You have already shopped around, found a sweet ride for a sweeter deal and are now ready to make the purchase, but the car seller is a private party and you really don’t know what to expect. Does this sound a little familiar? Often times the best deals can be found from private parties, so we thought we’d put together a few tips for buying used cars from private owners.
The best thing you can do when buying a used car from a private owner (or from a dealer for that matter) is ask questions. You cannot ask enough questions and, as the adage goes, the only stupid questions are those left unasked. Ask on the phone and ask in person.
General History and Info:
We recommend that you always get the mileage! This can be used for comparing asking price with an estimated market price, as well as give you an idea of the vehicle’s condition.
It’s also a good idea to ask why the seller is selling the vehicle. It’s your money and it’s soon to be your car, no question is “too personal”. You have a right to know why the car is being sold, which might influence your decision to buy it. You also want to find out when the seller purchased the car and from whom.
It’s also advisable to run a history check for the vehicle! Carfax.com is a great resource for this, and it’s smart to not skimp out and go for the free record check. The free checks won’t be as accurate or detailed.
When buying used cars from private owners you want to get an idea of the vehicle’s condition. But don’t take the private owner’s word for it; you need to see the vehicle for yourself. You may also want to find out what kind of driving the car has been used for.
Ideally, the car was bought from a dealership and the seller is the car’s first and only owner. It’s not a deal breaker if this isn’t the case, but it makes tracing the car’s history easier and less risky. Also, it’s a good idea to ask for service records, for accident records, and any other maintenance-related questions like “what kind of oil have you been using in the car?”, etc.
We can’t stress enough the importance of getting the car inspected before making the purchase. In a perfect world, your brother would be a mechanic and come along and take a look pro bono (though even still, it’s ideal to get the car inspected fully, on a lift). Also, it’s not uncommon to test-drive the car before you purchase the car. You have to feel comfortable and safe in the vehicle before you decide anything.
After you find out everything about the car, it’s time to talk bottom line.
When determining price, Kelley Blue Book is your friend. The Blue Book provides trustworthy pricing estimates for many different makes and models, taking into account mileage and condition.
When buying a used car from a private owner, you will be entering a bargaining chess match, a battle of wits and nerve. Do not under estimate the power of the “walk out”. If you seem too eager to make any deal, you might get taken advantage of. Conversely, if you are nonchalant and cool about the whole ordeal and remain prepared to walk away, you have a powerful bargaining chip at your disposal. Try to talk the seller down in price (but don’t go insultingly low) and have a budget in mind.
Heeding these tips when buying a used car from a private party—asking questions, doing research, and having it inspected/test-driven— should result in you buying a nice car for less money. Good luck!