How to buy a used car.

Purchasing a Used Car from a Private Party
by Monty Hawkins

Purchasing a used car allows you to have a quality automobile without paying for all of the depreciation. I choose not to buy from the dealership as they are professional salesmen and make their money by negotiating the highest price possible. The private seller is looking to get fair market value.

Anyone can follow the steps below and purchase a quality vehicle while saving money.

1. Start with plenty of time.

One of the most important things when purchasing a car is to start with plenty of time. Having time on your side puts you in a much better position all throughout the buying process. You are not rushed and can avoid making a decision you may regret later.

2. Determine your budget, and then stick to it.

You must determine is how much money you want to spend. Honestly assess your budget. Paying with cash is ideal, however if you are going to take out a loan you must determine how much money you can afford. For a loan I recommend getting pre-approved for a 3-4 year loan at a local credit union. Doing this helps you know upfront what the monthly payments will be. You can calculate the cost of monthly payments by using a simple loan calculator. Do not focus in on monthly payments, but on the total cost of the car.

3. Decide on a car in your price range.

Sometimes people don't know where to start and that is okay. If you don't have a specific year/make/model you are looking for ask friends, family, and coworkers what they enjoy. You can read opinions from real owners at the Edmunds.com. Enter the make model and year at the top of the webpage and then scroll to ‘What Others are Saying’ and click on ‘See All 213 reviews’. Read many reviews to get a fair representation.

Once you find a car you are interested in you can check car values at Kelly Blue Book to find what you can expect to pay. If the car you are looking for is out of your price range, you may have to look for an older model to stay within budget. Don’t be afraid to look at other cars which fall in the same class (i.e. Honda Accord, expand to include Toyota Camry and the Nissan Altima). The total mileage the car has can affect the price. The fewer the miles the more the car is going to cost.

Before you move on to the next step, decide on a car which will fit in your price range. This will protect you from purchasing outside of your budget.

4. Start looking through online classifieds.

Once you have decided on a specific year make and model combination which fits your budget it is time to start looking. This step takes me the longest, be patient. Craigslist is one of the more well known websites for used cars.  Choose 'Car and Trucks by Owner' to avoid looking through dealers ads. Regional online classifieds can be helpful. For example in the state of Utah, almost everyone uses KSLCars.com. The first time you go online to look you will not find the exact car which is right for you. Be patient and be willing to check back periodically.

I have two caveats about online classifieds. The first is to be wary of deals which are too good to be true. If it is too good to be true, it is a scam. The second is to avoid a car with a restored/salvage title. If the ad doesn’t say if it is a restored/salvage title, ask the seller. In my experience most sellers are upfront and honest about this.

When you find a car which interests you, email or call the seller to ask some questions. My standard questions include why are they selling the car, what is their favorite aspect about the car, is there anything wrong with the car, does it have a clean title, how many miles does it have, what is the asking price, and any other pertinent questions.

5. Set up an appointment to test drive the car.

Bring a friend with you to test drive the car. They will provide a second opinion and a voice of reason. Meet the seller and ask about the car. Find out what they like and don’t like about it. Ask if the car was driven by a smoker or if someone transported a pet inside of it. The smell may be masked for a few days, but when the true odor comes out you will regret your purchase. If you have any concerns about the seller don’t buy a car from them.

If you are initially interested by what you see, take the car for a test drive to see if you like how it handles. Test it on the freeway. Test it on a winding hilly road. Drive it for at least fifteen minutes. Remember you will be driving this car for a while. Listen for abnormal engine noise, rattles, and squeaks.

6. Have the car mechanically inspected by the dealership.

This is one of my favorite steps. When you find a car you are seriously considering, have it inspected at the dealership. For around $60 you can get the same inspection the dealership gives to the used cars they sell. Often the dealer will provide you with a copy of the vehicle history report if you ask. It includes negative history on the car (accidents/stolen/floods).

The dealer will also tell you which repairs need to be done. This will help you determine any repair costs. You can use this to get the seller to lower the price of the vehicle or to arrange for the repairs. This avoids discovering defects after the vehicle is your full responsibility.
7. Negotiate a price and seal the deal.

If you want to buy the car let the seller know you like the car, but you need a day or two to talk it over with your spouse/significant other/parents. This will buy you some time and let you think clearly about the deal at hand. Base your offer on the asking price, fair market value, and any necessary repairs. Once you come up with a counter offer and agree on a price you can sign the contract.

Once you have signed a contract you own the car. Congratulations. I hope this helps when it comes time for you to purchase your next car. If you have any feedback, feel free to comment below.


