Car selling scams and how to avoid them – the ultimate guide

    Selling your car is a serious undertaking — it takes time, and there can be a lot of money on the line. And, crucially, not all car owners are car experts. When you’re selling your car and you’re not sure what to expect, you might worry about the risk of being scammed by fraudulent buyers. 

    It’s highly unlikely that you’ll experience a scam while selling your car, and even less likely if you sell to an established company like Motorway. However, the prospect of losing your car to a scammer is an understandable cause for concern. We’ve done the research, so you can follow these tips to feel at ease when selling your car.

    Read on for all the potential scams to look out for and how to avoid them:

    For full T&Cs click here.

    Fraudulent car buyers

    Why and how do people pull off scams when buying your car? First, we want to point out that true scams are rare. Buyers can, in some cases, be hard to do business with. However, it’s important to make a distinction between a troublesome sale, and malicious or fraudulent car purchasers, who will see you get less than the value of your car, or in some cases no money at all. There are a few red flags to look out for when selling your car, to avoid situations where you end up financially or even legally exposed.

    Scams when selling your car online

    When you’re selling your car through an online classifieds site like AutoTrader, Gumtree, or Facebook Marketplace, you get a wide audience of buyers. In many cases, that’s a good thing and helps you get a relatively high price. However, it also means that you might attract some scammers. 

    Just because you find your buyer online doesn’t mean that the whole sale should take place virtually. Be wary of any buyer who does not come in person to look at your car before buying. Some might ask to send a proxy in their stead — while this isn’t necessarily scamful behaviour, it’s a red flag and you should aim to deal directly and in-person with your buyer.

    scams when selling your car online
    When selling your car to a stranger, you need to be very careful with verifying their identity and protecting your own.

    One of the biggest scams to avoid with online car purchases is money laundering. It’s hard in general to know when people are paying for things with ‘dirty’ money, but you need to do what you can to avoid ever getting involved in a criminal investigation. 

    Since cars are expensive and also regularly bought and sold second-hand,they can attract criminals looking to launder money. If it turns out that your car has been paid for with laundered funds, you could lose the car and the payment. Moreover, you might even be implicated in an investigation, and have to spend time giving testimony — or money on legal representation. If a price seems too good to be true, it might well be.

    Safe payment is a key factor in avoiding any dodgy dealing with an online buyer. If your buyer refuses to pay via a safe and secure method, you should be suspicious. People might ask to pay for your car in a variety of ways: cash, cheque, wire transfer, or a payment service like Paypal. 

    The safest and easiest way to accept payment for your car is via a direct bank transfer. You shouldn’t part ways with your car or any of your documentation until you get full payment. To get payment, you only have to give your account number, sort code, and account holder name. You never have to give a card number, security code, or expiry date. It’s hard for anyone to defraud you out of money using your account number and sort code; the most they could do is set up a direct debit, which you can cancel and have refunded very easily.

    It’s a good idea to have paperwork confirming the payment. When selling your car, you can put together a simple bill of sale from an online template. You shouldn’t believe any payment confirmation or verification sent to you apart from seeing the money safely in your own bank or Paypal account — emails and receipts are too easy to forge. These days, transfers are almost instant so be wary of anyone telling you the money’s been sent and is pending for more than a couple of days.

    Private car selling scams

    When selling your car privately, some buyers may ask to bring a knowledgeable friend or expert with them to inspect your car. It’s important to have had your car inspected and valued prior to this, so you can tell whether the contact is acting in good faith or not. If you don’t personally know the buyer, this plus-one could be there to intimidate you or even tamper with your car to plant fake faults, such as putting oil on the engine. All of this is designed to force you to lower the price.

    If they ask to take a detailed look at the working of your car, record their actions on your phone or try to have a witness with you. Similarly, don’t let anyone but the buyer pick up the car. If the buyer insists on having somebody else pick up the car, and you’re not comfortable, you can refund their money and cancel the sale. It’s not worth getting into a legally risky situation by having unknown people involved in the sale and transfer of your car — it’s another person’s insurance and ID to vet, for one thing.

    Another important red flag is if your buyers want to take pictures or notes of your documentation. There have been cases of identity theft, where apparent car buyers actually just want to get your full name, address, and personal details that can be found in your motoring paperwork. The car is neither here nor there for them! It’s important to be able to show that you’re a legitimate seller with a car in good condition, but be circumspect about the paperwork you’re showing. They only need to see your V5C, MOT, and one form of photo identification such as your driving licence. If they want to do further due diligence, they can independently run an HPI check on your car.

