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How to Buy a Used Car From a Private Seller

Posted by Charlie Maniates | Mar 27, 2019

Buying a used car from a private seller is a far cry from buying one at a dealership. It’s a more hands-on process that requires careful attention to detail to avoid fraud, but it certainly has the potential to save you money. Here are some factors to consider when buying a car from a private seller:

Compare Asking Price With Black Book Value

Find the Black Book value of the used car and compare it with the seller’s asking price. If the value is lower, you can use it to negotiate the price down after you’ve seen the car. If the value is higher, it may be a good deal or there may be a problem with the car that’s driving the asking price down.

Additionally, private sellers are sometimes looking to turn their used vehicles into cash as soon as possible, so they may be willing to accept a lower offer to complete the sale. It’s important, though, to still cover all your bases in these instances and ensure you’re completely satisfied with the vehicle’s condition.

Private Sellers Aren’t Bound by State and Federal Consumer Protection Laws

As businesses, dealers must abide by strict state and federal consumer protection laws; private sellers, however, are free from these constraints. This means that a private seller isn’t liable for any post-sale issues you might uncover, such as a salvage title or rolled-back odometer, unless otherwise stated in a contract.

As a result, you should be thorough in your research to ensure the used car’s quality. You can minimize unpleasant surprises by running the vehicle identification number to get a history report, thoroughly examining the vehicle when you meet the seller for a test drive and having a trusted, certified mechanic perform an in-depth inspection (we recommend the same when buying from a dealership). If a seller objects to an inspection, he or she may be trying to hide something or may just not want you driving off with the car unaccompanied. If you offer to include the seller in the process and/or share the report when completed even if you don’t buy the car yourself, it might sway him or her.

Concerned about safety? Try to meet the seller in a public location for the test drive and inspection if the private seller is a stranger.

Payment Form

To avoid a scam, be as cautious as possible when making your payment. Find out all payment options the seller will accept and decide which one works best for you, but always remember that the best way to make your payment is in person, in a public place and with a witness accompanying you.

Additionally, avoid making wire transfers whenever possible. Wire transfer services like Western Union and PayPal are commonly used for internet scams because the funds are usually untraceable.

Completing the Paperwork

The dealer typically handles any accompanying paperwork for a used car it sells, so in a private sale, that responsibility falls on the buyer and seller. Necessary paperwork might include the bill of sale, title transfer, vehicle registration, license plate transfer and sales tax form.

If you’re unsure about what you need to fill out, consult your local department of motor vehicles for the necessary forms.

Common Sense

Don’t fall for a deal that’s clearly too good to be true. Common sense when viewing a listing should help you deduce whether a used car is worth the time it’ll take to see, test drive, inspect and negotiate it.

And don’t be afraid to walk away from a sale that makes you uncomfortable – you can’t have any doubts about an investment as big as buying a car.