What to Check When Buying a Used Car from a Private Seller?

Investing in a car is a smart decision. Modern cars are designed to last long; thus, buying a second-hand car is a great move when the seller has other plans. It is not an easy decision. Someone is parting with their beloved vehicle for some reason while you are investing a large chunk of your savings in a car that has no guarantee.

It is an intimidating decision, and you need guidance. Such decisions are not taken overnight. There are a lot of things to consider, a lot more questions to ask from the seller, and several questions that may be bugging your mind already.

what to check when buying a used car from a private seller
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But once you have read this guide, the air around you will clear, and you will learn what to check when buying a used car from a private seller, things to ask when buying a used car, and all the important tips to buying a used car from a private seller, etc.

Alongside this, this detailed guide will provide a complete overview of the pros and cons of buying a used car from a private seller, a checklist for buying a used car from a private seller, and more. So before you transfer the money to the seller’s account, here is what you must know. Have a look!

Advantages and Disadvantages of Buying a Used Car from a Private Seller

Is buying a used car from a private seller worth it? This is one of those questions that every buyer thinks about. Thus, it is imperative that you look into the advantages and disadvantages of buying a used car from a private seller.

Advantages of Buying a Used Car from a Private Seller:

There are no flashy showrooms or dealerships involved, but there are some advantages to buying a used car from a private seller directly instead of going to a dealership. So, let’s check out the pros of buying a used car privately:

More Affordable Price

When you buy a car directly from the owner, he or she has no commission to pay or no showroom to manage. So, they don’t charge you for covering costs of advertising, utilities, insurance, etc. Plus, there are no hidden fees in the name of dealer fees or documentation fees.

A private seller doesn’t have a target to meet, so they are often ready to lower the prices further. So, there are no middlemen, and you get the car at a reasonably good price.

To check if you are getting a good deal, check out the price of similar vehicles at a dealership and in your neighborhood. Today, there are several websites that share such data, so you are assured that you are not cheated.

Very Easy Negotiation

Dealerships want to make a profit on their sale, which is just an extra burden for you. They add maintenance cost, cleaning cost, their sales rep’s commission, and other fixed expenses. Thus, they charge a fixed price and are often difficult to negotiate with.

Private sellers have their car in their garage, which they can use while trying to impress you with it. Some people just want quick money; others have to pay their bills or get money and invest it in a new car.

One of the advantages of buying a used car from a private seller is that they are easy to negotiate with and often place a flexible price range in front of you.

There are No Dealer Fees

The price quoted by a dealership is often far less than what a private seller is asking. It can be tempting, but it is better to be cautious than being cheated.

Dealerships often ask for dealer fees when you are ready to sign on the dotted line. The dealer fees include delivery charges, advertisement fees, preparation fees, documentation fees, etc. Then there is financing and insurance, where the dealerships have tie-ups, and they often try to woo you.

This is not the case with private sellers. There is transparency about price and other costs. Saving $500 or $1000 on dealer fees is a significant saving.

You Can Close the Deal Quickly

Dealerships try to woo several buyers simultaneously with a car to get the most beneficial deal, which makes them a good profit. They are not deterred from their price and can wait for months to strike a good deal.

Private sellers are people who don’t sell or purchase daily. They try to sell their car quickly without waiting for long. They are motivated people who are parting with their beloved vehicle for a reason.

The sooner you get the vehicle and pay the money; the deal gets better for both parties. Thus, you can close the deal quickly and ride your new or used car sooner rather than later.

Disadvantages of Buying a Used Car from a Private Seller:

There are two sides to every coin. Yes, it is very beneficial to buy a used car from a private seller, but there are some disadvantages of buying a used car from a private seller. Have a look at them:

There is No Warranty

One of the biggest disadvantages of buying a used car from a private seller is that they don’t provide any warranties. But a dealership is bound to give you warranties as per the law. Plus, there are other certifications, and you have a person in sight whom you can hold responsible if anything is wrong.

Private sellers do not provide any warranties. They give you the keys, you give them money, and you are strangers again. Yes, if the car is new and has any existing warranties, that’s another case.

