Scams to look out for when buying a car privately

If you want to buy a car privately through an individual what should you do to ensure that you are not being conned? Is there any protection out there? What are your rights? Or do you, as the buyer, take on all the risk? Nicolette Dirk spoke to some experts in the vehicle industry to find out how you should go about it.

Don’t take the first deal
Stanley Anderson, marketing director at Hyundai Automotive South Africa, says when it comes to buying a car it is always a good idea to shop around. “You should price the car based on the model, age and kilometre reading at a dealership. You need to be careful because you could end up paying more than the car is actually worth,” says Anderson.

Do your homework
A sweet deal on a privately bought car may soon be soured if you end up buying a lemon. Anderson suggests doing a thorough background check on the car’s history. This will include the vehicle’s accident history as well as its payment status.
“If the previous owner has not settled the payments with the bank, you will be liable for the payments and your car could be repossessed if you cannot make them,” says Anderson.

Important checks that people take for granted in a private sale is whether the car could be stolen, if there are unpaid fines or if it was involved in any recorded illegal activity. You can contact the Road Traffic Management Corporation to check this information.
You should also make sure the seller supplies you with the vehicle’s full service history.

Have the car checked out by an independent source
Centres like Dekra and the Automobile Association of South Africa (AA) will do a thorough roadworthy check of a vehicle you wish to purchase. You will have to pay a fee for this service, but you will have peace of mind regarding the roadworthiness of your purchase.

What type of protection is there for people who buy cars privately?
Unfortunately, the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) does not protect you when it comes to a private sale. According to Marius Luyt, spokesperson for AA, the only protection or remedy for the buyer will lie in his contractual agreement and the courts that would enforce the agreement.

“The only protection for a buyer lies in the contract that he enters with the seller. In South African law, verbal and written contracts are recognised, however it is always advisable to have your terms and conditions in writing. A written contract once signed by both parties and witnessed becomes a binding legal document and is much easier to enforce when the matter is taken to court,” says Luyt.

The voetstoots clause
Luyt says that in a private sale, a vehicle can be sold ‘voetstoots’. By definition voetstoots is a sale without guarantees where the item is sold as is or with all its faults. In this case the buyer has no one to approach unless he/she has a contract that has been breached or he is able to prove the seller did something wrong in the sale. You would have to do this via the courts.

Must the buyer be prepared to take on all the risk?
Luyt says that in private sale, the buyer has to be prepared to take on all the risks unless he/she sufficiently protects themselves with a contractual agreement. You should also test the car before you bind yourself to the sale because you have a greater duty in a private sale.

What are your rights when buying a car privately?
Luyt says your rights in this particular type of sale are limitless as long as they are within the scope of South African law and are agreed to between both parties. “Once your contract is put in writing, you are able to protect your rights. An example of this would be your right to peruse the certificate of registration when validating the seller’s ownership or right to sell the vehicle,” says Luyt.

Some scams to look out for:
According to Auto Trader there have been fraudulent adverts placed online by thieves posing as sellers, often involving a hoax vehicle at a bargain price, a faulty phone number and demands to transfer money abroad. These conmen use the Auto Trader brand by claiming that Auto Trader has a buyer protection programme. According to Angelique Lynch, spokesperson for Auto Trader, this is a scam.

“Auto Trader is a broker between buyers and sellers, which means that we in no way get involved in the purchase or sale of any vehicles,” says Lynch.

What to do if you think you’re a victim of a scam
If you think you’ve been targeted by a fraudster, contact Auto Trader immediately by emailing

Typical scenario’s to look out for when buying privately online:
• The phone number is either faulty or diverting to voicemail.
• Number plates are blocked out.
• Additional pictures with e-mail only contact details.
• During email correspondence, the seller will say they are unable to use the phone due to illness or because they are away on business or moved abroad.
• The seller will ask you to wire a large deposit or the full price of the vehicle to them before creating an excuse to avoid releasing the vehicle. Following that they could ask you to transfer more money or they may even become impossible to contact.

Be cautious if:
• A vehicle is much cheaper than its market value.
• If a seller cannot give you a landline telephone number.
• If the advert or subsequent emails are full of spelling mistakes and poor grammar.
Should you have any queries about a buyer/seller that you think maybe suspicious contact Crime Line by SMS on ‘32211’ or contact the police.