handing car keys

7 Tips for Buying a Used Car From a Private Seller


In the quest for a new set of wheels, buying a used car from a private seller can be an enticing option. It offers potential savings, a more personal experience, and the opportunity to uncover a hidden gem.

However, there are potential pitfalls and challenges. To successfully navigate the process of buying a car from a private seller and emerge with a reliable and satisfactory purchase, you should arm yourself with knowledge, savvy negotiation skills, and a keen eye for detail. 

In this guide about how to buy a used car from a private seller, we’ll share some essential tips and tricks that will empower you to make informed decisions and confidently secure the vehicle of your dreams.

The Benefits of Buying a Used Car From a Private Seller

  • Possible savings: Compared with buying a used car from a dealership, buying from a private seller may be less expensive. 
  • Time: Time is on your side when dealing with private sellers as they may want to close the deal quickly, affording you a good deal. 
  • Common ground: Buying from a private seller levels the playing field and makes negotiating easier. 
  • Service history: A private seller might have the entire service history available and be more likely to discuss the car’s quirks.
  • Priced as-is: Unlike a dealership, there will be no additional fees to add on. 

    White jeep in showroom

How to Buy a Car From a Private Seller - SGT’s Top Tips

Now you know the benefits of buying a used car from a private seller, here are our top tips. 

Where is the Best Place to Buy a Car From a Private Seller

When buying from a private seller, you need to know where to look for a car. You can’t just rock up at a lot and choose from the hundreds of cars you might find. 

There are plenty of resources you can use to help you with your search. You can check classified ads in your neighborhood or browse local private sale inventories on websites like Craigslist or Autotrader. 

But, you don’t have to limit yourself to looking in your local area when you’ve got SGT Auto Transport in your corner. Wherever you find your dream car, we can ship it across country to your doorstep. 

Get a free, no-hassle quote on car shipping

When you find a used car you’re interested in, compare the seller’s asking price to Kelley Blue Book or Edmunds private-party value.  

What Questions to Ask When Buying a Car From a Private Seller?

There are some questions you should ask before you travel to see a car, as they can help rule out vehicles with possible costly maintenance, or a questionable history. 

  1. Why are you selling the car? It seems obvious but is rarely asked. In some cases, you may learn something applicable to you.
  2. How long have you had the car? It’s good to know a car’s history. You should be concerned if the seller recently acquired the car and is already trying to sell it. 
  3. Where did you get the car? If they bought it from another private party, it could open up more questions.
  4. Is a vehicle history report available? Don’t consider buying a used car without a vehicle history report. Most savvy sellers will provide their own.
  5. Has the car been wrecked or had repairs? Ask for photos showing the wreck and for receipts from when and where the repairs were performed.
  6. What maintenance have you done? Ask about basic maintenance like oil changes, tire rotation, and bigger, costlier services that car owners are more likely to neglect. 
  7. Has anything major been replaced? Look for typical wear items like tires, brakes, shocks, and even wiper blades. 
  8. Does everything work? It’s worth asking if everything is working before you spend time and effort testing out the car.
  9. Are service records included? A folder of regular service receipts suggests a careful owner.  

Take a Test Drive

Getting behind the wheel gives you a chane to check for signs of obvious damage and get a feel for the car. During the test drive, pay close attention to the car’s steering, suspension, and brakes. 

BMW car interior

Also, listen for odd noises and make sure features like the heat, air conditioning, lights, windows, locks, turn signals, and other things work. If anything doesn’t feel right, get it checked out by a mechanic. 

If you’re buying a car from an online site and it’s located across the other side of the country, a test drive might not be an option. A virtual test drive or video walkaround might be possible. You’ll be able to explore the vehicle remotely, even if you can’t physically test-drive it before purchasing. 

Get the Car Inspected

When buying a car from a private seller, its condition might be a bit of a wild card. You won’t know how well it’s been maintained or be certain of the condition of the parts that aren’t visible without an inspection. It will alert you to any potential mechanical issues and whether the car has been involved in an accident that wasn’t reported. 

A pre-purchase inspection typically costs around $100 to $200. This might sound expensive, but it’s worth getting a clear idea of the car’s condition before you buy it. An important tip is to be sure you know and trust the mechanic who conducts the inspection. 

Shop Around For Financing

If you haven’t got enough cash to buy the car outright, you’ll need financing to cover the cost. One option is a private-party auto loan offered by some banks and credit unions. It’s a product designed for consumers buying a car from a private seller rather than a dealer. 

Keep in mind that not all banks and credit unions offer this type of loan. Rates can also vary from lender to lender, so it pays to take your time and shop around for the best deal. 

Negotiate the Sale and Close the Deal

Once you’ve done all your homework, you’ll have a better idea of whether the seller’s asking price is fair. If you think it isn’t, time to put your negotiating skills to the test. 

hand with car keys

Once a price has been agreed on, the seller will sign the vehicle title over to you at the time of the sale. If the seller owes money on the car, you may need to make a check out to the lender to get the car’s title. You’ll have to take the title to your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles to register it in your name. 

Watch Out For Scams

Career criminals are known to fabricate scams when it comes to selling used cars. Some of these include:

  • Title scams: There are three main types of title scams, title washing, VIN fraud, and title hopping. 
  • Gift card scams: In this scam, a seller asks you for gift cards as payment instead of regular methods like cash or transfer. Gift cards are virtually untraceable. 
  • Wire transfer scam: The scammer asks you to transfer money via wire transfer as a condition of the car’s release. However, the seller disappears, and you’re out of pocket.
  • Urgent or must-sell-now scam: Once a deposit is paid, the seller disappears with the car.
  • Curbstoning: The car is dressed up to hide any flaws and they disappear without revealing the major defects. 

Final Thoughts

As you embark on your journey to buy a used car from a private seller, remember that patience, diligence, and thoroughness are your greatest allies. By following the tips outlined in this guide, you can navigate the process with confidence and increase your chances of finding a quality vehicle that meets your needs and budget. 

Whether it's meticulously inspecting the car, conducting thorough research, or negotiating effectively, each step plays a crucial role in ensuring a successful transaction. 

So, go forth armed with knowledge, trust your instincts, and may your search for the perfect used car lead you to many miles of happy driving ahead.


Where is the best place to buy a car from a private seller?

The best places to buy a car from a private seller are:

  • Craigslist
  • eBay
  • Cars.com
  • Online sales sites like eBay Motors, CarGurus, and Autotrader

How do I ask for a lower price from a car private seller?

Start by making the right opening offer. It will set the tone for the rest of the negotiation. Be careful because you don’t want to offend them with a low-ball offer. A good opener is to ask them “What’s your best price?” This is an invitation for them to negotiate against themselves and lower the price a little. If they drop the price a bit, you can come back with an even lower offer. 

What percentage can you negotiate off a used car private seller?

Typically, buyers aim to negotiate around 5% to 20% off the asking price, although you might be able to achieve higher discounts in certain circumstances. Ultimately, the negotiation process involves finding a mutually agreeable price that satisfies both the buyer and the seller. 

What are the disadvantages of buying a used car from a private seller?

  • The risk of falling victim to a scam
  • Potential mechanical problems
  • A professional vehicle inspection is crucial
  • Generally no warranties
  • Private sellers aren’t regulated
  • Transferring the title and car registration is your responsibility
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