7 Must Know Steps When Buying a Used Car from Private Seller

Posted Jul 24, 2020 | Chris Petrie

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Before you buy a used car from a privater party or seller, you’re going to want to make sure you know what to do and how to do it.

More people than ever are looking to buy used cars versus new cars due to the extremely high cost of new cars today. Not only are car prices skyrocketing, but more people understand the opportunty cost. with the rapid depreciation of a new car.

How to Buy a Car From a Private Seller

This may be your first time purchasing a used car from a private seller and you may be wondering how to avoid a scam and get teh best deal.

You also want to ensure you aren’t paying too much for a vehicle and that you’re asking the right questions before you buy. And with the non-stop scams that are appearing everywhere, it’s especially important to make sure you aren’t getting scammed on a car that you’ve financed instead of paying cash for.

To help make sure you don’t get scammed when you buy your next car, here are 7 things you must know before buying your used car.

Step 1. Ask Lots of Questions

If you are buying the car privately instead of at a dealership, it might be a good idea to ask the owner why they are selling it. You should also find out if the seller originally purchased it brand new, or if it was used when they bought it.

If the seller gives you vague answers, you can always walk away and look for something else. Even if you do shop at car dealerships for your next used car, you need to find out about previous owners, service records, and any damages the car has had in the past.

Step 2. What is the Condition of the Car?

The first thing to look at when buying a used car is the age of the vehicle and how many miles are on it. Also, check to see if the seller has any records from the service that has been done on it.

If you are not familiar with car maintenance and what to look for when it comes to damage and abuse, take someone with you who is. Better yet, you can also hire a mechanic to come with you to look at the vehicle.

Hiring a mechanic may cost you a few dollars, but it’ll be worth it if you can avoid major problems before you buy the car. You should also try to find out if there have been any recall notices and whether or not they were addressed.

Step 3. How is the Car Equipped?

Depending on your own needs in a vehicle, this could be a deal breaker. Check the Kelley Blue Book price against the amount the owner is asking, keeping in mind the options on the car. This will help you determine if they are asking a fair price. If the price seems like it’s too good to be true, it probably is, or the car has some hidden damages you may not have noticed.

“Features” aren’t everything when it comes to a car, especially if you are working hard to get out of debt. Before you shop for a “fully loaded” car, ask yourself if you really need all of those features, or if a more basic car will do so you can use your money elsewhere instead. But if there are features you truly need, like enough space for your family, don’t settle for a car that won’t meet your needs. If you do, you’ll likely end up car shopping again in a just a few months or a year down the road to find a car that will better suit your needs.

Step 4. CARFAX It

If you live in the United States or Canada, you are going to want to CARFAX it. Before you purchase a used car or truck, you want to be 100% sure you know exactly what you are buying. A CARFAX uses the vehicle identification number (VIN) to show you any accident history, claims, actual odometer readings, existence of a branded title such as a salvage or junk title, or even past registration as a fleet vehicle. The bottom line is you should always take the extra few minutes a run a CARFAX.

Step 5. Thoroughly Test Drive it

Take your time to thoroughly check out the vehicle and don’t let the seller pressure you by saying others are interested as well. Don’t just take it around the block, get it out on the highway as well. Some cars handle fine in town, but develop a shimmy or shake on the highway at high speeds. This could be a sign of something simple, such as tires being out of alignment, but it could also be caused by a bigger problem, like a bent axle. If you notice a shake when you are test driving a car, you definitely need to get it checked out by a trusted mechanic before you buy it.

Step 6. Negotiate

Don’t rush your decision to buy the car. The longer you shop around, the better the deal you will find. If you aren’t comfortable negotiating, take someone with you who will negotiate on your behalf. There’s no shame in asking for the best possible price, whether you are working with a private seller or a dealership.

Hopefully you won’t be in a position where you are in a hurry to buy a car, when this happens you lose the power of negotiation and the ability to walk away if the seller won’t work with you on price.

Top Negotiating Tip with the Power of Cash

Studies have shown that when a human being sees large amounts of cash in front of them, their pupils dilate, their heart rate increases, and their blood pressure is elevated. These signs are all known as a sympathetic nervous response. This response is the basis for my negotiating skills when it comes to making large purchases.

Use the power of cash to create this response whenever negotiating to make a large purchase. Here is how it works for a $10,000 vehicle purchase:

  1. First withdraw the pre-determined maximum amount of money I am willing to spend and I ask for the cash in $20s.
  2. Next, place $8,000 cash inside a briefcase with all the bills facing the same way.
  3. Keep the other $2,000 in a roll inside your pocket.

When you are ready to negotiate your offer, pop the latches on the briefcase simultaneously and offer the seller $8,000 on the spot. Once they see the cash and they have the sympathetic nervous response mentioned above, 9 times out of 10 you can expect to hear “DEAL!”.

However, if there needs to be a little wiggle room, you do have the extra $2,000 in your pocket.

Step 7. Talk to Your Banker Before You Begin

The time to check into financing is before you begin car shopping, not after you have one picked out. This way you’ll know how much you can spend and how much of a payment you can handle if you don’t have all the cash saved up already.

