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Buying a Used Car From a Private Party

Car For Sale

Buying a used car out of the newspaper or from a private seller after seeing the car on the street can be tricky and doesn't come with some of the guarantees that you might get from a dealership. On the other hand, the price is usually better and it's often much easier to haggle with a private seller, especially one who just wants to unload their old car.

When calling to talk to the seller, ask the following questions and then go online to check the vehicle's Blue Book value so you know what you're getting into before you go and look:

  • How many miles are on the vehicle's odometer?
  • What condition would you say it's in (Excellent, Good, Fair, Not So Good)
  • Does it have options beyond the base package it came with (stereo, better wheels, new tires, etc.)?
  • The answers to those questions, plus the year, make and model of the car will allow you to get a fair market value of its worth. Now go and look at the car if the asking price is reasonable.

    Once there, if the person described it as in "excellent" condition and it's clearly not, tell them you're not interested because they lied to you and walk away. You shouldn't deal with a dishonest seller because there will be other, hidden things they aren't telling you that will haunt you later.

    If the description matched, though, then start to talk about the car. Ask the following questions (in this order):

    1. Why are you selling the car?
    2. Can I test drive it?
    3. Do you mind if I take it to a mechanic to have it checked?

    The first question will give you a chance to find out the story behind the vehicle and, more importantly, give you a gauge of how much the seller may be willing to knock off the price. If their answer implies that they're in a hurry, then you can try for a lowball price. If it doesn't, then they may not be willing to haggle at all. How they answer this question and what their body language says will tell you everything you need to know about the selling price.

    The second question shows them that you're interested and gives you a chance to feel them out. Most likely they'll want to ride along, which is fine. Take it two or three miles at least and get a feel for how it seems to be mechanically in your hands.

    The third question is often a deal breaker. If they aren't willing to let you have the car for a mechanic's visit, then the car isn't worth getting. They're either hiding something or they aren't really serious about finding a buyer. In either case, walk away from the deal.

    Once all of that is done and you decide to start negotiating price, start out with a phrase like "What are you willing to sell this for?" This tells them that you aren't going to pay their asking price. If they stand firm, knock off 5 or 10% as a first offer - if that's what you're willing to pay. If their price is fair and you do want the car, you may have to break down and pay it. Most of the time, though, sellers are willing to haggle at least a little.

    Whatever you do, have a qualified mechanic look at the car before any money changes hands!

    Buying a used car from a private seller is often a great way to save money and get a good vehicle in the bargain. If you're comfortable with it, it's well worth the effort.

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