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5 Tips For Buying A Used Car From A Private Seller

Buying a used car is an excellent way to get a great vehicle at a fraction of the price you’d pay for a brand-new model. But when you’re buying directly from an individual, rather than from a dealer, there are extra steps involved in the process.

Here are six tips to help make your search for a used car easier and safer:

Tip #1: Get a bill of sale

Not only is it required to obtain a bill of sale from the seller, but the bill of sale is also the second most important ownership document after the vehicle title. The bill of sale should accurately and explicitly state the vehicle details, the seller’s name, purchase price, the buyer’s name, and the date of the transaction. A bill of sale by itself will not get you a vehicle title, but it is almost always the first step in the process. By not obtaining a bill of sale at the time of purchase, you have no proof that you’ve purchased the vehicle which leaves you with no legal right to ownership.

In many states, a bill of sale can be handwritten or typed as long as it includes specific components. Before obtaining a bill of sale, check with your state’s department of motor vehicles or check out our article How To Write A Bill Of Sale.

Tip #2: Get a VIN check

The vehicle identification number (VIN) holds all of the details about a vehicle including its year, make, and model, as well as where it was manufactured and the type of engine it contains. The VIN will also tell you if the vehicle has ever been in an accident, stolen, salvaged, flood-damaged, junked, and other valuable information. Before purchasing a vehicle, check the vehicle’s VIN against the NMVTIS database resources. VINs that are entered into the NMVTIS database are considered junk or salvage and not eligible for a title.

Tip #3: Get the vehicle inspected by an independent mechanic

The seller may say that everything is in working condition, but don’t just take them at their word. Whether it’s your regular mechanic or a friend in the industry, have an experienced mechanic take a look at the car before purchasing it. Your mechanic will be able to look at the vehicle with an unbiased opinion and alert you to any current or potential future problems. Even if everything checks out, bringing along a professional will help give you the peace of mind you need to know you’re not purchasing a lemon.

Tip #4: Get the vehicle title at the time of purchase

This is often where things get difficult. The vehicle title is the most important document regarding vehicle ownership and this original document is required to transfer ownership. The only person who is authorized to sign over a vehicle title is the individual listed as the registered owner on the front of the original certificate of title. The only exception to this is if there is a power of attorney.

If the seller doesn’t have the title ready at the time of purchase, this should be considered a red flag. If the seller is not the individual listed on the title and a power of attorney is not involved, this is also a red flag. If a seller were to sign over a vehicle title to you when they were not authorized to do so, the DMV will not issue you a title and it would trigger an investigation into the vehicle ownership.

Always get the original valid certificate of title at the time of purchase. Make sure that the person signing the certificate of title is the person also listed on the front of the title as the registered owner. If you do not get the title at the time of purchase, it will be up to you to locate the seller afterward to obtain a duplicate title or use a different method of title recovery.

Tip #5: Always bring someone else with you

First, for your safety, make sure to bring a friend or family member with you to the transaction. Choose a meeting place that has a security camera and plenty of people around so that you can feel safe during the transaction. The person you bring along with you can serve as a witness to the transaction and help you decide if the vehicle is really right for you. Additionally, they may provide a different perspective that helps you in your evaluation of the vehicle.

Buying a new used car is a really exciting purchase, but it shouldn’t be taken lightly. Before buying a used car, remember that it’s more than just a transaction, it’s a legal transfer of an asset. Make sure that your transaction includes all of the necessary research and documentation so that you can feel confident about your next used car purchase.

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Don’t let uncertainty hold you back. If it’s your car, you deserve a title.

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