How to Buy a Used Car from a Private Party

Buying a used car from a private seller is a common practice for many consumers. It allows a buyer the opportunity to significantly expand their search options beyond dealerships to potentially find their ideal vehicle for a lower price. But buying directly from another individual has its advantages and disadvantages. There are several considerations when purchasing a car from a private seller.

How to buy a car from a private seller

Private Seller vs. Dealerships

The main reason to buy a vehicle from a private seller over a dealership is affordability. The cost of a private vehicle is usually going to be lower because an individual seller typically does not have the same burden as a dealership to turn a profit on a sale. Private sellers are often motivated to sell at lower prices for personal reasons such as relocation or the need for cash. And private sellers are less likely to use high pressure sales tactics common to car dealers.

On the other hand, purchasing from a private seller assumes certain risks that some buyers are not comfortable with. Since dealerships are legitimate businesses, they are generally under a more formal obligation than a private seller to deliver a quality product. When buying from a private seller, there is less accountability if the vehicle were to experience mechanical problems after the sale. In addition, many dealerships can offer warranties which private sellers typically cannot. And from a convenience standpoint, a dealership typically handles the sometimes-complicated process of transferring title through the DMV.

Buying a Used Car from a Private Seller

There are several steps that should be taken when searching for a privately sold car. This starts with setting a budget and doing general research on the kind of vehicle you want, including current values. There are many online resources to help narrow the field and find the right make and model that best suits your needs.

Once you have an idea of how much your vehicle of choice costs, contact your lending institution to set up financing. Having this in place will allow you to be ready to make an offer on a vehicle as soon as you find the right one.

Now it is time for you to start looking at vehicle listings for sale. Compare vehicle descriptions, pricing, and mileage to decide which cars you want to see in person. Geography may also play a factor depending on whether you want to stay local for your vehicle hunt or conduct a wider search.

When contacting the seller to schedule a time to see the vehicle, ask questions about its condition, usage, and the reason the owner is selling it. You may also want to request the serial number so that you can use a vehicle history service to see if it has ever been in an accident or has any liens against the title.

When you see the vehicle in person, first do a thorough examination of the exterior, interior, and mechanicals. On the exterior, check for rust, body damage, and worn tire tread. Inside, look at the overall condition of both the upholstery and the hard surfaces. Then turn the vehicle on and make sure the climate system, seatbelts, locks, wipers, and technology features such as infotainment and navigation are all operable.

Test driving the vehicle will allow you to get a feel for the engine, transmission, brakes, and suspension. Listen for noises and pay attention to any harshness in operation. This is also the time to test out any driving systems such as cruise control or blind-spot warning.

If you are interested in the vehicle after the test drive, it may be a good idea to have a mechanic do a more thorough inspection. Most sellers will not have any issue with this request. Also, using the vehicle identification number (VIN), obtain a vehicle history report to make sure the vehicle hasn’t been in an accident, flood, or other calamity.

Once the mechanic and the vehicle history report provider give the car a clean bill of health, feel free to make a fair offer on the vehicle.

What to do After Buying a Used Car

After you and the seller agree on a price and the sale is completed, you’ll need to transfer the title into the new owner’s name. Contact your state’s department of motor vehicles (DMV) to learn the exact requirements to register the vehicle. In most cases, you will need the existing title, a bill of sale, proof of insurance, and possibly a smog/safety inspection certificate. The transfer of title is the final step in establishing car ownership.