There is No Financing Options

When you go to a dealer, they offer you financing options as it is most practical that you don’t have ready cash, and you are more comfortable with installments.

Dealerships have tie-ups with financing companies, so you can avail any financing option that suits you. You can also apply for an auto loan if you have a good credit score.

With a private seller, you have to pay the cash upfront. The reason for a private seller to sell their beloved vehicle is money. Plus, you are complete strangers to each other so the idea of an installment scheme while buying a used car from a private seller is absurd.

You Won’t Get the Lemon Law Protections

It is sad, but you are not protected by any laws on buying a used car from a private seller. The Lemon Law protects the consumer from purchasing a defective vehicle or other consumer goods products.

It is advised that you check with your state laws about lemon law protection on used cars. Every state has its own legislation, but only a few states like California extend the lemon laws on used cars, but only if you buy it from a dealership.

Also, if you buy a used car with a defective mechanism, the dealership is bound to pay you. But the law does not cover your used car purchase if you have bought it from a private seller.

You will Have to Finalize Paperwork Alone

It is essential to complete the paperwork for buying a used car from a private seller. When you buy the vehicle from a dealership, they undertake this responsibility, and you only have to sign the papers while they take care of the legal jargon that transfers the title in your name.

But one of the great disadvantages of buying a used car from a private seller is that you will have to finalize the paperwork alone. Remember, the private seller is an individual like you.

Some people make the mistake that they buy the car from a private seller in cash and don’t bother about the paperwork. This is wrong! Even if it is messy, paperwork is essential. After all, how are you going to prove that the car is yours?

We hope these above mentioned facts helped you undestand all the pros and cons of buying a used car from a private seller. Now let’s move forword and find out what to check for when buying a used car from a private owner.

You might also like to know: How Often Should You Check Your Tire Pressure?

What to Check When Buying a Used Car from a Private Seller?

You are going to make a big investment. Thus, there are several things to check for when buying a used car. It happens that you want to buy a used car, maybe your first car, and you have no idea what to look for when buying a used car from a private seller, what are the applicable laws on your transaction, what are the questions to ask when buying a used car, etc.

Before you go to war, it’s essential to train. In the same way, before you enter the market in search of your dream car, you must know these 12 important things to look for when buying a used car from a private seller.

Here we have prepared an extensive checklist for buying a used car from a private party, and you must go over it. So, let’s begin and learn what to look out for when buying used car:

Take a Test Drive

The best thing to judge a car’s performance is to try it on your own. Whether it’s in the showroom or a friend’s new car, you want to try it to judge it. So, when you are buying a used car from a private seller, take their permission, and get the car on the road.

Try every gear, check the brakes, the steering, and its smoothness, check the handling, and see if it feels right to sit behind the wheel of the car.

It’s advised to keep the stereo off so you and listen to any annoying sound coming from the engine or any other part. Try to feel if it’s shaking, how it stops, if there is any weird smell coming from car engine when you are driving, etc.

Check all the electronic controls and also check how it performs when you drive it in traffic areas as well as on the highways.

A car is a machine, but you can feel it. It gives you the vibe whether it’s perfect for you or not. That’s why a test drive is on the list of things to know when buying a used car. But a very important point here is that you must take the written permission of the owner to drive it. You never know how it comes in handy.

Check the Car Mileage

It is a topic of debate whether a car’s mileage matters or not when you are buying a used one. You must know what is good mileage.

It is believed that if a vehicle has run 20,000 or even 30,000 kilometers every year, it is in good condition to purchase. Though, it is also essential that the car has undergone all the required maintenance, repair, and general care have been taken.

To learn the mileage, read the kilometers it has run on the road from the odometer and divide it by the age of the car.

When buying a used car, low mileage is better, as high mileage means more wear and tear on the car parts. A car with low mileage can run several thousand kilometers before requiring any mechanical help.

Inspect the Car’s Interior and Exterior

It is often said that don’t judge people from the way they keep their car. Checking the interior and exterior of a car should mandatorily be on the checklist for buying a used car from a private seller. It is careful scrutiny of the car which should be carried out thoroughly.

