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Buying A Used Car From A Private-Seller: What To Expect

When buying a vehicle from a private-owner instead of a dealer, there are advantages and disadvantages.

Find out what information to ask about and which precautions to take before making a deal with a private-seller.

The Good News

Private-sellers are usually a little more eager than a dealer to get rid of their used car. According to KBB.com, the general trend it that private-sellers will sell it to you at a lower price than you would see at a dealership. This is because the dealer has purchased that car at a certain price, and will charge you more than their purchasing price in order to make a profit. Private-owners don’t have fixed business prices to keep in mind as dealers do, and they are typically much more anxious to get rid of the vehicle. This could also mean that negotiating with an owner will be less of a struggle.

Safety Precautions

There is a little more risk involved in these independent transactions. One of the more obvious risks is the fact that you are dealing with a stranger selling their personal car – not a dealer who works at a specific location during business hours. You could be going to this person’s house whenever both parties’ schedules allow checking out the car and even making the deal in a personal office or home. Precautions to take in this instance are to suggest meeting at a public establishment during the day to check out the car and possibly complete a transaction.

Legal Precautions

Unlike private-sellers, dealerships are regulated businesses, and are generally very careful to follow applicable protocols, laws and documentation requirements... Dealers will handle all of the paperwork when buying a used car from them, but it is up to yourself and the private-seller you are working with to get all of the car registration, financing, and transfer of ownership squared away. There are not going to be guarantees or warranties offered to you by a private-owner. Because of this, it is smart to take a few key steps before finalizing a deal with the seller.

Pre-Purchasing Steps

One thing that you should always do when buying a used car is to purchase a vehicle history report. AutoCheck® offers a VHR that discloses a vehicle’s past. It could tell you things such as whether or not that car has been in accidents, has the correct odometer reading, or has any major title brands like a lemon vehicle, along with many other helpful details.

Another task you should complete before finalizing the purchase of a used car from a private-seller is to have it checked out by a mechanic to make sure there aren’t any major preexisting problems. Choose a mechanic and set up a time when either both you and the seller are free to meet at the auto shop or, if the seller agrees, take the car there yourself. You should not have already purchased the car or had to sign any type of purchasing contract before you take it to the mechanic.

Questions to ask the Private-Seller

When talking to the owner about the car they are selling, you should try to learn as much about the car as you can. Questions like why they are selling the car or if the car has any quarks such as a window that gets stuck, or a door handle that needs to be jiggled a certain way. Ask them what condition they would say the car is in and what problems they may have experienced. The seller may have past maintenance records, which could help you get an even better feel for the car’s history. All of this knowledge will help the two parties come to a fair price. The more you know the better.

Outside of purchasing a vehicle history report, attached is a checklist of questions you can use as a resource to ask the owner of the vehicle to get the most information you can about the condition of the used vehicle you would like to purchase. Print out this checklist below of the top 10 questions to ask a seller and bring it along when you are checking out a used car to help stay organized.

Used Car Buying Checklist:

  • Why are you selling the car?
  • How many miles are on the odometer?
  • Are you the original owner? If not, who was the car bought from?
  • Can I take it to get an inspection by my mechanic?
  • Are there any quirky tendencies the car has?
  • What kind of oil do you use in the car?
  • Are there any special features?
  • How would you describe the condition of the vehicle?
  • Do you have any past service record receipts?
  • Can I take it for a test drive on a highway/open road/city street?


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