top of page

How to Buy a Used Car from a Private Party

Updated: Mar 16, 2021

The safest way to buy a used car is from a dealer. But, you’re almost always going to pay more for this safety and security! The other option is buying from a private party, and it’s the best way to stretch your budget, so here’s how to buy a used car from a private party! When you’re shopping for a used car, your choices can be broken into two categories, purchasing from a professional, or a private party.

Yes, there are LOTS of grey areas within those two categories. For example, curbstoners, people who sell lots of cars without a license, and if you’d like to know more, and protect yourself from the many unscrupulous people taking advantage of used car sellers go and pick up a copy of my used car buyer’s guide!

Like most things, there’s both advantages and disadvantages to buying a used car whether you’re buying from a professional or a private party.

The most significant difference is in the pricing. All things being equal, it should cost you more to purchase a used car from a professional, a dealership compared to a private seller. Dealers will usually need to handle the registration and insurance paperwork, plus, they have overhead including rent, salaries, taxes, etc.

So, buying from a private seller will often provide you with the chance to save some money, but it also comes with LOTS of danger!

saving money buying a used car

A search of the leading online car selling websites is scary! There’s a load of shady people looking to rip off the unsuspecting shopper. In fact, in my used car buyer’s course, I share with you my emails, texts, and actual conversations with one of these scammers!

When people know what I do, and the subject of car sales scammers comes up I always get the same question, how do I protect myself?

Here’s a great piece of advice, be ready to walk away!

When you buy a car from a private seller, compared to a dealer, you’ve got a lot less recourse if something goes wrong!

So, you’ve got to learn all the details associated with the car you’re considering buying. Whether it’s vehicle options or the appropriate mileage, you need to know your stuff!

And whether it’s something mechanical, or financial, I always tell people the smart shopper is more than willing to walk away!

You need to be sure to check the vehicle’s history and records. I’d do this before you begin a physical inspection During the first phone call, make sure you know:

  • Year

  • Make

  • Model

  • Mileage

  • Number of Owners

  • Any Liens

  • Major Repairs

  • Modifications

  • History of Accidents and Problems

  • Check for Any Recalls or Issues

  • Search the manufacturer’s website to see if there’s any remaining manufacturer’s warranty coverage. Generally, warranty coverage expires at a set time, or after reaching a certain mileage threshold.

Now, unfortunately, you can’t take the answers to the above questions at face value, but asking the questions establishes the baseline, and you have to start somewhere! If you feel OK with the above, it’s time to do the physical inspection and here’s some things to consider?

Is the registration up-to-date? By itself, not having the car registered might seem like ‘no big deal,’ and you might be right. But, an unregistered vehicle may have a lien on it, and it might be an indicator that it’s not been well maintained or other potential issues.

Buying a Car from a Private Party – You Need to Gather a LOT of Information!

Service Records – ask to see them

Ask to see the insurance card – if the car’s not insured, it could be another indicator that there’s something fishy going on! Why would you want to buy a car that the current owner feels is not worth the financial expense to insure?

In addition to some documentation, you can learn a great deal about the car by following these tips:

Let the car idle while you’re talking. If the seller goes to turn the car off, tell them you want to hear the engine. I once saved myself big money because the seller had plugged a hole in the radiator with the cap from a Bic pen, and as the car ran, the temperature kept going up!

When you’re in the car while it’s idling crank up the heat with the windows up. In addition to helping you sweat off a couple of pounds, this can help you determine if the car’s been involved in a flood. If you need to defogger in this situation, you might be looking at a flood-damaged vehicle.

While you’re looking around, be sure to give the car a sniff-test. A smokey smell is unpleasant and might indicate additional problems.

Take a look at the fuse box. Look for corrosion and signs of damage or wires out of place. If the car or truck is a 4×4, make sure it works!

When the car door’s open, take a look at the rubber and condition of the metal and framework.

Don’t forget to look at the tires. In addition to looking for excessive wear and tear, it’s also a good idea to see if the tires match. Non-Matching tires alone might not be a problem, but it’s a leading indicator!

Also, check the headlights, the general condition of the carpets and mats.

Be sure to test and verify that all the buttons, knobs and controls work Test drive the car and be sure to get it on the highway.

To do all of the above, you obviously have to meet the seller, and it’s best to do so in a public place.

how to inspect a used car

Now, if things are looking good after the inspection, you need to run a title and Vin number check.

There can be some real surprises here, and if ANYTHING does add up, walk away!

That includes things like the number of accidents or owners. Where the car’s been registered, accidents, and any other bit of information the seller provided but is not in accordance with the Vin check.

Yes, there are lots of steps, and that’s because of the dangers associated with buying from a private seller!

If all is good up to now, arrange a time to get the car to a mechanic you trust. When you’re buying a house, most mortgages require the home to go through an inspection.

A licensed professional who inspects the home to ensure there’s not any problems or issues that escaped the home buyer’s attention, the untrained eye.

Well, you should have a mechanic inspect the used car for the exact same reason!

You can also view it as an insurance policy. Spend a little money to make sure you’re not buying a car with a problem or problems that would require thousands to fix! It makes sound business sense!

If you’ve made it this far congratulations! If you’ve made it this far it’s because you’ve ignored or skipped a few steps, good luck!

Now’s the paperwork and payment time and here’s some suggestions:

Here’s a critical point, check to make sure the Vin Number on the paperwork matches the car’s Vin Number! Switching Vin Numbers is at the heart of several scams!

Do NOT pay for your car with cash or a personal check. Better to pay with a Back Check or a Money Order.

Consider using an Escrow account. If the seller suggests, an escrow account is sure to verify the credibility of the company providing this service. If you’re not familiar, escrow accounts allow the buyer and seller security by handling the payment process.

If you’re buying a car and having it shipped to you, I would only do this if my attorney acted as the Escrow Agent, and I was given a few days to inspect the vehicle properly before the transaction was completed.

The required paperwork and processes can change state-to-state, so do your due diligence and know the process. I would anticipate needing a Bill of Sale (You can get one as part of my Used Car Buyer’s Course), both party’s signing the car’s Title, and eventually the proper insurance, plates, and registration.

If you’re buying a car from someone in another state, you’ve got to be extra vigilant regarding paperwork. Without doing so, you run the risk of not properly completing the transaction and facing difficulty registering the car.

14 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page