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7 Questions to Ask When Buying a Used Car From a Private Seller

The average driver keeps their car for about seven years. Once it hits that age, most drivers start looking for ways to trade the car in or sell it to a new driver. Though they’re older, most of these cars still have hundreds of thousands of miles of use left on their engines.

If you’re looking for a used car, this means there are tons of opportunities to get a great vehicle without having to shell out full price.

Buying a used car from a private seller is distinctly different than buying from a dealership. Here are a few important questions to ask each seller you deal with so you can make sure the car is the right fit for your needs.

1. How Long Have You Owned the Car?

One of the best tips for buying a used car that you can follow when dealing with a private seller is to find out how long they’ve had the car. This won’t tell you about the overall condition of the car, but it can give you insight into the car’s history.

If they’ve only had it for a few months or years, you’ll need to do a deep dive into the vehicle’s history. There could be other owners on record that may or may not stay up to date on maintenance and upkeep.

If they’ve owned the car since it was new, the only vehicle history you’ll need to worry about is the one they know of.

2. Why Are You Selling It?

It’s important to remember that most private sellers looking to get rid of an older car are going, to be honest when you talk to them. They’re not trying to pull the wool over your eyes or actively cheat you.

That’s why it’s important to ask them why they’re selling the car in the first place.

If they’re just trying to upgrade to a nicer model or one that better fits their current needs, you’ll be in good shape. However, if they tell you they just couldn’t afford the maintenance or point out severe repair issues, you may want to consider buying a different car.

3. Where Did You Buy the Car?

The best way to buy a used car from a private seller is to buy one that they purchased at a dealership. This ensures that the car received a proper tune-up before they took possession and reduces the risk of surprise maintenance issues happening as a result of a previous owner’s neglect.

Find out where the seller bought the car. If they bought it locally at a dealership, take the time to research that dealership. See what previous buyers have to say about the quality of their services.

You should also pay attention to the reviews that their service department receives online. If your used car seller bought the car from them in used condition, a great service department would’ve made sure it worked like-new.

4. Do You Have the Maintenance Records?

Though it’s not a requirement that you have access to the maintenance records when buying a used car, it can be extremely helpful. Ask the seller what records they have.

Most will have proof of at least a few oil changes and routine maintenance appointments to show that they cared for the car. If they don’t have copies of those records, see if the seller will cover the cost of a vehicle history report.

This report documents all major maintenance tasks performed on the vehicle as well as any accidents or damage the car suffered under previous owners. If the history report looks clean and doesn’t mention any major problems, you’ll be in good shape.

5. Has the Car Ever Been in an Accident?

Even minor accidents can lead to serious problems with the structure and components of the car in the future. Before you commit to buying a used car from a private seller, find out if they’re aware of any accidents.

You can also inspect the car for signs of repair. Look for mismatched paint colors, noticeable scratches, or changes in the finish. These can indicate damage due to fender benders and minor accidents.

As a general rule, if the seller tells you that the car did experience a serious collision, keep looking. Remember, just because the car isn’t damaged now doesn’t mean that structural damage caused by the collision won’t become an issue in the future.

6. Are There Any Problems You Know Of?

It’s normal for some used cars to have minor problems especially if they’ve been a daily driver for the last few years. Ask the seller about the condition of the car and find out if they’re aware of any outstanding problems in place.

If there are, consider whether you’re willing to fix them once you take ownership. Think about the cost of those repairs and make sure you’re comfortable covering them yourself.

If you’re not and you still want the car, you may be able to use those repairs to negotiate a lower price. After all, you’re bearing the burden of fixing them. The seller should be willing to give you a discount in exchange.

7. Can I Get It Inspected by a Mechanic?

No matter what car you’re interested in, you need to make sure it’s mechanically sound. As part of your buying a used car checklist, ask the seller if they’ll let you get the car inspected by your preferred mechanic.

If they say yes, follow through and schedule the inspection. If they say no, keep looking for a different used car.

Ask These Questions When Buying a Used Car From a Private Seller

Buying a used car from a private seller is a great way to upgrade your wheels without having to pay full price. Keep these questions in mind when you meet with different sellers and make sure the car is the best choice for your needs.

If you feel that the seller is not being honest at any point in the conversation, thank them for their time and move on. Listen to your gut and only buy a car that you’re confident in.

Once you buy your new-to-you car, you’ll need to keep it running smoothly. Check out our latest posts for more tips to help you maintain and improve your ride without breaking the bank.

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