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How To Buy A Used Car From A Private Seller

Buying a used car from a private party can save a buyer thousands over buying new or used from a dealer. Here's how to get a great car and avoid pitfalls

Buying from a private party does come with its risks and inconveniences. Buying a lemon can end up costing a bundle, and searching for the right used car is not as convenient as walking into a dealership. But with a little effort, buying a car from a private seller can yield a great car and a sweet deal.

Why is Buying from a Private Party Better?

Buying a used car over a new one is a smart move because the buyer uses depreciation to his or her advantage. Buying a used car from a private party can be even more cost effective. Whereas a car dealerships main goal is profiting from the transaction, the private owners reason for selling is often simply to get rid of the vehicle. The private seller sometimes offers a lower initial price, and is open to bargain.

Finding the right used car takes some legwork. Try to narrow the search down to just a few models. Check Consumer Reports for reliability ratings and lists of the best and worst used cars.

Once youve narrowed your criteria, youll be able to do a more honed-in search and get a better feel for a good deal when you see one. Scour websites like Craigslist, Gumtree and Autotrader, and also local classifieds to compare year, mileage, and options on these few models. Eventually a really good deal will pop out.

Getting Preliminary Information About the Car

Email or call the seller and ask questions about the car. Has it ever been in an accident? How was the car used and who drove it? Heres a hint: better to buy a used car from a 60 year old retiree who drove it to get groceries than a 16 year old high school boy who used it off road. No offense but 16 year old boys are harder on cars.

If the preliminary car information sounds good, get the VIN number and pull the cars history at AA Car Data. Make sure its not a salvaged vehicle, meaning its been in a wreck, flooded with water, or otherwise deemed a total loss by an insurance company.

AA Car Data will also state the number of owners the car has had. Ideally youre buying the car from the original owner. Make sure the name of the person youve contacted matches the listed owner on AA Car Data. If everything still looks good, go to the next step: meeting the seller.

Keep safety in mind. Its not a good idea to bring cash to the initial meeting. There have been cases of buyers being robbed by bandits posing as car sellers. These are usually cases of online posts which are the classic too-good-to-be-true scenario. If youve done your homework on the cars expected price range youll know whats a good deal and whats a scam. If youve pulled a AA Car Data report, you have information on the current owner of record. Scammers and robbers will not give you that much information. Do your homework and you can avoid dangerous situations.

Meeting the Seller of a Used Car

The person selling the car is almost as important as the car itself. Emails and phone calls cant replace meeting the seller in person. One problem with car auction websites is that its hard to get a feel for who is selling the car.

The second you meet the seller, start taking mental notes about the kind of person from whom you are buying. Does he or she seem responsible? Does he or she seem to have a consistent income and able to pay for maintenance and repair costs in a timely manner? If you meet at the sellers home, ask yourself, is the yard, home and other vehicles in good shape or in disrepair? If the rest of the persons life is a mess, its a good bet that the car you are looking to buy was not taken care of either.

Admittedly, this is a lot of information to glean from a few minutes with the seller. But even a casual conversation during the test drive can reveal facts about the sellers work and family, the reason for wanting to sell the car, and lifestyle. All of these factors can contribute to a judgment call on whether the car was cared for.

Keep in mind youll be doing this nonchalant interview while examining the car. So youll have to do a little multitasking.

Checking Out a Used Vehicle for Problems

Don't be scared of by a few scratches, as it is easy enough to find paint for the car to cover the odd mark; but beware of more expensive repairs. There are some obvious signs of expensive fixes a lay person can look for. Its a good idea to use a checklist, and take good slow walk around the vehicle. Bring a magnet and test for body repair work. If the magnet doesnt stick to a part of the body, it has been in a wreck and repaired, unless its a fiberglass section of the body that is supposed to be there.

Dont be afraid to get a little dirty and crawl under the car and look for oil leaks. Look on the ground underneath the engine for oil spots. Take a flashlight and look for fresh, wet oil on the undercarriage anywhere. An oil leak is a nuisance and possibly difficult to repair. During the test drive, use all of your senses, except taste that is. Listen for funny sounds. Smell for odors like cigarette smoke or exhaust coming in the car. Feel with your hands on the wheel and feet on the pedals for delays in acceleration, stalls, sloppy steering, vibrations, or excessive drifting while driving straight. Look at the dash for faulty gauges. If everything seems right so far, go the next step.

Bringing the Used Car to a Mechanic

For about £100 you are able to buy final peace of mind. Find a reputable mechanic close to where you are viewing the car. It's a bad idea to use a mechanic the seller recommends; find your own. Schedule a time with the seller to take the car in. In one or two hours, the mechanic can do a bumper to bumper checkup to give you the confidence to purchase the vehicle.

Closing the Deal

The seller will want cash or a cashiers check. Be prepared to go to the bank with the seller to get one or the other. A seller may even be wary of a cashiers check, as this form of payment can be forged and take days to show up as a fraud. But if you receive a loan from a bank to buy the used car, encourage the seller to call a representative at the bank to confirm.

Bring with you two copies of a bill of sale, one for you and one for the seller. Both parties should sign each copy so everyone has a legal record of the transaction.

Make sure the seller has the original title and signs it over to you. If the seller has a loan on the vehicle, make sure the bank signs off on the title transfer as well, since the lender is the legal owner.

Once the sale is final, be sure to report the transaction to the local department of licensing. Bring the bill of sale and signed-over title to the licensing office. Be prepared to pay the sales tax or transfer taxes that your state requires.

Reap the Advantages of Buying Used From a Private Seller

Now that youve done the work, you can now enjoy the advantages of buying a used car from a private seller. Its true that buying from a private party takes effort. But when you pull up to an identical car at a stop light and know you paid thousands less, its all worth it.