Who wants to buy a car from a fast-talking man in a suit when you can buy the car down the street with a “For Sale” sign in the window?
Used car dealerships are notorious for tough negotiations, so you might think you’ve hit the jackpot when you find a used car for a reasonable price on Craigslist or know someone who knows someone trying to sell their vehicle.
But unlike used car dealerships, private sellers don’t have to adhere to trading laws or provide appropriate certification for their used vehicles. It’s better to err on the side of caution when it comes to car sales with private sellers and educate yourself about car mechanics to avoid getting scammed.
Once you get your car, don’t forget to find the cheapest auto insurance you can get! Visit Insurify to find and compare up to 10+ auto insurance quotes for your profile.
Meeting the private seller face to face
Ask for the maintenance history of the vehicle. The seller may have kept records of this; if not, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will be able to check for you. The DMV and websites like CarFax.com can reveal any registered car’s vehicle history report, including any major repairs.
Perform a pre-purchase inspection of the vehicle with the engine on and off. Look out for red flags:
Check the body for physical, water, and rust damage
Check the tires for defects (new tires should be a red flag because they’re an odd expense. They could be covering up damage to the alignment, shock, or rods.)
Check the odometer settings . Some sellers may try to mask issues by changing odometer settings, so you should ask for an odometer disclosure statement.
Check the wear and tear on upholstery
Check the wear and tear on gas and brake pedals (be aware of new pedal rubbers that may try to cover previous damage)
Check the car battery for corrosion
Check the air filter for oil
Check the engine oil and coolant for grit and particles
Check if the heat and air conditioning are working
3. If the seller allows you, take the car for a test drive both on the highway and in residential areas. Drive with the stereo off so that you can listen for any mechanical problems. Pay attention to the check engine light and how easily you can steer and brake.
Purchasing the car
Have all the necessary paperwork. The seller should have the vehicle title and registration title on hand. If they don’t, this is a major red flag. Don’t be fooled by stories about it being lost. The title and registration should be in their name. If not, they might be selling the vehicle illegally or trying to hide a salvage title, which means the car was certified as “totaled” by an insurance company. Likewise, you as the buyer should also have your paperwork in order which includes pay sales tax, title, and registration. Once you make the deal, make sure the seller signs over a bill of sale that verifies the car now belongs to you. You can obtain all of these papers from the DMV.
Hire a mechanic to do a full inspection. If you’re planning to buy a car sight unseen, this might be your best bet to make sure you don’t get scammed. If a seller tells you they already took the vehicle for a checkup, don’t just take their word for it. Hiring your own mechanic ensures that the inspection is done correctly by an independent third party. This will also help catch any problems you missed in your test drive. If the seller is uncomfortable with the test, they may be trying to hide significant issues the car has.
Negotiate. Just like you would at a used car dealership, you can always haggle for a lower price. In fact, you’ll probably be able to get away with more at a private sale. Most private sellers are only looking to get rid of a vehicle that has a poor trade-in value; in this case, they’re more willing to take less than the car’s market value. Pressure them with the idea that you only have a certain amount of cash on you. And if you don’t feel comfortable carrying a large amount of cash, bring a money order or cashier’s check.
Sign the title. Once you’ve struck a deal, make sure both you and the seller sign the title on the spot. This ensures your ownership until you can get the vehicle registered in your name.
Once the vehicle is signed over to you, make sure you update your auto insurance policy, as you could face severe penalties. Driving without insurance is illegal, and you could end up as a “high-risk driver,” leading to higher insurance premiums in the future.
Your research isn’t over when the title is in your name! You can find the best car insurance for your driving and financial needs on quote comparison websites like Insurify, which allows you to customize, build, compare, and buy your policy online.
Insurify data scientists analyzed more than 90 million quotes served to car insurance applicants in Insurify’s proprietary database to calculate the premium averages displayed on this page. These premiums are real quotes that come directly from Insurify’s 50+ partner insurance companies in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. Quote averages represent the median price for a quote across the given coverage level, driver subset, and geographic area.
Unless otherwise specified, quoted rates reflect the average cost for drivers between 20 and 70 years old with a clean driving record and average or better credit (a credit score of 600 or higher).
Liability-only premium averages correspond to policies with the following coverage limits:
- Bodily injury limits between state-minimum rates and $50,000 per person, $100,000 per accident
- Property damage limits between $10,000 and $50,000
- No additional coverage
Full-coverage premium averages correspond to the same bodily injury and property damage limits in addition to:
- Comprehensive coverage with a $1,000 deductible
- Collision coverage with a $1,000 deductible
Quotes for Allstate, Farmers, GEICO, State Farm, and USAA are estimates based on Quadrant Information Services’ database of auto insurance rates.