What do I need to know when buying a used car from a private seller?


If you have your eye set on buying a used car from a private seller or, better yet, original owner, you have a lot of benefits to look forward to. You can pay cash and leave with the car the same day.

Still, to make sure you don’t get ripped off, you have to ask “What do I need to know when buying a used car from a private seller?” You need to have a good idea about the following: model year range you want to buy, the car’s fair market value, your planned use for the vehicle, whether you plan to commute regularly with others in the car, the car’s rough fuel efficiency, owner’s probable reasons for selling, and the model’s safety reputation or record. When inspecting the vehicle, make sure to: ask for repair records, check the VIN, bring a mechanic and some friends along.

Don’t let the seller WRECK your experience. These tips will help you on your journey towards success in the private-cash world of buying a used car.

1) Have an idea of what you want

You should at least know the basics of what you’re looking for. Are you just looking to get a great deal on anything? This is the mindset to steer clear of. The seller will laugh all the way to the bank as you’re stuck with a lemon and no chance of a refund. Dig into the details of what you need. Or at least choose a certain style that you prefer. Keeping this in mind…

2) Be aware of the rough vehicle’s fair market value or “blue book” value

Figured out what you’re looking for? Now it’s time to figure out the value of that vehicle. You can do this by checking the Kelley Blue Book. This will assure you that you’re truly getting a good deal for what you’re buying.

Is the seller trying to get rid of the vehicle for a price way lower than the KBB benchmark price? You’ll need to find out why. Be sure to ask plenty of questions to figure out this low price.

Is the seller pumping up the price way above the KBB value? There better be a good reason for that. If there’s not a good reason, then try to negotiate a lower price. If the seller isn’t budging, then be prepared to leave him/her in the dust and look for something else.

3) Think about how you plan to use your new car or truck

What will be the primary use for your new purchase? Are you planning to trek through some rough terrain? A 4-wheel drive is probably your best bet. Just looking for a fuel-efficient daily driver? Something with a smaller engine could work well. Are you going to be hauling materials from one place to another? A cargo van or truck would work wonders for you. Ask yourself these questions.

4) Will you be transporting people or is this car mostly just for you?

Will you need to provide transportation for kids? If so, you’ll need to think about the space needed for child seats. Do your friends and family love mooching rides off of you? You’ll need to think about them as well, even if they are a pain sometimes. OR maybe you’re trying to completely discourage anyone from hitching a ride from you. If that’s the case, you should consider a car with only 2 seats.

5) Pay attention to fuel-efficiency when checking out older models

How well does the vehicle handle fuel? Lightweight vehicles tend to have better gas mileage, while heavier ones seem to be gas guzzlers. If you’ve got a handful of makes/models in mind, be aware of their fuel-efficiency. You can find this information by checking with the Environmental Protection Agency online.

Once you’ve found the specifics online, be sure to ask the seller about how well the vehicle handles fuel. Let’s say you found your make/model online to get 30 MPG. But the seller says his version is a total gas guzzler. This is a red flag for the condition of the vehicle. Try to get some honesty out of the seller as to why this is happening. This leads to our next tip for you…

6) Try to guess why the seller is unloading the vehicle

Can you get any psychological information from the way the seller talks? Is he/she talking extremely fast and moving from one topic to the next without giving you much of a chance to intervene? This could mean that the seller is trying to quickly push the product into your hands. It could also mean that the seller is trying to hide a big piece of vital information from you.

How is the seller acting? Is he/she very fidgety? Maybe acting a little nervous? This could be a sign that the seller knows he/she is hiding something. Don’t fall into any trap. Know exactly what’s up with the vehicle.

Assuming the seller is a stranger, it’s tough for you to truly know how honest the person will be. Sometimes it’s a good idea to follow your gut in a situation like this. We’d like to be able to put our trust into anyone. But at the same time, you have to consider that this person is a stranger, and may not have your best interest in mind.

7) Read up on the vehicle’s safety information

First, you’ll need to consider how important the safety features are to you. Are you looking for the most recent cutting-edge advances in safety? Maybe you don’t care about all of that as long as the thing has a seat belt. Either way, you can find safety information online with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Be sure that the vehicle meets your safety standards. You should also keep in mind that a lot of older cars have fewer safety features than the newer cars of today. It’s good to think about the resale value of your purchase as well. If you plan on getting rid of it eventually, keep in mind that fewer safety features usually means less value on the market.

8) Check the VIN of the vehicle you’re trying to buy

Wondering if the vehicle has taken part in any road accidents? Has it ever been deemed a total loss? Has it been issued a salvage title? You’ll get this information by running a VIN report. This goes hand-in-hand with knowing what you’re buying. You’ll want the full scoop, and information like this is super important. Be sure to do some research into the VIN reporting agencies though. Some of them are just looking to scam you into sending them your money. Be sure you’re dealing with a legitimate VIN reporting agency before handing over any personal information to them.

9) Always ask for repair and maintenance records

If the used vehicle is still up and running after however many years it’s been around, then there’s a good chance that it’s seen a mechanic or 2 in its lifetime. There’s routine maintenance such as changing the oil and tires. Then there’s also big repairs such as the windshield, engine, and body. Be sure to gather as much of these records as you’re able to get. It will help you decide on your future purchase.

10) Bring along a mechanic who can check out the vehicle

Let’s be honest, you don’t know the seller and don’t know how well you can trust him/her. Find a trusty mechanic in the area, and have them check the vehicle out. The seller doesn’t like this idea? Then you should walk away right then and there. Why? Because it means the seller is trying to hide something.

11) Try To Use the Kelley Blue Book’s recommended Instant Cash Offer

As mentioned earlier, this website is a vital tool for anyone looking to purchase a used car. You’ll find all sorts of used cars listed on the site. Need a little extra money for your future car purchase? If so, consider using KBB’s Instant Cash Offer. You’ll be able to trade-in your old car or just completely sell it to one of the dealers.

12) Bring “your people” along or pay electronically

So your pocket is full of cash, and you’re ready to buy your next ride? Believe in the power of numbers. Have some trustworthy people with you to back you up. Looking for a more secure method of making your payment? Do it electronically with a service such as PayPal or Venmo.

Keep the tips above in mind and successfully avoid being taken for a ride the next time you buy a new ride.

Let’s put it this way, earning an honest dollar is not exactly easy. Why risk wasting all that cash you worked so hard for by buying a car based on your gut feel?

Follow the tips we’ve shared with you above so you can get the most value out of your car. At the very least, even if you don’t end up with the very best deal, you won’t get ripped off.

A little bit of preparation goes a long way when buying a ‘major purchase’ like a car-whether new or used.

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