If you’re taking these steps, you are on the right track. You want your vehicle to last several years, so this decision should not be made in haste. Do your homework and you will have a better outcome

Final Takeaway

Buying a car is often stressful, but it doesn’t have to be. When you take things step-by-step and create a plan before you are ready to buy, you’re going to save yourself a ton of stress and money.

Be patient, look for a deal you are most comfortable with and always negotiate. Good luck on your next car!

Chris Peach Author 150x150

Chris Petrie

Chris (Peach) Petrie is a personal finance expert, money coach, speaker and podcaster.

In 2011, Chris and his family were exhausted from living paycheck-to-paycheck and facing a mountain of debt. They started going against the society standards of misbehaving with money and made the decision to take back control of their lives and money. Within seven months they paid off $52,000, started saving like crazy and began building real wealth.

The word spread fast and Chris started showing friends how to create a budget over dinner. Soon after he started showing their friends how to do the same and eventually Chris started teaching personal finance classes around the community. As the need for the classes grew, Chris launched Money Peach in 2015.

Money Peach was created to help everyday people remove the stress and fear of money by showing them how to save more, make more, and keep more of their money.

Chris Peach has been featured in places like Business Insider, The Huffington Post, Elite Daily, and CheddarTV.

When Chris isn’t at “work” he can be found at the Crossfit gym or riding on the fire truck — Chris is also a full-time firefighter in Phoenix, Arizona.


  • I’m sure there are a good few government treasury officials that could learn a thing or two from these blogs! How many countries are paying back loans and for how long?

    • Geoff, I think the day the treasury officials, officially get it will be the day Hell freezes over. 🙂

  • I love the tip to ask lots of questions. When you’re buying a used car, you want to know as much as possible so you know what you’re getting yourself into. the condition of the car is also important, and you definitely want to thoroughly test drive it. Thanks for the great advice!

  • I agree that you should always take your time to check out a car before buying it. If you are being pressured into getting the car by the seller, then you probably don’t want that car. Also, when looking at the price of the car remember that you will need to pay for the registration and maybe a title transfer for your car after you buy it.

  • I guess I never thought about asking the seller more questions, I’ve always just trusted what they say. I’ll have to take my husband with me next time I look at a car. We’ve been looking for a new car for the past few weeks, I just hope that I can find one soon.

  • I am going to be starting classes soon and will need to buy a good commuter car in order to get to and from campus. I liked that you suggested to not only take a car around the neighborhood but to also drive it on the freeway. I will be doing most of my commuting on the freeway, so it is important that the car works well at higher speeds.

  • I agree with the tip about taking it for a test drive in town and on the highway. My sister’s car did fine both around the block and on the highway and it gave her a peace of mind about the vehicle. I will be sharing these buying car tips with my husband for the next time we get an automobile.

  • Thanks for pointing out that it’s a good idea to ask someone to come with you to help you negotiate if you don’t feel that comfortable doing it yourself. I want to get a new car because my old one is very old. I was thinking that a Chevy would be a nice type to get, but I’m still trying to figure out what model I’d like. I think that I’ll bring someone with me once I’ve found somewhere to get a used car from.

  • My sister is buying her first car, and I suggest she consider choosing a used car. Your article had some great tips for buying a used car, and I really liked how you mentioned to thoroughly test drive the car, and even take it on the freeway. Some cars do fine in town but shimmy on the freeway, so I’ll be sure to share this advice with my sister to help her choose the right used car.

  • Good ideas. I have gotten really excellent tips for your article. Having in mind exactly what you want before starting your search will help you stay focused and keep you from making the wrong decision. Thanks so much for sharing!

  • Unquestionably, an intermediary is absolutely a great medium of conveyance. But I don’t think all people can manage to snap-up a new roadster to fulfill their transportation requirements. That’s why many people put their finger on the second-hand coupe to be a perfect treasure, presenting matchless transportation at a cost that can be afforded without breaking the bank. But the fact is, shopping a cast-off speedster is a bit riskier than buying a brand new car. So, when you are going to buy a second-hand car, make sure you are comprising your speed machine’s want lists, setting a realistic budget, doing the research, and tracking down the history report of the preferred model. Then you need to take a test drive, check the documents, and perform a thorough inspection by hiring a mechanic in order to make the vehicle of your dreams a cost-effective reality.

  • This article is worth a read. Buying a used vehicle without proper inspection could cost a lot of money. Used vehicles are problematic in nature and a pre-purchase inspection should be conducted prior to buy such a vehicle. By doing such an inspection, we could identify abnormalities associated with the vehicle have a significant influence on the performance of the vehicle. However, such kind of inspection should be carried out by experienced professionals.

  • These are some pretty good tips, especially the one about making sure that you test drive the car. After all, the test drive will give you an opportunity to look for any problems that the car might have. Specifically, it might help to pay attention to the sound of the car’s engine, the way it brakes, the lights, and stuff like that.

    • Yes, those are all good points and key things to look for when test driving a car. The last thing you want to do is get stuck with a lemon!

  • I am planning on getting a used car next spring so thanks for sharing this. I like your point about negotiating for the best price possible. I’ll definitely try this with each seller so I can get the best deal possible.


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