Buying a car from a private seller has its advantages and disadvantages. In this article, we cover both along with what to expect and what to ask.
Whether you need to replace your current vehicle or are just looking for something leisurely, you may hesitate going to a dealer due to your budget. If you do decide to stray from purchasing from a company, here is what you need to know when buying a car from a private seller:
- Lack of warranty or guarantee. One of the biggest disadvantages of purchasing a car privately is the lack of legal protection. Businesses are required to follow and comply with state and federal consumer protection laws as well as the Federal Trade Commission rules. Private sellers, on the other hand, are not. What you see is what you get, and there are no warranties, guarantees or certifications.
- Meeting with strangers. It is always a risk to meet strangers, so try to make it a point to meet in public or busy areas. See if you can find any information about them online prior to your meeting as well or bring a friend along for security.
- Paperwork. When buying from a private seller, you have more leg work to do. It becomes your responsibility to ensure the title is switched over to your name and the like.
- Selling your vehicle yourself. When going through a dealership, you usually can trade in your vehicle to offset some cost from your new purchase or to just take it off your hands. However, when buying privately, you now take on the role of car salesman yourself, possibly selling privately.
- Better price/easier negotiation. This alone is the best reason for buying a car from a private seller. Because there is no one trying to maximize profits, you will have an easier time negotiating price that works best for you and the individual. After all, their main motivating factor of selling the vehicle is to get rid of it.
- Limited games. Because private sellers are usually looking to quickly sell, you have better chances of coming to an agreement quickly. This is especially true if the car is regularly available from others, particularly other private sellers (their competition).
- No one to sway your decision. If you’re buying privately, you’ve likely shopped around both online and offline for multiple vehicles as you would with any dealership. Maybe you even visit a few (we highly recommend it). But, once you figure out what you want, you don’t have to worry about a salesman trying to convince you to buy something out of your budget or that you don’t want just because they get a nice commission.
What you need to know
- Check the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). You can use the VIN to do a search of the car to see if it has been in any accidents. The DMV or Carfax.com are two common places you can check this.
- Do your research (AKA be a snoop). Check the phone number used on the ad to see if it is on other ads as well. If you see it on multiple ads, this could be a red flag. Along with this, if the seller is not willing to answer your questions fully about the vehicle, do not move forward with the sale.
- Ask if they are the owner. If they are not the owner, chances are, they won’t know as much about the vehicle as you need to know. Consider this another flag. Also, walk away if they do not have any of the paperwork on it.
- Consider meeting more than once. You may need or want to meet more than once, if time permits, to do a thorough check of the car or to wait for information to come back on it before doing the final purchase.
- Test drive it. Even if they say it is in great condition, you should never buy a car without a test drive. Obvious statement, we know, but important regardless.
- Ask for a maintenance history. Hopefully, the private seller has a record of repairs and maintenance of the car. You’ll want to know if any modifications have been to it too.
- Be detailed. Do a detailed inspection of the car with both the engine off and on. Check over the body of the vehicle for any damages, including underneath for rust. It may be best to bring a friend who is a car expert along with you for this if this is out of your reach. You may even want to hire someone to do an inspection for you just to be safe.
If anything about the situation seems fishy or sounds odd, forget the sale. You don’t want to get yourself in a situation that hurts you financially or even legally.
Overall, buying a car from a private seller does have its benefits financially. Just make sure to do your research and stay on your toes.
Have you ever bought a car privately before? What do you recommend? What was your experience?