    Finally, some potential car buyers may have no intention of even pretending to pay you. They could be casing your house for a burglary, or looking for where you keep your spare car keys with the intention of stealing your car. There’s little you can do to ever avoid being burgled, of course. To feel more secure, you can take screenshots of all interactions you have with the potential buyers who get your address. It’s also wise to install a digital doorbell that records short footage clips when people ring. This way, if you are extremely unlucky, you’ll have evidence to share with the police.

    private car selling scams
    Pay close attention to how buyers interact with your car; if they seem suspicious, it’s not worth pursuing the sale.

    How to avoid being scammed when selling your car

    There are a few golden rules that are worth following regardless of how you sell your car.

    Should my car get test driven and inspected?

    Yes. You should be suspicious of people saying they’re happy to buy your car without seeing it in person. Some well-intentioned buyers may also do this – but, generally, it’s a bad sign and should be avoided. A trustworthy buyer will normally test drive your car in person and take a good look at it. 

    When the time comes to let a buyer test drive your car, you need to verify that they have car insurance first and foremost. This is helpful for another reason too: as part of that process, you’ll have to check their identity. Don’t at any point let them take possession of the car keys. Make sure you are physically in the car before you pass them the keys, and make them pass the keys back before you get out of the car. Even if they ask to test drive alone, and offer to leave their existing car behind as collateral, do not agree to it.

    Should the buyer transfer ownership of the car?

    No. When you sell your car privately, you have to register the transfer of ownership directly with the DVLA. This is separate from handing over the green slip of the V5C logbook to the car’s new keeper. Make sure you do this, rather than letting the buyer take responsibility. If they fail to update the DVLA, you end up legally and financially viable for penalties pertaining to car tax and the MOT. These fines are not transferable. 

    Speeding and parking fines are transferable to the new keeper, but only if they can be tracked down. This is another reason why it’s key to verify the buyer’s ID and insurance. The V5C logbook is an important, formal document and you must ensure it’s used correctly, so it’s clear who the new owner and keeper is.

    Should I accept a deposit first, and the rest of the money later?

    No. When you’re selling to a private individual, you need to make sure that the full, agreed price is in your bank or Paypal account before you let them take your car. Check out our guide on the safest ways to receive payment.

    It is much harder to recoup payment from an individual than it is from a company. When you sell your car to a company such as Motorway, or a car dealership, you have legal protection surrounding payment, as well as customer service should you have any worries or queries.

    How can I prove my car isn’t a scam?

    If you’re asking for a good price to be paid upfront, you want to make sure you’ve performed due diligence and can prove that you are selling a quality car in good faith. You should have all your service history to hand, and your most recent MOT. Be upfront about any accident damage so that it’s not a nasty surprise for your buyer later on. The best thing you can do is be clear, honest and open to verification checks that your buyer might ask for. However, be circumspect about sharing too much sensitive information, in case of identity theft!

    how to avoid being scammed when selling your car
    You should take precautions to make sure you feel secure while buyers come to your house to test drive your car, such as having friends or family present.

    Best way to avoid scams when selling your car

    If you want to sell your car without the risk of scammers, the Motorway way is for you! With a nationwide network of more than 5,000 verified dealers who are carefully vetted, your car will be shown to motivated and honest buyers. You’ll have customer support throughout, and you can walk away at any time.

    Just enter your reg on the homepage and you will be provided with an instant estimated sale price based on up-to-the-minute market data. We’ll then ask you a few easy questions about your car and guide you through the photos you need to take to complete your vehicle profile. It can be done right from your phone — in a matter of minutes.

    If you choose to enter your car into a daily sale, it will be shown to our network of verified dealers looking to add to their stock of used cars. Interested dealers will then compete to buy your car, offering you their best price.

    In as little as 24 hours you will receive your best offer — and, if you choose to go ahead with the sale, your car will be collected for free by the dealer and the money will be quickly and securely transferred to your bank account.

    best way to avoid scams when selling your car
    Get your best offer from 5,000+ verified car dealers without all the risks. That’s the Motorway way.

    Is it time to sell your car?

    Want to learn more about owning, maintaining, and selling your car? Check out more of our guides here, covering everything from finding buyers, to negotiating a good price, and completing payment safely.