Dealer or private seller?

When buying a used car you generally have the option of buying from a trader or a private seller.

Traders are often called “dealers” and sell cars as part of their business. Private sellers generally have only one car to sell and are selling it in a personal capacity, not as part of their business.

Your consumer rights will depend on whether you buy from a dealer or a private seller. If you buy from a dealer, you have some protection under consumer law. However, if you buy privately, you do not have the same consumer rights.

Therefore it is important that you understand who you are buying from. Is it a trader or a private seller? Disguised traders are people who pose as private sellers but in fact make a living from selling cars, usually online. The difference is important when it comes to your consumer rights, if something later goes wrong.

Top Tip

Some marketplace websites give a certain amount of information about the seller, for example, how many ads they have placed on that site. If they are selling a number of cars at once, this could indicate they are a disguised trader and not a private seller.

Whether you are buying from a dealer or privately, check out our car buyer’s checklist and use it to help you when buying a used car.  It has lots of important questions you should ask about any car. Don’t be afraid to ask direct questions – it’s your money you are parting with. We also have information on what checks you should carry out before you buy.

Buying from a dealer

Before you go to a car dealer, check if they have a good reputation. Ask family or friends if they know anything about them, or search online for reviews. Ask the dealer if they are a member of a trade association or if they have a quality assurance or guarantee in place.

Check if the dealer belongs to the Society of Irish Motor Industry (SIMI).  All members of SIMI must follow its code of ethics in their business practices and maintain a high standard of customer service. If a dealer says they are a member of SIMI, double check this on the SIMI website to confirm. If they are not listed as members, report them to SIMI.

A dealer must provide you with a Vehicle Registration Certificate when you buy a car, so make sure to get it. Although not always available, you should also ask for the following:

  • A written warranty stating what it covers and for how long
  • The car’s history
  • The car’s service book
  • A car handbook/manual
  • Two sets of keys for the car
  • A signed receipt for payment
  • NCT certificate if the car is over four years old and/or the Vehicle Registration Tax (VRT) certificate if the car has been imported.

If you buy from an online dealer (and not a private seller online), you need to be extra careful as you may not have a chance to examine the car before you buy it. But you are entitled to a 14 day cooling off period from the date you get the car, when you can cancel the deal if you wish. Read more about buying online.

Buying from a private seller

A trader trying to sell as a private individual may be doing it to deny you your consumer rights. If a trader does not disclose that they are selling the car in the course of their business, they may be guilty of a disguised business sale, which is against the law.

If you are buying privately, try to check if a seemingly private seller is in fact a dealer by ringing and asking about “the car”. If the seller asks you to be more specific, it is possible they are a trader selling more than one car.

Use our car buyer’s checklist to make sure you have asked all the important questions. Private sellers may not know all the answers so you should get a mechanic to look at the car if you are serious about buying it.

If you decide to buy from a private seller, don’t go to see the car on your own.  If you can, bring a mechanic or someone who is experienced with cars or buying cars.

Buying at an auction

If you are considering buying at auction, you should visit one first to see how they work before actually making a bid. If you buy a car at an auction, you will have to pay a fee and you will generally not get a warranty unless the manufacturer’s warranty is still valid.

Remember, it may not always be possible to take an auction car for a test drive so make sure you get a mechanic to examine the car. Make sure you read and understand the auctioneer’s terms and conditions , before you make a bid.

Importing a car

If you are thinking of buying an imported car through a dealer or garage, you need to check if the correct VRT has been paid on the car. If the car was new when it was imported, VAT may also be payable. The seller should be able to provide you with a vehicle registration certificate to show that VRT has been paid.

If you import a car yourself from anywhere outside the Republic of Ireland, you must book it into an NCT centre for an inspection within seven days of the car arriving in Ireland. You must pay VRT at the NCT centre within 30 days of receiving the car. Revenue has more information about registering an imported car and the documents you need. They also have a VRT calculator to give you an idea how much you will be paying.

If you buy a car abroad with the intention of importing it into Ireland, you will not be covered by Irish consumer legislation if things go wrong. The law in the country in which you bought the car will apply. Information on cross-border legal action within the EU is available from the European Consumer Centre Ireland.

Shop around

Always haggle or try to negotiate with a seller when buying a used car. Shop around before you buy, check car buyers’ websites and magazines so you know the average price for the type of car you want, based on the specification, mileage etc.  Don’t let a pushy seller rush you into a sale. There are plenty of used cars available, so you have lots of options.


If you are buying privately and not from a dealer, the seller will not be able to arrange finance for you so make sure you have thought about how you are going to pay for your car.

If you are buying a car privately, you should be very careful about how you pay.  Always try to pay by a traceable method, such as card or bank transfer. Paying cash is risky as you will have no record or trace of your money if something goes wrong.

Get more information on:

Checking the history and condition of a car



Last updated on 9 May 2022