The dealer versus private sales debate when buying a used car

buying a used carbuying a used car
buying a used carbuying a used car

The dealer versus private sales debate when buying a used car

When you are looking for a car to meet your needs, many of us first consider what our dream car is before we consider where we should purchase it from. Your days are filled with heady dreams of driving our red sports car around with the top down, when you should be thinking about whether a dealer or private seller is your better option. Below are some tips to help you decide between a dealer sale or private car sales.


Buying from a dealer


You are protected from buying damaged cars

One of the biggest benefits of buying from a dealership is that a dealer is legally prohibited from selling you a damaged car. In South Africa, the buyer is protected by the Consumer Protection Act, and because of this, dealers are not allowed to sell you a car that is deemed unroadworthy.

If a car is sold to you and you discover that the car has a basic operating problem at the time of purchase, such as a broken axle or malfunctioning brakes, you are allowed to take legal action against the dealership. The dealer is required by law to rectify the problem according to any settlements agreed upon.


Dealers have reputations to uphold

Because dealerships operate within the public eye, they have a reputation to uphold in order to attract more customers. If a dealer sells a flawed car without disclosing the damages, they will risk backlash from an angry buyer, who will most likely tell others about the service from the dealership.

In the age of social media, a negative online review can reach hundreds of people within minutes. A dealer may find their reputation irreparably damaged, and so they need to always strive to meet the standards of their customers. This means that they will provide excellent service at all times and their vehicles will always be up to standard.


Certified pre-owned vehicle options

Some dealers offer the option of certified pre-owned vehicles, which are a step up from a normal used car. Often these vehicles have been meticulously taken care of by their previous owners and have been through an official series of inspections and possible repairs. Most vehicles also come  with a special warranty.

If you are looking for a luxury vehicle or a modern model, a CPO vehicle is the ideal choice for you. The price of a CPO vehicle is much less than buying a new one, so you will be able to purchase a luxury vehicle for a fraction of the normal price. Some of these vehicles may even have some of their warranty left, which saves you from having to spend extra money to set one up yourself.


Buying from a private seller


The price is right

Private sales are almost always cheaper than buying through a dealer, and you will usually not incur any extra costs on top of the purchase price. Dealers have to spend time sourcing quality used cars, accepting trade-ins and a cost which they add onto the purchase price of their cars.

While private sellers are attempting to make a profit from the sale, their prices are more realistic than dealerships, as they have to make a sale. Private sellers have most likely done the same research that you have when looking for used cars, in order to find out what the market price is.


Detailed vehicle history

A private seller will have better knowledge of the vehicle history, as they have owned the car themselves. This will make it easier to ascertain the exact amount of repairs that have been performed on the car, and what damage has been properly fixed and what has not.

You can request vehicle history from various online platforms if you are looking at buying from a dealership, but this may not be as detailed as it would be from a private seller. Dealerships sell thousands of cars a day, while private sellers are selling their own car. The seller will also be able to provide you with background information on the car, such as accident damage and ‘quirks’.


Possibility of negotiating price

Private sellers do not operate like dealerships, which means that they are able to negotiate the price to better suit your budget. You may be able to ask for a lower price that is close to their asking price, saving yourself from spending too much money.

However, some private sellers may not be willing to lower their asking price, which is well within their rights. You will find that private sellers are priced lower than dealerships, and so you will not have to negotiate much to find an acceptable price. Be sure to be fair to the seller, as they will be using the money from the sale to cover the cost of buying a new car.



Choosing from a dealership or private seller can be tricky, but if you weigh out the pros and cons, the process will be easier. With a dealer, you will not have to sign confusing paperwork as the registration process will be done for you. Opting for a private seller means waiting for them to sign over ownership, which can take some time. The biggest deciding factor should be your budget, and working from this will allow you to make a better decision.

buying a used car