There are a lot of reasons to buy a car privately and there are a lot of GREAT cars out there! A private seller might offer their car for a lower price than a dealer might, especially if they have taken good care of a car that now has a few years on it.

To make sure you get a good deal on a reliable car, follow these helpful tips:

  • AT HOME:
    • Figure out at home what you’re willing to pay and on what terms. This way you won’t be surprised or bamboozled by someone trying to pull a fast one.
    • Research about the car you’re interested in. Knowing about the model will help you know if the car you’re looking at is a good specimen or a lemon. Any search should include a check at the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NTSHA) database of vehicle recalls.
    • Know the price range a car in your target age range and model should cost. There could be $1,000 to $10,000 difference between a poor car and a great car in the same model and year.
    • Arrange to meet and test drive the car in a public place like a school or grocery store parking lot. Confirm before you meet that they will let you drive on the street and on the highway so you can see it in the situations that will be the most common to you. Many people will feel more comfortable if they bring a friend. It’s polite to tell the seller if there will be multiple people on the test drive.
    • You might have to wait until after you meet up with the seller to do this, but you can use the car’s vehicle identification number (VIN) or license plate number to get a vehicle history report from websites like Carfax,, and AutoCheck. There is usually a fee, but it’s a worthwhile investment if it saves you from a disappointing or expensive purchase. A good report should include accidents, damage, recalls, liens and service history because the sites pull from databases connected to most mechanics’ shops.
    • If you need financing, ask your bank about private party car loans. It might mean you can afford a better car without going to the dealer.
    • Ask the seller if they were the first owner or one of a string of owners. Did they know the previous owner? Sometimes cars stay in families for a while and you can get a good picture of how it has been treated for several years.
    • Be sure to ask about accidents. Or floods. Or electrical damage. All of these can leave damage on the car that can really shorten the life of the vehicle. It might be OK to take on a damaged car, but you want to know what you’re getting into before you get in and drive away.
    • Ask the seller why they are selling. They might be upgrading or they might actually tell you about the car’s problems for them.
    • Take a good look at the tire tread, rust, pedal wear, headlights and taillights, interior electronics, shocks, wipers, car battery, locks, windows, reverse gear, air conditioning, and heat.
    • Ask who their current mechanic is. It’s OK to call them for a reference on the car, like you would call about a potential employee.
    • Ask to take the car your mechanic. A seller who has been upfront with you should be open to this if you are willing to pay for the inspection.
    • When you’re ready to buy, the seller should sign the vehicle title over to you at the time of sale. Don’t drive away without it. If the seller does not have it, you should not buy. Delay taking the car until you see the title.
    • Match up the VIN on the vehicle with the VIN on the title the seller is giving you.
    • Cars bought in Nevada need to be registered within 30 days at the DMV. You don’t have to pay taxes on “occasional” sales so don’t pay the seller extra ‘to cover taxes!’
    • Call your insurance agent and tell them at least the basics of model, year, sale price, date of possession. You may not be covered in case of an accident on the way home. Out-of-state insurance is not acceptable in Nevada.
    • When registering the car at DMV, bring these things:
      • Nevada Evidence of Insurance
      • Title or Security Agreement from a Financial Institution
      • Nevada Emission Vehicle Inspection Report (if needed)
      • VIN inspection (if not previously registered in Nevada, these are done at the DMV)
      • Current Odometer Reading
      • Application for Vehicle Registration (VP 222) you can get this at the DMV
    • If you struggle to keep the car you bought privately in good repair, then the Nevada Lemon Law might apply. Contact the Attorney General’s office if you’ve had four unsuccessful repairs in 1 year.

Be aware that a private seller is not under the same obligations as a dealer is to make sure the car runs or to offer a warranty. So be sure to ask lots of questions about the car’s history and maintenance record and any known issues. If you have some skill making repairs, it might be an acceptable deal to take a lower price for a little risk. Someone else’s problem might be easy for you to manage and be worth a nice discount.

Safety Note: never hesitate to leave a situation that feels weird or the facts don’t line up. If they ask for an odd form of payment or change the location a few times, that is suspicious and you should leave. If the seller is actually OK, they will understand and re-schedule with you.

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