Buying a car from a private seller? Read this.

Blake RobbinsOn the Road

Buying a Car

The “For Sale” sign down the street may seem much more appealing than heading down to the local dealership. No one wants to deal with the man who talks to fast in a cheap suit. Craigslist or a car for sale in someone’s front yard may be the place to find a great deal but, it comes with risks.

Private sellers do not have to adhere to trading laws or provide appropriate certification for their used vehicles. It’s better to err on the side of caution when it comes to car sales with private sellers. It is also a good idea to educate yourself about car mechanics to avoid getting scammed.

Before you shop…

  1. “Buyer Beware” laws
    • Consumer protection laws DO NOT apply to private sales. Generally, dictate once you buy a vehicle, you have no legal right to sue if something happens to the car – even on the day after the sale.
  2. Study the ad
    • “Clean” or “runs great” should not be enough to sway you. Instead, pay attention to the car’s make, model, year, mileage, and any recent mechanical work. If the ad is vague and doesn’t offer a detailed description, the seller might be sketchy and unreliable.
  3. Read the seller
    • Be considerate of when you call the seller. You want to ensure they aren’t rushed when discussing the vehicle. Verify the make, model, year, mileage, vehicle identification number (VIN), and condition of the vehicle. Ask the seller how long they’ve owned the car and why they’re selling it. If the seller isn’t willing to give you all the information you requested, it could be a scam. 

When you’re purchasing the car…

  1. Get the paperwork
    • No vehicle title or registration title in the seller’s hand? MAJOR RED FLAG. If the seller starts a story on how the title was lost, smile and walk away. Without the correct paperwork, you could be purchasing a stolen vehicle – definitely, worst case scenario– or, attempting to hide a salvage title. You as the buyer should also have your paperwork in order which includes pay sales tax, title, and registration. Once you make the deal, make sure the seller signs over a bill of sale that verifies the car now belongs to you.
  2. Take it to the expert
    • Hiring your own mechanic ensures that a inspection is done correctly by an independent third party. This will also help catch any problems you missed in your test drive.
  3. Negotiate
    • You can almost always haggle a lower price. Most private sellers are only looking to get rid of a vehicle. Meaning, they’re more willing to take less than the car’s market value. Pressure them with the idea that you only have a certain amount of cash on you.
  4. Sign the title
    • Sign the title on the spot. The deal is not over until you officially own the vehicle.

Once the vehicle is signed over to you, ensure that your auto insurance is updated. When purchasing a new-to-you vehicle, your insurance agent can add your vehicle onto the policy the same day of purchase. Best of luck finding a great deal from a private seller!