Check the car interior for:

  • When you take a test drive, check the upholstery if it is in good condition. There should not be cracking leather or loose stitches.
  • Check the insides if there is any dust or grime on the dashboard or panel.

The car exterior should be checked for:

  • Check the entire body for any scratches, dents, or rust.
  • Check if there has been any paint job on the car.
  • Check the roof, trunk, and hood.
  • Look for any signs of an accident, and if there has been any damage, it has been professionally taken care of.
  • Check if there is any waviness in the body of the car. Squat and check the sides, back, and front.
  • Lastly, look at the tires.

Don’t rush and check the car condition properly until you are completly satisfied that it is your dream car.

Perform an Engine Health Check

The engine is the heart of the car and the most important thing to look for when buying a used car directly from the owner.

Open the hood and get a closer look at the engine. Check the gaskets if there are any leak signs; inspect the coolant, oil, and transmission fluid. Also, check the coolant’s color. It should not be brown and grimy.

In addition to these engine health checks, open the transmission dipstick and check if the fluid color is pink or red. It should not be dark and brown.

Most important is the oil check. If you open the dipstick and find the foam residue on the filler cap, the car is not to be purchased.

There is a timing belt in the engine, which is very expensive to replace. Check its health. Buy the car only if the timing belt is healthy; else, you will have to incur a large expense right after buying the car.

If you were wondering what to check when buying a used car from a private seller, checking car engine health is one of the most crucial parts where you should pay more attention.

Spot Signs of Accident Repair, Rust or Paint Job

Your used car inspection checklist should include it. Once the rust touches your car, it starts losing its appeal. It’s an indication of the car’s poor maintenance. Generally, cars don’t need a paint job for no reason unless there has been an accident or a dent. Also, when you check the body of the car, check for any signs of the accident.

If a car has been in an accident, it is not the basis to break the deal. The problem is when the car has been repaired by a less-skilled professional. It is essential that the car gets the best treatment after an accident.

And if it has not been mended by an skilled auto body repair technician, the waviness of the body, the discriminating paint job, such as the brush of off-white paint on a milky white car, etc., make it lose its appeal.

If there are any such signs on the car, look for another car.

Get a Mechanic to Inspect the Car Properly

If you have no experience with cars, you can inspect them thoroughly, but the minute details will skip your eye. If you like the car, but want an expert opinion before making a final decision, ask the seller and take it to a mechanic.

After you have inspected all the things to check when buying a used car, and you are satisfied that the car is in good condition, then only take it to the mechanic. A pre-purchase inspection cost starts at $100. Plus, you must also read the list of inspections that the mechanic will carry out.

Please do not take it to any mechanic. Find a certified one. In many cases, the mechanics only check the car visually and give it thumbs up. When you face a mechanical issue later, they claim they are not to blame.

In the case of buying a car from a dealership, a dealer may offer an inspected and certified car. Still, ask for an independent inspection. If the dealer hesitates, leave the car and walk away.

Private sellers are sometimes reluctant to send off the car for inspection. In this case, you may need to find someone who can inspect the vehicle at the owner’s place in their presence. Also, do not forget to get the written inspection report from the mechanic.

Check Vehicle History by VIN

Among all the necessary things listed on this what to check when buying a used car from a private seller checklist, checking vehicle history must be your priority. The person who is selling the car to you must be the legal owner of the vehicle. The car must not be a stolen one or salvaged one.

But how to check vehicle history?

Well, there is a VIN, i.e., Vehicle Identification Number, which a private seller should give happily to you if they own the car. Verify it with the VIN written on the dashboard plaque on the driver’s side, inside the driver’s door jamb, spare tire, etc. It should match.

The car’s vehicle identification number can help you in getting details about a large number of things such as:

  • Ownership
  • Accidents
  • Title
  • Title Fraud
  • Lemon Status
  • Vehicle’s maintenance history
  • Airbag deployments
  • Any liens on the vehicle, etc.

