Buying a new car can be scary. My family has been casually looking for a new car and while looking around I am finding that it would be much more economical to purchase from a private seller, but it’s nerve-racking. I’ve gained some insight into the process of buying a new used car that I would like to share. Things like what questions to ask a private seller. What information do you need from the seller? What are the pros and cons of buying a car from a private seller versus a dealership? Before you start searching for cars, you will want to do some research. The first thing is to narrow down the model of car that suits your needs. Are you looking for a family car, a sports car, a hybrid car, etc.? You can then narrow your search down to what make, model, and years you are interested in. Next would be the mileage and condition. You’ll also want to know what most sellers are asking for so you know if you are getting a fair price.


Price is the number one motivation for buying from a private seller as opposed to a dealership. You can save anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand by cutting out the middleman, the dealership. Sellers can make more money selling a vehicle on their own versus trading in when making their purchase. They are likely to keep much more of their money by selling on their own. Private sellers are able to be more flexible on price and are usually more motivated to negotiate and make a sale. When I looked at cars of the same year and similar conditions listed on Craigslist or Facebook versus the dealership, I realized just how much money could be saved by doing it this way!

Less pressure

A private seller is typically not a trained salesperson so it tends to level the playing field for you. There will not be any pressure tactics used to close a deal and you can take your time inspecting the car and making an informed decision without feeling rushed. It may also make you feel more comfortable since you won’t be intimidated about dealing with a car salesperson. No one likes going into a car dealership having to negotiate, you are already tense preparing for a battle!

No warranties/ risk of costly repairs

No warranty on your purchase is the biggest con of buying from a private seller. Often dealerships offer a used car warranty that will cover some of the bigger items, but purchasing from a private seller are usually “as-is” with no warranty or guarantees. Make sure you ask a lot of questions! Ask for repair and maintenance logs or receipts so you can get an idea of how well the car has been taken care of. Take it for a test drive! Test the radio and then turn it off so you can listen for noises that may alert you to trouble. Ask if you can take the car to your mechanic to make sure there aren’t any obvious issues. Keep in mind if the seller will not allow you to have it looked at by a professional, that is a huge red flag and walk away. Once you take possession of the car and finalize the sale, any repairs will be at your cost. The seller will not have any obligation to take the car back or return any of your money.

What to get from the seller

Car history/ Carfax

Always view the car’s history before buying. An easy way to do this is to run the car’s VIN number in Carfax. The car’s Carfax will tell you some great information you may not be getting from the seller such as major accidents reported, if the car has a salvaged title and if the car has flood damage. Often cars that have major damage are repaired so well that you may not be able to tell there was ever damage. Serious sellers may already have this available for potential buyers. If they do not and it is a car you are strongly considering, ask for the VIN number and do it yourself but know it will probably be at your cost. 

Title of ownership

You will need to get the title of the car you are buying. The title is a legal document that proves ownership of the vehicle. If the seller is selling the car without the title, run the other way! They may have no legal right to be selling the car. A title will also show if there is a lien on the car. The lien is usually held by the financial institution that issued the loan for the car. No title transfer can be made until the lien is paid.

Bill of sale

You will also need to get a bill of sale from the seller. Most state’s DMVs have a bill of sale template on their website that the buyer and seller will sign. The buyer can then take that to the DMV to get the car registered in their name. You can also complete the sale at the DMV so you can double-check that you have all the necessary information to complete the transaction correctly and legally buy the car.

Buying a car from a private seller can save you a lot of money but it can also cause more work for you. We love to hear from you! Please share any tips or experiences you have with buying a car from a private seller.

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8 comments on “Tips on buying a car from a private seller

  • Brilliant and timely for me.
    I am a private seller (about to – sadly – put my lovely little convertible car on market) and this article has helped me understand what I need to get ready for prospective buyers.

  • Folks let me let you in on a little secret. When I was a sports car mechanic and the dealer I worked for took a used car in trde he would give it to me and say, “Fix anything that’s likely to break within the warranty period.” While this did provide the used car buyer who purchased this car aome protection it’s doubtful that it merits spending thousands more than you would pay i a private sale. To make matters worse if a car did develop problems during the warranty period I was instructed to do a “bare bones” repair. To give ou some idea of how much more a dealer will charge I purchasd a used Subaru Forester from a private party a few years ago and paid two thousand less for a car in great condition with every possible option than the dealer was asking for a bare bones Forester with 10,000 more miles, rusty riims, and a shift cable problem that made shifting so difficult you almost needed two hands to move the shift lever!

  • Great article and response. My daughter just graduated from college and the 2003 Toyota Matrix with over 600k miles (not really sure since we had to replace two odometers that break at 299,999) is ready to be put to its much-earned rest. I have always bought from a dealer and now will be looking at private sales. Where are reliable sources for used car listings? Mentioned were Facebook and Craigslist, others? Thanks ~ Jack

    • Wow! 600K miles is quite impressive! We have a Prius that has 200K miles that I was quite proud of. Facebook and Craigslist were two of the big ones that I came across but I also found several websites that may be worth checking out, and, although I do see that dealerships can list cars there too.

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