Private Car Sales: 10 Tips To Avoid Getting Ripped Off

Once you have decided to purchase a used car, it may seem daunting to find a quality vehicle, avoid potential scams, and ensure mechanical longevity while getting the best deal possible.

Whether you are buying a Tesla or a Toyota, receiving a professional vehicle appraisal, reading seller reviews, or taking used cars for sale on test drives, you’ll need to make an informed decision when purchasing a used car from a private seller.

10 Tips for a Smooth Car Sale

The following ten private car sales tips will help you reduce potential risk, increase reliability and provide a smooth and simplified purchasing experience.

  • Look Up the Previous Sales Records
  • Do a Free VIN Lookup
  • Read Seller Reviews
  • Get a Professional Vehicle Appraisal
  • Have the Seller Sign a Contract
  • Ask for a Test Drive
  • Buy With Cash or Check
  • Bring a Friend
  • Get the Vehicle Professionally Inspected
  • Compare Prices Online

1. Look Up the Previous Sales Records

  • When evaluating if a used car is the right match for you, it is recommended that you check the motor vehicle’s history report prior to viewing it in person.
  • Sites such as AutoCheck, Carfax, and the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) website provide prospective buyers with extensive background information on used and new cars.
  • The provided vehicle history will detail any existing records of accidents, damages, previous sales, thefts, trade-ins, and more.

2. Do a Free VIN Lookup

  • Each car is associated with its own unique Vehicle Identification Number or VIN.
  • Searching for a vehicle’s VIN will allow you to trace previous insurance claims filed after accidents have occurred, discover titles it may have held in the past, and identify which states the car has been registered in previously.
  • Prospective private buyers can receive a free VIN lookup from sites such as Vehicle History and the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB).

3. Read Seller Reviews

  • Reading seller reviews allows you to minimize the risk of potential scams, receive better insight on previous sales, and help you gain a better perspective on whether or not a seller has had successful past transactions.
  • Sites like eBay Motors and Craigslist provide ratings and reviews to help prospective buyers find trustworthy and legitimate sellers.

4. Get a Professional Vehicle Appraisal

  • A certified auto appraisal report assesses a vehicle’s make, model, maintenance, age, and mileage to determine its current price and value.
  • Appraisals also take into consideration the location the used car is being sold in, the state of the present market, and how many similar models are currently in existence.
  • Car dealerships, vehicle lenders, and independent professional appraisers can receive appraisals.

5. Have the Seller Sign a Contract

When purchasing a used car through a private sale, it is necessary for both the seller and buyer to sign an official contract. In this contract, you will agree to pay for the price of the vehicle in separate payments, with added interest over time.

Five components included in the issued contract are detailed below:

  • Annual percentage rate (APR): The APR will be a percentage rate representing the yearly interest that you will pay to finance the vehicle.
  • Finance charge: This section of the contract will include the dollar amount you will be charged to finance your vehicle with your APR throughout the contract.
  • Total payment: The total payment made throughout the contract will be detailed, which can be found by multiplying the total number of installments by the amount paid per installment.
  • Amount financed: The portion of the contract will include the costs you still need to pay. This sum can include the price of the vehicle, annual taxes, add-ons, and other additional fees.
  • Total sale price: The total sales price of your newly-purchased car is the full price you will have paid, including every installment paid throughout your contract.

6. Ask for a Test Drive

  • Testing a vehicle you are interested in is an important step in narrowing down the car you want to purchase.
  • It is necessary to assess the used car’s interior and exterior features.

7. Buy With Cash or Check

  • Buyers can pay for a used car via cash, personal check, cashier’s check, or through a mobile payment service such as Zelle or Venmo.
  • Purchasing a used car with cash can help you stick to your budget and allow you to save on monthly interest payments.
  • Cashier’s checks are a secure payment method, particularly when making large purchases because they are usually processed faster and are less likely to bounce than personal checks.

8. Bring a Friend

  • Bringing a friend or family member with you when test driving, viewing, or inspecting a vehicle from a private party can help you get an outside perspective on the quality of the vehicle.
  • Having someone you trust by your side will also provide an extra set of ears and eyes to evaluate the car’s features and functions.

9. Get the Vehicle Professionally Inspected

  • Receiving an independent inspection is necessary for buying a used car and will help you ensure that you are getting a safe vehicle that will not require emergency repair work shortly.
  • Professional inspections are typically performed by licensed mechanics who will evaluate the vehicle for any potential maintenance issues or damages.

10. Compare Prices Online

  • Comparing the prices of used cars for sale online with similar makes and models can help you determine better if you are getting a great price for your purchase.
  • Sites such as Edmunds and TrueCar offer used car value calculators that compare prices, features, warranties, ownership costs, space, fuel economy, and engines for cars, hatchbacks, minivans, trucks, and crossover SUVs.
  • Additional car add-ons that add to its value may include rear-wheel drive, a sunroof, multi-row seating, CarPlay, premium wheels, leather seats, premium audio, backup cameras, adaptive cruise control, and blind-spot monitors.

What To Do Next

Once you have purchased a used car from a private seller, the next steps are to insure your vehicle, transfer the registration and title at your local DMV and install your new license plate. It is also recommended that you store your new car’s bill of sale, title, and paperwork safely and keep your car’s proof of insurance and registration in the glovebox.

Suppose you are purchasing a used car from another state, transporting your vehicle to a new location, or taking a vacation. In that case, you may reduce your load with an auto transport service such as Carvaygo.

Our car-hauling services make transporting your vehicle as easy as receiving a quote and booking a risk-free scheduled pick up — we will take care of the rest.

From our dedicated customer service representatives to our extensive user interface network, our mission is to make it easy and uncomplicated to get your vehicle transported and delivered wherever you may be going next.

5 Private Car Sales Tips to Ensure You Don’t Get Ripped Off | Mercury Auto Transport
3 Ways to Get a Free VIN Check Before Buying a Used Car |
Tips for Buying a Used Car | The New York Times
A Guide to Car Appraisal | Credit Karma
Car Sales Contract: What You Need to Know | Car and Driver
How to Test Drive a Used Car | U.S. News
Why You Should Always Get Your New Used Car Inspected | Instamotor
What To Do After Buying A Used Car | Lendingtree

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