Where do you go when you start looking for a used car? Are you the type to scour online postings, searching for the right fit? Are you the type to check out the local dealerships, or even the dealerships in the next town over, a victorious image in your mind? There are pros and cons to either option, and it’s a good idea to consider contrasting these two common methods of car acquisition to find the right solution for your needs.

So, let’s have at it. What benefits, challenges, and things are there to consider when weighing up dealerships and private sales?

Private Sales

There’s probably a street just outside of your CBD where dozens of cars are (or used to be) parked, with ‘for sale’ signs blue-tacked to the windshield. There’s one just around the corner from my place. This, and online listings through buy-swap-sell groups, gumtree, and carsales, are the most common ways that private sales are listed. In this environment, the seller is usually also the owner, and they’ll often be looking to sell the car as the end stage of swapping out their vehicles.


The primary advantage of a private sale is that it often works out cheaper than purchasing the same type of car at a dealership. Private sales are usually dictated by their red book price and in addition, there’s usually more room to negotiate the price down, since the seller’s more likely to want to offload their car than to make some kind of profit on it.

Private sales can render a wider range of vehicles, enabling a purchaser more options to find a final solution, and a buyer is often able to get a better picture of the car’s history – how many owners it’s had; the type of driving it’s been used for (highway vs inner city), and other smaller details that might be missed by a dealership that turns over many more vehicles per year.

Provided you’ve got a keen eye for it, a private sale can deliver a valuable nugget of a car, unless…


The flipside of checking out private sale cars is that you’ll usually need a bit more mechanical expertise when you check under to bonnet. Private sale can turn up some gold, but it can turn up some stinkers too – ones that you might not notice unless you’ve got an eye and an ear for the inner workings of a car.

Having the seller/owner on hand to ask questions of can usually be a massive help too, unless they’re trying to pass off a lemon of a car. I’ve heard of cars with odometers rolled back (which is highly illegal) and sneaky rust, of dodgy timing belts and malfunctioning diffs.
If you’re thinking of private sale and aren’t mechanically savvy, make sure you take a friend who is with you.

Car Dealerships

Dealerships tend to cluster in certain areas of the city, and will offer a more standard range of vehicles with a smaller range in age. They’re more likely to stock popular cars, and have their own list of things to consider.


It’s pretty unusual in today’s day and age for dealerships to be passing off faulty cars. Want to know why? The reputation of the seller is on the line, and it’s a lot easier for customers to hold them accountable (and take them to town, should they be selling uber-bombs.) Cars purchased from dealerships will be more mechanically sound, and they’ll also carry warranties that last around two years, meaning that if something should go south relatively soon after purchase, it’ll be much easier to get it sorted out.

Not only this, but many dealerships will also offer trade-in options (so you don’t have to work out how to sell your old car) and financing, which can help you to select a more long-term solution for your needs. This can vary from one to another, though, so you’ll want to ask about this when you first visit a dealership and start talking options.


Generally speaking, you get what you pay for, and because you’re getting warranty on the car, you’ll pay more on average for a used car than you would from a private seller. Prices will also generally be more fixed than for a private sale, making it less of an ideal place to test out your mad haggling skills.

There will also usually be a little more pressure involved with the selling end of the stick at dealerships. Sales are driven by commission, and they’ll be keen to help you make a decision right here and now if they think you’re ready. (You can offset this by having a list of prerequisites for an ideal car before you head in, and carefully considering any alterations to this list.)

In Short

What are your skills like when it comes to sourcing a new vehicle? If you’re unsure of your mechanical expertise and can’t outsource that, then a dealership might be your best bet. A private sale can give you a cheaper result, but after purchase, you’re on your own for maintenance. A car from a dealer’s will come with a warranty, and can save you upkeep and repair stress in the near future.

In the end, it comes down to your priorities. Sometimes it can be worth the extra investment to build a great long term option. Sometimes you might be looking for something that can fit your very specific list of needs, and sometimes you’re still working out what those needs are.

If you’d like help with that, why not give us a call? We’d be happy to discuss the details of our warranty and financing options, as well as our range of new and used cars for perusal.