  1. Perhaps this is a good idea if you know the seller personally or if someone you trust refers him.

    1. This is a great article. I can see how it would help people save hundreds or thousands over what they would pay at the dealership. Thanks for posting this helpful information.

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  3. Nice post.There are lot of benefits of buying a used car .Used car is cheap in price , you don't have to give vat for it ,but if you buy a new car you have to give vat on its price, you don't need to license it if it has previous license . Thanks to share this valuable post .
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  7. I really appreciate you for giving your valuable time to write this post. I can see how it would help people saving few bucks in their account by following your useful post on selling their used cars Thanks for sharing this helpful information.

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  9. My husband has finally convinced me that we need to buy a truck. It's something he's wanted for a long time. We found a used one that is in great condition and we would be dumb not to get it.


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  16. Mechanically testing the car and having a test drive is really important of you are buying a used car as many of the times any engine related problem can make your deal a total loss. Also ensure the authenticity of the dealer or the seller before buying the car and as "Ann Burkett: said its always a good idea to buy a car from someone whom you know personally.

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  20. It's also a good idea to have your own mechanic look over the car you're looking at. Having a mechanic you trust tell you about the car will help you know exactly what you're going to need to repair. Make sure to have multiple opinions about any car.
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  21. Yeah, I think it is a great idea, but it is rather hefty. I bought my mini trucks from a recommendation of a friend.

  22. I am looking into buying a used car. I don't much about buying cars so I appreciate your tips. I agree that it is smart to decide on a price range before you go. I could see myself spending more than I want by not deciding on a price range before.

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  23. I think it's definitely important to do all the research you can on a used car before buying it. A friend of mine recently bought a used car that didn't run because it had been previously totaled. She didn't know that, and after a week it stopped working. Do your research. That way you don't waste your money on a used car that doesn't function. http://www.gagelsautosales.com

  24. I am going to purchase a used car, and this article has been very helpful. I appreciate the advice on negotiation because that is something I struggle with. Maybe I can bring along someone to speak for me.


  25. You never know the power of negotiation until you master it! You can really knock some numbers down on a used car. Hopefully we can get a good deal on the car we are going to buy for our son.

  26. Good tips. You should also be willing to walk away. Prepare ahead of time and don't let your emotions get you in over your head.

  27. I bought a "new" used car last year and sold my broken down Civic. I was able to get $500 towards my next car! I was pretty excited about how much I got for a car that didn't run. Most people think their only option is paying someone to come pick up their car if it breaks down. As long as you have a trailer, this doesn't have to be the only option! http://www.upicksave.com/123-sell-us-your-car/

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  30. Thanks for the awesome tips. I've been looking for a used car for the longest time. I really haven't had that much luck so far, and I guess that's why I'm here. Do you think buying a used car is cheaper than buying a new car, at least in the long run?


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  34. Having a budget is very important. Buying the car is only the beginning of finances for a car. Owning and taking care of the car is something that should really be heavily considered. My family has had good luck with owning used cars, but that is not the case for everyone. Doing your research and knowing what kind of car you are getting is the best way to decide what kind of car you want to buy.

  35. I've done the inspection thing before while I was "test driving" the car. I said that I wanted to take it on the freeway to see how it would handle, then I took it to an auto shop. They confirmed my doubt saying that it was bound to break down soon. It was a good investment to take it there.

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  37. I am going to buy used car houston but I don't know which is the best option for me as it will be my first vehicle ever.

  38. It is really important to take the car out for a test drive. You don't want to get a car that has problems or isn't working properly. One of the first things I learned when getting a used car was to take the car out for a drive. It is also important to see if you like the feel of the ride. http://www.miraclemilemotors.com/aboutus.aspx

  39. Taking the car for a test drive is one of the most important things you can do. While the car may look great, you will only really get a feel for the car's quality when you take it out for a test drive. You are making a big financial decision, do you best to leave your desires at the door and making a purely logical decision. http://www.carcraftautosales.com

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  41. Test drive must be on top priority before you make any decision to buy a vehicle. Only after drive you will come to know if its comfortable and easy to drive. So also take vehicle for test drive before buying it.

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  42. I really like your advice to have the car mechanically inspected before purchasing a used car. It seems like a good idea to make sure there are no major mechanical issues before spending all your money on a car. My brother is looking for a used car and he doesn't have a budget or a specific idea of what car he wants. I think that has made the process really hard. http://www.LeeKinstle.com


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