is a matter for your conscience but the law is very clear: as long as you haven’t deliberately misled them or misrepresented the car, they have no redress in law.

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Viewing the car

A common scam here is when someone offers to buy the car without coming to view it, often offering to pay more than the asking price, asking you to settle the cost of transporting it to them with the balance. You must always refuse, as you will eventually be asked to pay the shipping element up front to a bogus company they have set up for this purpose.

If someone does come to see the car, it would be sensible to make sure you have someone else with you, just in case.

The buyer’s identity

Your risk is greatly reduced if you can satisfy yourself that the buyer is genuine. So, if you receive a phone call from a landline number (dial 1471 to find out), the seller is less likely to be dodgy than if they use a mobile number. 

Similarly, if their email address contains their full name it’s less likely to be a scammer than if it is one with a meaningless string of letters and numbers.

Of course, there is nothing to be lost by asking them to bring some proof of identification when they come to view the car too. Such a savvy seller will probably put off a scammer, while a genuine buyer won’t mind at all.

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The test drive

The test drive scam goes like this: the crook will ask to test drive the car, suggesting you drive first. Then, when you change places, they will slide across from the passenger seat and drive away, leaving you stranded. To counter this, you must always take the keys out of the ignition and keep them with you whenever you have to get out of the car.

Of course, it goes without saying that you’ll need to check that they have adequate insurance cover before you let them drive in the first place…

Getting paid

Cash is still the best way to get paid but even this isn’t risk-free. Buyers have been known to pay with high-denomination counterfeit notes, something that might only come to light when you try to pay them into your bank account.

Others report being burgled on the day they’ve been paid, and while this might be a coincidence, are you going to bet the value of your car on it? 

Both scams can be overcome by insisting on watching the buyer draw the cash out of the bank and then letting them see you pay it straight back into yours.

A bank transfer is fast, easy and safe. However, you should only agree to one if it is arranged and made over the bank counter in your presence.

PayPal and Western Union scams are rife. Both are reputable companies that do everything they can to protect their customers, which encourages criminals to trade on their good names by creating fake websites and emails bearing their names.

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The receipt

You will need two receipts, writing on both: ‘sold as seen and no warranty is given or implied.’ 

You should also put the make and registration number of the car, the date and time of the sale, your name and address, the buyer’s name and address, and the sum paid. You sign both, asking the buyer to do the same. You then keep one copy each. 

The buyer keeps the V5C2 ‘new keeper’ section of the V5 registration document, while you destroy the rest of it.

You must also immediately record the sale on the DVLA website. Otherwise, you might find yourself liable for any speeding or parking fines they incur. 

For more useful tips and information, browse our motoring articles.


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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.