Buy-a-Car Tips

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Buy a Car - Going to Look at A Private Seller's Car

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Having called some private sellers on the phone and asked the right questions, you’ve narrowed down the potential autos that you might want to look at.  Hopefully you got the addresses and directions correct, and you’re going to check out a car that is being sold by an individual.  Once you arrive, there are a few things that will help you to make a decision as to whether to actually buy it or not.


Unlike the standard used car lot, most of the people that you deal with will not be your average car salesman, and many of them will be much easier to deal with.  Keep in mind that there are some people who run their own little side business, buying older used cars and fixing them up to sell and make a profit.  Should you run into one of these, it will usually be pretty obvious.  They will have several cars sitting around in various states of repair, some with signs on them to indicate the asking price and others might even be on blocks.  Be wary of these, many times they are as shady as the used car lot dealers, the only reason they do it like this is to avoid getting a business license and renting or buying a lot.  It is possible that you will get a good deal from them, just don’t count on it.  If you suspect that you have found one of these, be especially careful.

When you arrive at the private seller’s residence, they should already be expecting you and be prompt in greeting you.  Don’t let them invite you in for lunch or coffee, that could be a ploy to gain your acceptance and trust in an attempt to sell you their lemon.  Ask them nicely to show you the car that they are selling and get down to business.  Since you have already gotten a lot of preliminary information about the car on your previous phone call, the only thing remaining is to do a good visual inspection and take a look at their records of the vehicle, which they should have ready for you.  Use the same kind of caution that you would at a used car lot, and be sure to ask any questions about the car that you can think of.  If you cannot get them to show you maintenance records, there’s a good chance that they don’t have them or just don’t want you to see them for some reason.  At that point, you have to decide whether you want the car badly enough to stick around.


Once you see the records, complete with receipts, do a serious visual on the car.  Everything that they told you on the phone should be exactly what you see.  Make sure that the car has a good finish, and if it looks like it has been painted, ask about it immediately.  Although some people paint their cars just because the car is getting old and needs it, others will paint them because the car was in an accident.  If you strongly suspect that the car has been wrecked but the seller denies it, use your best judgment as to whether to continue looking or just pass this one over.  Just as you would do on a used car lot, look at everything that you can while the car is sitting still.  Check that the inspection is current, and that the car is registered.  Make sure that it has good tires on it.  Look for cracks and dings in the windows, especially the windshield.  Remember, this could be your car very soon, and you’ll want everything to be in the best of shape.

Start the car yourself, getting a feel for how the ignition sounds.  Like any used car, it should turn over quickly and strongly.  Let the car idle for a few seconds and listen to the engine.  Get the seller to let you test drive it.  Do all of the things that you would when buying from a used car lot, though you already have an advantage if you have seen the maintenance records and will not need to be quite as picky.  Once you return, it’s time to decide for yourself whether you want to buy the car or not.

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