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Buying A Used Car From A Private Party

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On: Wed, Sep 21, 2011 at 12:54PM | By: Peter C Sessler

Buying A Used Car From A Private Party

Generally, people buy used cars because they can't afford a new one. All you have to do is to take a look at what cars are going for these days to understand why. I believe that the average price of a new car today is around $20,000! For this reason, used cars outsell new ones by a two to one margin.

You first have to decide what type of car you need. You really need to know in advance what you're looking for because the possibility of confusing yourself is great. There are just too many models and brands to choose from.

Once you've zeroed in on the car you want, you need to do some basic research to find out the repair record and reliability of the car. A good source is one of the consumer-type magazine or website. Ask your local service station what they think is a good vehicle or what cars to avoid.

Once you've gotten a good idea what the asking prices are for the car you're looking for, you have to decide where you want to look. There are two sources you can go to. You can go to a dealer or buy from a private party. Generally speaking, you can get a better deal from a private party, but you don't have any recourse should something go wrong the next day. Again, generally speaking, dealers charge more, but they generally have to guarantee that the car passes state inspection and provide a warranty.

If there are a couple of cars in the paper or online that seem to be good candidates, give the sellers a call. Ask if the car is still available and also ask if they could give you additional information. Even though you know what the ad says, have the seller repeat all the information to you again, especially what they're asking for it. Always ask why the person is selling it too.

If it all sounds pretty good, make an appointment to see the car. At this point you have to decide whether you're going just to look or given the possibility that this is the car you've been looking for, to be prepared to leave with the car. This, of course, depends on how you're going to transport the car back to your house. A lot of people just put a plate on it from another vehicle they own, which is highly illegal—while the best way is to come with a flatbed. Probably the best thing to do though, which also avoids any legalities, is to ask the seller if you could keep the car there for a few hours or until the next day, while you make arrangements to pick it up. So, if you're going with the intention of buying the car, make sure you bring with you enough money. I don't think anyone will take a personal check.

If you have some knowledge of cars, look over the car slowly and carefully. Check the tires out, the shocks, the exhaust system, general vehicle condition and cleanliness, and check for any body work—such as mismatched paint, rippled body panels, or missing trim. Don't forget to look in the trunk and under the hood. Is the engine already warm? It's always best to start a car when it's cold. Make sure you test drive the car and find a stretch where you at least can hit highway speeds. This way you can see if the front end pulls to one side or other, if the wheels shimmy and if there are pulsations in the brakes when you slow down. I don't think the seller is going to give you a 90-day warranty, so take your time.

If you don't know much about cars, ask the seller if you can have the car checked out by your mechanic. Unless they've got six other people coming soon after you leave to look at the car, they shouldn't object, but they'll probably go with you.

It's also good to go with someone you know to see the car. A second opinion doesn't hurt and, if it's your son or daughter looking for a car, make sure you go with them.

Assuming this is the car, I suggest you start bargaining. It's almost un-American not to! Once you've agreed on a price, you can do one of three things. You can leave and think about it, you can leave a deposit, or you can pay for it in full and arrange to have it transported to your house.

The next area where you need to be careful is paperwork. The seller has to give you a signed clear title. That means that there should be no liens on the car. If the seller says he paid the bank off but they never sent him a lien release, pass. Never, ever, buy a car with a lien on it, even if you're planning to use the car for parts.

Have the seller write out a bill of sale. This can be a simple statement stating that he is selling the car to you for the price you both agreed upon in an "as is", "where is" condition. I would also ask the seller for some proof that he is who he says he is. Some people will buy a used car from someone, and have them sign the title over to them in blank. They can then resell the vehicle to someone else, such as yourself, and thereby avoid having their name be revealed to the motor vehicle and tax people. This is known as "jumping titles". Just make sure everything is properly done and you'll avoid having to spend unnecessary time with those happy-go-lucky, easy-going motor vehicle people.


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