Top Tips for Purchasing a Car from a Private Seller

Buying a car from a private seller can be a great deal; tips for navigating the purchase to get the best car at the best price.

Selling a car privately can work out well for both parties. The seller may be able to get a better price than if he traded it in or sold it to a dealer, and the buyer can avoid the high-pressure sales environment and less-than-scrupulous used car salesmen. But, no matter where you are purchasing a used vehicle, you must go into the endeavor with eyes wide open, armed with important information that will help you buy a good car at a good price. Here are some tips for dealing with private sellers.


Make Sure the Person Actually Owns the Car

First and foremost, make sure this private seller is legitimate. Sometimes dealers try to sell cars privately to get around legal obligations, and the cars they are trying to unload are less than road-worthy; other people purchase salvaged cars for a song and try to flip them onto unsuspecting buyers. Do an internet search for any phone numbers listed to see if they show up in advertisements for other used cars for sale—if it does, major warning sign. If the seller has to ask which car you are calling about, this is not good either. If you are viewing posted signs for sale, and there are others around –like on a billboard at the local library for example– check to see if the same phone number is showing up in other ads posted. Be wary if there are lots of other cars for sale on the street where the owner lives. You should also be leery if the person says he is selling the car for someone else—now, in this instance, it may be true he is acting on behalf of his grandmother or neighbor, but you should still proceed cautiously since he may not know very much about the car.


Find Out Why the Person Is Selling

It is always a good idea to find out why a person is selling the vehicle. This can help you assess how much leverage you might have in the bargaining process. For example, if the person already has purchased a new car, he is probably eager to get some cash to put towards his new monthly payment; if his parent can no longer drive, recently passed away,etc…, this type of scenario can also be in the buyer’s favor since the seller has no use for the car and would like to unload it as quickly as possible. Certain situations may give them the upper hand, such as trying to sell the car for a child that recently bought their own, relocated,etc…  When there is no sense of urgency, they are more likely to stick to the original asking price.


Take it for a Real Test Drive

Even the crappiest of cars can hold their own long enough to survive a ten-minute test drive. Really give it a thorough going-over. Take it on the highway; go to a parking lot and practice some turns to see if there are any steering issues; go over some speed bumps to see how it handles. If you are really interested in the vehicle, see if you can arrange to keep the car overnight. Do not forget to check the heating and A/C, the power windows and that everything else is working as it should.


Kelli Cooper is a freelance writer who blogs about all things auto; she recommends visiting for more information on Canadian car insurance. 


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