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Buying a Used Car From a Private Seller

Car for Sale sign

Many people are nervous about buying a used car from a private seller because, frankly, you don't likely know anything about the car or the person selling it to you. There are no guarantees as there can be with dealerships, but you can often get a much better deal for the vehicle to go with this higher risk.

Whether you're looking at a car you found in the newspaper or saw on the street, the same questions need answering. Start with our guide, What To Look For When Buying a Used Car to get an idea of what to look for in the advertising, the engine compartment, and the odometer. These are the most likely areas you'll find issues in that will tell you the car is not as good as it seems.

You should also know which questions to ask when you approach any used car seller.

Specific Information To Ask Private Sellers

When buying from a private seller, though, specific questions should be asked. You'll want to know why they are selling the car (most will be honest). The answer to this question gives you an idea not only of why the car is no longer in their interest, but also tells you how flexible they may be on the price.

You should also ask whether it's OK for you to have it checked by an independent mechanic and if you can drive it there yourself to test drive it. Most sellers should have no problems with this, though many will likely want to accompany you.

Finally, to get the best price, phrase your offer as a question that directly tells the seller you aren't willing to pay the window price they're asking for.

What are you willing to sell this for?

This is non-confrontational and doesn't insult them with an offer that's too low. Often, they'll respond with their lowest acceptable offer hoping to just sell the car. If they gave reasons that show they aren't in a hurry to sell the car, however, their price may not be much lower than asking - or they may stand firm.

In either case, know what your budget will allow and have a good idea what you're willing to pay for the car you're looking at. Often, the asking price is good enough anyway.

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