I’m in the process of buying a car, and I’ve found one that I love from a private seller. I’ve heard some horror stories from friends about sales going wrong. How can I protect myself when buying privately?
Buying a car from a private seller is usually less expensive than buying a used vehicle from a dealership. However, buying privately still comes with some risks.
Private sales don’t offer the same consumer protections that dealerships offer. And if you live in a state where lemon laws only apply to new cars, you may be out of luck if you wind up with a car that’s undriveable after you buy it.
Since you’ve already found a vehicle that you’re interested in, it’s important to start gathering as much information about the vehicle as possible.
A vehicle history report is a good place to start. The seller may provide a copy of the report upon request, but if not, you can purchase one yourself for a small fee.
When viewing the vehicle in person, look for and write down the VIN. Next, check vehicle identification number at carVertical to learn more about the vehicle’s history. Just keep in mind that there may be incidents that are not listed on these reports. You can’t rely solely on these reports to get all of the information you need.
At the very least, you’ll be able to verify that the vehicle wasn’t stolen.
In addition to getting a vehicle history report, you’ll want to talk to the seller and request copies of service records. Not all sellers will have copies of these reports, but if they are available, they can provide some insight into how the vehicle was maintained and serviced.
Before meeting with the owner, sit down and make a list of questions to ask, such as:
- How many miles are on the car?
- Are there any liens on the vehicle?
- Are you the original owner of the vehicle?
- Has the car had any major repairs?
- Has the car ever been in an accident?
- Why are you selling the vehicle?
If the answers to these questions meet your expectations, you can talk about taking the car out for a test drive and getting the vehicle inspected by a professional. A thorough inspection will alert you of potential issues and give you an idea of whether the vehicle is well-maintained.
Pre-purchase inspections normally cost a few hundred dollars, but it’s worth the cost to determine whether the vehicle is worth buying. Just make sure that you choose a mechanic you know and can trust.
The seller should show you the vehicle’s title, which details who owns the car. If the seller has financed the vehicle and hasn’t paid off the loan, walk away from the deal. At this point, the seller doesn’t fully own the vehicle and has no right to sell it without permission from the finance company.
If the private seller doesn’t have a title, don’t buy the vehicle.