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Publish Date - February 25, 2022

Author: Staci Bailey

Categories:   Tips & Insights For Car Buying    Vehicle & Buying Research   

8 Questions You Should Ask Before Buying a Vehicle from a Private Party

If you’re buying a car on a budget a private party sale might be a lucrative option. Dealerships have overhead costs and employees that they need to pay which ultimately drives up the price of vehicles. A private seller has none of these expenses making private sale prices lower.

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If you’re buying a car on a budget a private party sale might be a lucrative option. Dealerships have overhead costs and employees that they need to pay which ultimately drives up the price of vehicles. A private seller has none of these expenses making private sale prices lower.

Another reason why cars being sold by their owners are a little cheaper is because private party sales come with a little more risk for buyers. Dealerships have greater resources such as mechanics that inspect used vehicles. They offer some guarantee that the car won’t have serious issues as soon as it leaves the lot.

The added risk doesn’t mean that a private party sale car isn’t worth buying. If you do your research and ask the right questions a vehicle purchased from its owner may be the best car you ever have. Here are eight questions you should ask before buying a car from a private party.

1. How long have you owned the car and why are you selling it?

Most people buy a car with the intention of keeping it for at least a few years. If the vehicle was recently purchased and is already being sold it could indicate a problem. It’s good to ask why the seller is looking to sell because you might learn something that applies to you or find out a problem that could become an issue for you down the line. Keep an eye out for vague answers or ones that hints at a need for costly repairs.

2. What’s the condition of the car and what is the mileage on it?

Give the seller a chance to tell you about any issues with the vehicle before you set off on your own inspection. Do some research ahead of time to find out what the most common issues are for this model and ask about those problems specifically. The seller might disclose issues or flaws you would otherwise overlook or at least give you a glimpse into the car’s past. This is also a good chance to double check that the mileage the seller quoted is the same as what is displayed on the car’s odometer.

3. Did the car have regular oil changes and maintenance?

Keeping up with regular maintenance can prevent bigger issues and prolong the life of the car. It also says something about the seller and how well they took care of the vehicle. Ask about basic items such as oil changes and how often they were performed. Do a bit of research on the bigger and more costly maintenance items for that vehicle and ask if those have been done. Some services may cost hundreds and even thousands of dollars and knowing they are due might put you in a stronger bargaining position or perhaps turn you off the car altogether.

4. Has the car been in any accidents?

When inspecting the vehicle from a private party sale, look for signs such as paint flaws or misaligned body panels which may indicate that the car might have been in an accident. Regardless of what you did or did not find, it’s a good idea to ask the seller if the car has been involved in any accidents and where the damage was. When buying a car it’s best not to divulge your own findings. Instead let the seller tell you what they know.

5. Can I take the car for an independent inspection?

A visual inspection on site can only determine so much. When buying a car from a private party sale it’s important to take the vehicle to a mechanic before purchase for a more thorough inspection. A mechanic has more experience than the average person as well as tools that can communicate with a car’s computer that most people don’t have access to. If the seller hesitates to allow an inspection it may indicate there is something wrong that they don’t want you to find.

6. Is there a warranty?

Usually buyers aren’t expecting to have any warranty on a car purchased from a private party sale but if the car is still under warranty from the manufacturer or a third party, it may be eligible for transfer to a new owner. It’s a good idea to find out if there is any warranty on the car, what limitations there may be on it, and what you need to do in order to have it transferred into your name.

7. Are there any other items included with the car?

It never hurts to ask if the car comes with any accessories beyond just a key. People often forget about that owner’s manual and extra key fob they stashed away. In some cases there may be a big ticket item such as winter tires and extra rims. Usually a private party sale won’t include such costly perks but you can often negotiate for a good deal if you buy the car too. At the very least you have the bargaining advantage of knowing that these items are no good to the seller without the car.

8. Can I see the vehicle title and your identification?

Before you hand over any money, confirm that the seller is the legal owner of the vehicle. Look at the title and check that the VIN on the car matches the VIN on the title. See if the name listed is the person who is selling the vehicle. Look at what the title has listed for mileage and check if it makes sense with what the odometer reads for the number of years that the car was in the seller’s possession. Check on the back and make sure the title isn’t signed. If the section reserved for the buyer has been signed you will not be able to transfer the vehicle into your name until the seller replaces the title.

Do your research and make sure you’re asking the right questions before buying a vehicle from a private party sale. The next step is to pay for that car and you should be just as diligent with your finances. Visit and get informed about what financing options are available to you.