How to Purchase a Car From an Individual

Proceed with caution when purchasing a car from a private seller.

Proceed with caution when purchasing a car from a private seller.

Buying a car from a private seller can be a confusing task. Private sellers are not governed by the same laws or regulations as commercial automobile sellers. Therefore, let the buyer beware. When doing business with an individual, safety, research and common sense should prevail from the beginning to the end of the transaction.

Arrange for a Safe Meeting

Meet the seller in a public place to keep yourself safe.

Bring a friend or relative along for all meetings.

Do not expose large sums of cash during your meetings.

Do Your Research

Ask the seller direct questions about the previous ownership of the car and why they're selling.

Ask for maintenance records.

Use the Internet to research the used car price before you see the car (see Resources).

Physical Inspection

Carefully inspect the physical appearance of the car’s exterior and interior for signs of damage or neglect.

Test drive the vehicle to check for good performance in steering, braking and road handling.

Ask permission to take the car for an independent inspection by a reputable mechanic who has access to online vehicle history reports.

Transaction Arrangements

Negotiate the price based on documented used car values.

Get all terms of the sale and guarantees in writing.

Get a bill of sale that lists name, address and telephone number of the seller and buyer, date of purchase and the total price of the car.

Complete the transaction with a signed title; then pay by check or money to clearly establish proof of payment.


  • Knowing the facts of used car prices or similar cars for sales in the area before you arrive gives you a solid starting point for negotiation.


  • Purchasing a privately owned car from an individual willing to share maintenance records may be far better than purchasing from a potentially unscrupulous backyard mechanic.

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Terry Mulligan has been writing since 2007. As an accomplished artist, decorator and business professional, she enjoys covering art, decor, business management, real estate, education, computers/software/ERP, animal rescue, cooking and self-improvement. Mulligan holds an M.B.A. from the University of Phoenix.

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