Once you have the vehicle identification number (VIN), visit the NICB’s VINCheck Lookup Service page and you will get the complete history of the car and if it has been in any event, which may deter you from buying it.

A private seller wants to sell their car, and it is possible that they don’t disclose everything. In this scenario, using VIN is one of the essential things to ask when buying a used car.

Check the Registration Documents

The real owner of the car has all the required documents. You need to check the registration documents available with the private seller. The following are the documents you must check:

  • Registration Certificate: The registration certificate should bear the seller’s name. It also contains other information about the engine, chassis, the state in which the car is registered, etc.
  • Insurance: A car insurance is a prerequisite for car purchase, whether it’s a new purchase or a used car purchase. Check the vehicle’s insurance paper so that it can be transferred in your name.
  • Road Tax Receipt: The road tax is to be paid on time, else it gets accumulated. You don’t want to incur a considerable expense because the previous owner didn’t pay the road taxes on time. Ask them for the road tax receipt.
  • Invoice: If the private seller is the car’s original owner, they must have the car’s invoice.
  • Required Forms: The seller must submit Form 28, which is a No Objection Certificate. Then there are forms 29 and 30, which are essential to finalize the sale.

Registration documents get you the legal title of the car. So, it must be on the top of your used car inspection checklist.

Check the Car Maintenance History

When you are buying a used car from a private seller, it is essential that the car is in good shape. And if you are still wondering, “Is buying a used car from a private seller worth it?” check the maintenance record of the car. The first thing you can do is to ask the owner for the maintenance records.

The basic maintenance is the change of oil and regular check of batteries. Then there are spark plugs, which should be changed regularly. It can affect your fuel cost and the engine as well in the long run.

Tires are the ones that face the most difficult situations as they drive on different terrains. They must be checked regularly and should be properly aligned.

These records must be available with private sellers. If not, you must ask the garage where the seller routinely gets their maintenance done. Sometimes, you can also find the recent maintenance stickers pasted on the car.

Check the Car Insurance Validity

A car’s insurance saves you from unnecessary expenses if your car gets into an accident or any other unfavorable event. Of all the mandatory things to check for when buying a used car from a private party, this one is of utmost important. But you must be equipped with the law of the land.

First, you must know the state laws about insurance coverage. Some states require car owners to have minimum coverage at all times. In such a case, the owner must renew the car insurance immediately. In case the insurance expires, renewing it on time is the owner’s responsibility.

If not, the insurer can cancel the insurance plan. In such cases, the insured may have to pay the penalty to reinstate the insurance.

When you check the registration documents and other paperwork, check the insurance validity of the car, else you will have to pay the reinstatement cost and penalty. Buying a used car from a private seller requires you to be cautious; thus, do check every piece of the document very carefully.

Meet the Seller and Ask All the Questions

When you note down or make a list of all the required information about what to check when buying a used car from a private seller, meeting the seller in person and asking all the necessary questions regarding the vehicle must be among the prime concerns.

Buying a used car from a private seller is not everyone’s first choice. There are circumstances and reasons why you are investing in a used car. Buying it from a private seller comes with a lot of risks, and thus, you must be completely satisfied before the deal is closed.

You must not have any doubt about the car, its history, its service, maintenance, etc. Thus, it is essential that you meet the seller and ask all the questions you have in your mind and clear the air. Here is a list of questions to ask when buying a used car from a private seller:

  • How old is the car?
  • Why are you selling it? (Even though it is beneficial for you that the seller is selling it, why they are doing it is good to know.)
  • How did you maintain it?
  • Can I look at the service records? (If they are available with your mechanic, can I see them?)
  • Has there been an accident?
  • Are there any features of the car which do not work properly? Why?
  • Was it your fresh purchase, or you also bought it from someone?
  • Can I have a look at the registration documents?
  • Why are you charging this much price?
  • Can I take a test drive?
  • Can I take it to the mechanic?

Do not hesitate to ask any of these significant questions or others about the vehicle if you have any.

