Don't Get Taken For a Ride: A Private Car Buyer's Guide

Don't Get Taken For a Ride: A Private Car Buyer's Guide

*For folks looking to sell their cars themselves, check out our previous articles on how to sell a car. *

Buying a car online can be a great decision. We certainly think it is! But like any major financial decision, it should be made carefully. Keep yourself safe and score yourself an excellent car with our tips.

  1. **Do your homework before searching for a car. **Before seriously shopping for your next car, research prices in your area. Get familiar with a reasonable range so you can see real deals and sucker deals. Avoid paying more than you have to by taking advantage of our “What’s Your Car Worth” feature to see what your dream car’s price is in your market.

2) **If it’s too good to be true, it is. **It might sound like elementary advice. What sucker would fall for a nearly new car with a picture that looks like it was taken straight from a dealer’s website for a bottom dollar price?

3) **Ask lots of questions, and then ask a few more. **A responsible seller will answer questions knowledgeably and honestly, and if they can’t they should offer to help you find out. They’ll let you know about the hiccups in a car’s history. Claiming that a car is in excellent condition despite being many years old, refusing to answer questions about its maintenance or acting like you are bothering them by asking are not people you want to do business with.

  1. Take a real test drive. Don’t just putter around the block, take the care for as long a test drive as you can manage. 20-30 minutes is a good time to shoot for. Put it through its pace, and test out different driving conditions like freeways, dirt roads, and hills, if you can manage such a thing. Basically, try and drive it how you’d be driving it regularly.

5) Find out the seller’s history. More than a few used car sellers on classified-style sites are hobbyists who make a pretty penny fixing up and flipping used cars. Depending on the work they do, they might be a perfectly good option to buy a car from, provided the car passes inspection.

However, some pros actually sell dozens of cars a month and simply pose as backyard, private sellers. This means they can avoid getting warranties and answering to the same legal regulations as real dealerships. Take care when buying from someone you might suspect has done this for a living. On that note…

  1. **Ask for an inspection. **In the best case scenario, a buyer will have an independent third party inspect his or her car before selling it. If you are interested in a car that hasn’t been inspected by the seller, it might be worth your time and money to pay for an inspection yourself. If the seller refuses your offer, that is a huge red flag. We would recommend walking away from anyone in that situation, as they may be trying to hide serious structural damage.

  2. **Don’t fall for the hard sell. **While it’s the seller’s prerogative to take offers on a first-come, first-serve basis, remember that there are lots of fish in the sea. Walking away from an offer you are unsure about and annoying the seller is better than buying a hunk of mechanical junk. Trust your gut, and never buy just because the seller really wants you to do so.

Okay, crash course over! Now start shopping. May we suggest a great place to start?

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