Buying a Used Car from a Private Seller

You’re a family on-a-budget in need of a dependable, affordable used vehicle. Your first inclination is to head straight for the car lot, but the dealer mark-ups and gruff sales tactics has left you seeking another alternative. Purchasing a used car from a private seller can save you anywhere from 15-20% over the dealership’s price, but the transaction isn’t always on the up-and-up. Unfortunately, there are still unscrupulous individuals preying on inexperienced and uneducated car buyers. Before making any final commitments, learn some used car buying tips as well as what to do if the vehicle needs a few minor repairs.

Determine Your Needs and Budget

You have your heart set on a zippy little import sports car, but unfortunately your family of five won’t quite squeeze into the two-seater. Before hitting the internet and local newspapers, realistically determine your needs and budget. For instance, consider purchasing a minivan or full-size SUV if your family is quickly outgrowing the sedan. Once you have a clear picture of your practical needs, it’s time to set the budget. Financing can be an issue if you’re purchasing from a private seller, so the money will generally come exclusively from your bank account. After saving and establishing a realistic budget, consider the potential bump in insurance rates. Speak to your agent or shop around for a quote before purchasing a vehicle you cannot possibly afford to insure.

Contacting Sellers over the Phone

With your firm budget and “must-have” list in hand, it’s now time to start scouring the internet, local newspapers and asking your co-workers if they know anyone selling a used vehicle. Narrow the field to a top five potential contenders and begin contacting the owners. Instead of wasting your time on countless test drives, ask the seller these questions to determine if the vehicle is worth checking out:

  • Are You the First Owner? This is an important question because it’s almost impossible for multiple owners to keep accurate service records.
  • Why is the Car for Sale? If the owner is selling the car for quick cash or won’t quite give you a good explanation, consider moving on.
  • What is the Car’s Accident History? It’s a wise idea to purchase a vehicle history report, but many times an honest individual will let you know if the vehicle suffered major damage in the past.
  • Can I See the Maintenance Records? It’s a good sign if the vehicle’s owner has kept meticulous maintenance records.
  • Did You Smoke In the Vehicle? If you have a respiratory issue, consider asking if anyone smoked in the car.

The All-Important Test Drive

You’ve found a promising lead, and now it’s time to check out the vehicle and take a test drive. If possible, take a licensed mechanic or at least someone knowledgeable about cars with you. Look over every square inch of the vehicle and don’t be embarrassed to ask a multitude of questions. If the vehicle is in great shape, research the asking price against the Kelly Blue Book value. If you decide to go ahead, get everything in writing and have the title transfer notarized. For added protection, always pay with a cashier’s or personal check. Cash is often the preferred payment of choice by sellers, but it’s not a risk worth taking.

Taking Care of Repairs

Unfortunately, privately purchased used cars don’t come with a warranty, meaning the cost of maintenance and repairs will come from your pocket. When it comes to the simple repairs, don’t hesitate to purchase discount auto parts online like Partsgeek.com to save some much needed money. As the repairs become more complicated, take your vehicle to a licensed mechanic. The upkeep on used vehicles is greater, but it’s possible to alleviate your repair bill headaches with the help of discount auto parts online retailers.

While examining your potential future vehicle, it’s important to use all your senses. During the test drive, listen for any peculiar dings, squeals or other unhealthy noises. If you smell a strange odor akin to maple syrup, it could be a sign the vehicle is leaking anti-freeze. Feel the body panels for gaps or other signs of extensive body repairs.

About the Author: Craig Peterson is a guest blogger and used car aficionado. When he’s not scouring the internet for a great deal, Craig can be found working on his 1974 Corvette.

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