Every one of my cars have been purchased outside of a dealership. There are a lot of benefits to buying from a private seller, but you have to keep an eye out to make sure you are getting a great deal. Based on my experience, here is the best way to get a car from a private seller to make sure you don’t end up with a real lemon.
If you see a car in an advertisement, drive by a car for sale on the side of the road, or hear about a car for sale, if you can see the car before talking to the seller, go for it. This allows you to get a visual of the car to see for yourself if it’s even something you want to consider purchasing, and you can view the car without the eagle eye of the seller breathing down your back. Check tires, under the vehicle for leaks, check the outer condition of the vehicle, peek in the windows to check the interior, look at the windshield and side mirrors. This way, you can catch minor flaws, like balding tires, cracked windshield, stained interior, or oil leak and if you decide to still try to purchase, then call the seller to schedule a viewing date so you can further check out how the car runs, whether it’s comfortable to drive, etc.
When you DO see the car, take a mechanical savvy individual with you to immediately look under the hood. Don’t be shy about asking straight off why the seller is selling the car. They may have bought a new car, it could have been grandma’s car and she is no longer driving or has passed away (these are the best cars to buy as they typically have low miles and are serviced regularly- plus, grandma doesn’t hot rod around so the car should be sound, and typically garaged), or the family may be strapped for cash and forced to sell. Either way, finding out why they’re selling gives you a good idea on whether or not you’ll be able to haggle down some.
Drive the car to get a feel of it. While driving, let the owner of the car know the concerns you have about the car, like the tires, or the growling brakes. You’re driving the car, so the seller will see dollar signs that you are going to buy, and if you still want the vehicle you can take this opportunity to knock down some of the price due to the flaws that you will have to repair yourself.
Keep in mind, sellers usually ask the highest amount for their car and understand they won’t really be getting it. If they are asking $2,000, they are hoping for at least $1,500, so don’t be shy about haggling. Ask how long the car has been sitting out with a sale sign on it, and the longer it’s been sitting, the lower they will go on price. By this point, the seller just wants to get rid of the vehicle and hopes to still pocket some cash.
If you decide to buy, make sure the seller has a title. If they have to apply for a duplicate to get the car to you, don’t pay a dime until they have that title and can sign it over to you. You don’t want to be chasing down the seller of the car for months trying to get a title. Don’t even pay a down payment until that title is in your hands.
Make sure you aren’t getting a car that isn’t paid off. Some people sell their cars for the remainder of their loans and car payments, so you have to take over. Fine and dandy if you don’t want to make a full payment up front, but it can be a real hassle. Still, if you’re wanting to get a newer car at a lower price, this may be the way to go. Just know for sure the terms of the sale before you buy.
Have cash on hand, but don’t start waving it around until you know for sure you want the car. I bought a Suzuki Swift from a college student who wanted $1,000 for his little car, and when I pulled out $400 cash and said that is what I had, SOLD!!! People desperate for the money will take what they can get, but if they know you’ve got $3,000 in your pocket rather than $1,800, they will refuse to budge. Give your bottom line, show the cash, and you’ll likely get a great deal.
Just be careful when buying from a private seller. The car is definitely as-is, so if you use a little car savvy and don’t jump the gun, you can get a great deal and hopefully a great car without a lot of effort.