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Advice for selling your car privately

As the private seller of a vehicle the legal rules are more relaxed than they are for professional car dealers. Instead of a buyer being able to take action if the vehicle does not live up to their reasonable expectations, the onus is on the buyer to make sure that they are entirely happy with the car before they agree to buy it. You do, however, have some legal responsibilities. They are fairly straightforward, but being aware of them should allow you to avoid any unnecessary problems when selling your vehicle.

Roadworthiness

While you do not have to ensure that your vehicle is of ‘satisfactory quality’ as a professional car dealer does, you must still ensure that your car is safe for road use. There are specific regulations that define this, but common examples of a car not being roadworthy include:

  • Faulty or damaged headlights
  • Steering not working properly
  • Defective brakes
  • A crack in the windshield within the ‘swept zone’ covered by windscreen wipers
  • Mirrors which are cracked or missing
  • Problems with seatbelts
  • Worn tyres

If your vehicle is un-roadworthy it is a criminal offence to sell it. It is your responsibility to ensure that your vehicle is roadworthy before you sell it, and not being aware of a fault is not a defence. An MOT certificate is not evidence that a car is roadworthy, only that it passed certain performance tests on the day the MOT was passed.

If you are concerned that your vehicle is un-roadworthy do not offer it for sale until you have had the problems checked by a mechanic, repaired if necessary, and they are satisfied that the car is fit for the road. The responsibility for selling a vehicle ultimately lies with you. Remember, any work carried out to repair the vehicle may increase its value when sold.

Specific statements about your car

Even though you do not have a duty to ensure a vehicle is of ‘satisfactory quality’ as a professional dealer does, if you are asked specific questions about the car you must ensure that your answers are correct and truthful.

If you answer a question about the vehicle, the buyer relies on that answer and purchases the car on that basis, and your answer turns out not be true, the buyer may be able to recover money from you to fix the problem, or even force you to take the car back and return the money they paid for it.

Similarly, if you make any statements about your car when advertising or otherwise attempting to sell it, you must ensure those statements are factually correct. There is a difference between this and what is known as ‘tradesmen’s puff’. For example, you can say ‘this is my favourite car I’ve ever owned’ without needing to worry. However, if you say ‘there are no problems with the engine’, and it later turns out that there was an issue with the engine you didn’t know about, you may need to pay for the repair or take the car back even though you didn’t know about the problem when you made that statement. If you describe the vehicle, it must fit the description you provide.

When you are asked a specific question about the car, only give a firm answer if you are sure that it is correct. When advertising your car, ensure that all information is accurate and that any description is not misleading. If possible, keep a record of all letters, texts and emails between yourself and the buyer so that you can show what has been said and agreed between the two of you.

Ownership

One potential pitfall for a seller is in mistakenly selling a car they do not legally own. Being the registered keeper of a vehicle is not the same as being the legal owner. For example, if your parents bought a car for you to use, and make you the registered keeper, they may still be considered the owners of the vehicle in legal terms. Similarly, if the vehicle was purchased through a finance deal, the finance company may still be able to recover it from the buyer if you sell it. In such a case you may owe damages to both the buyer and the finance company for any monetary losses they suffer as a result of the sale.

If you did not buy the vehicle yourself, with your own money, you may need to ensure that the car is legally yours to sell before you sell it. Contact the finance company, or the person who bought the vehicle for you, and ensure that they consider it to be legally yours. If possible ask for this to be confirmed in writing.

When a vehicle is sold, it is a legal requirement to register the transfer to the new owner. This is done with the V5C form (also known as the ‘logbook’), which should then be sent to the DVLA. The DVLA will then send an updated V5C to the new owner. In the meantime there is a specific section of the V5C (New Keeper Supplement – V5C/2) which should be separated and given to the new owner to keep while the form is being processed.

Car tax

As of October 2014, Vehicle Excise Duty (‘car tax’) no longer transfers with a vehicle when sold. Instead, the old owner will be refunded the remaining tax and the new owner must re-tax the car. For this reason you should not offer a vehicle as being ‘fully taxed’, as this may mislead a buyer into believing they do not have to re-tax the car. They may then attempt to pursue you for any financial losses they suffer as a result of this mistake, or for the money to re-tax the vehicle.