Negotiate the Sale and Close the Deal

Never settle for the seller’s price unless you are fully satisfied with the car. Also, do your homework and check the prices of a similar model on the dealerships and in your neighborhood. Then, after the inspection, when your mechanic gives the approving nod, decide if the seller is asking a fair price or not.

Usually, private sellers are more open to negotiation. Talk to them to settle on a price you can afford. They want to seal the deal quickly, thus allowing you leeway for negotiation. If the price quoted is within your budget and you like the car, sign the title deed.

Then you need to file the documents with the Department of Motor Vehicle. Pay all the taxes and fees, and you will get the title.

Do you know? What Documents Should You Keep in Your Car While Driving?

Checklist for Buying a Used Car from a Private Seller [FAQs]:

Even after going over the list of pros and cons of buying a used car privately and exploring what to check when buying a used car from a private seller section, a few common questions might be left unanswered, like how to make sure a used car is good, what to look for when buying a used car privately, and others. Isn’t it?

Do not worry, as you will find all your answers here in this most frequently asked questions section:

What is the Safest Way to Pay for a Used Car from a Private Seller?


In the case of a private seller, there are no financing options. The best option is to pay cash. It saves you from any further payments, and you can get the car keys immediately.

Then there are personal checks and cashier’s checks, but as both the seller and buyer are strangers, there may be trust issues. You must talk to the seller about the payment method.

One more answer to the question “how to pay for a car from a private seller” is through an Escrow account. The amount gets transferred only after the sale is complete. So, both parties can be assured.

Keep in mind, select only a trusted and legitimate escrow service provider for the transaction.

What Paperwork Do I Need to Buy a Used Car from a Private Seller?


Most of the transactions concerning a used car from a private seller are completed by payment of cash. But you should only pay cash after the paperwork has been completed. First of all, you need a title deed, which has been transferred in your name.

It should also form part of the checklist for buying a used car from a private seller, as no sale can be completed without a title deed. Then you must also take a bill of sale from the seller as it is required by most of the state departments of motor vehicles.

Check our state’s DMV requirements for additional paperwork to get the car registered in your name as quickly as possible.

What to Do After Buying a Used Car from Owner?


Many buyers don’t know what to do after you buy a used car from a private seller, so they relish the idea of being the car owner. But apart from driving it around, you must do the following things.

Getting your title transferred is the first thing. Now, the car is yours, and its care is your responsibility. The first thing to do is to take an insurance policy.

The second thing is to get your car registered at the DMV of your state. Every state DMV has different requirements regarding paperwork, but it generally includes: Bill of sale, VIN, Title deed, Proof Of Insurance, Safety and Emission Certificates, and Sales Tax Receipt, etc.

Get your car inspected and get it to a mechanic for any repairs required. After this, you can take your car on the road.

What to Look for When Buying a Used Car from a Private Seller?

The way you buy a car from a dealership and a private seller differs significantly. In both cases, you should use a used car inspection checklist. There are various advantages and disadvantages of buying a used car from a private seller. And also, some of the most important things to look for when buying a used car privately which has been discussed above.

There are a few points that are extremely important, and you cannot afford to ignore them. First, you should check the condition of the car. Check its interior and exterior carefully to know, “Is buying a car from a private seller worth it?”

Also, to establish the fact that the seller is the rightful owner of the car, check the registration documents.

The car’s heart is the engine, and it is imperative to check it. Check whether there are any leaks from the engine block like coolant or engine oil.

Taking the second-hand car to the mechanic and getting an expert opinion is essential. If you like the car and the mechanic is satisfied, you can check other factors and seal the deal.

We hope this comprehensive guide helped you know what to check when buying a used car from a private seller, the pros and cons of buying a used car privately, and the questions to ask when buying a used car from a private party.

If you still have any questions regarding what to look for when buying a used car, feel free to ask via the comment section below. We would be happy to help you in any way we can!

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About Jace

I am an automotive enthusiast who loves to be around cars and pickup trucks. Applying innovative car care products and installing different latest car accessories are my hobbies. Also, I love sharing my adventurous experience with car lovers.

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