Written by Lee Wyatt (last updated February 21, 2009)
Often, one of the most inexpensive ways to purchase a "new for you" car is to go through private sales. Typically this means that you have done a little research in the classifieds, or you have a friend of a friend who wants to sell you their own vehicle. Before making any moves towards that purchase though, there are a few things that you should know—a checklist, if you will, of things to do—to make sure that you have covered all of your bases and you are making the best possible purchase.
First, prior to calling the person who is selling the vehicle you want to keep in mind your manners. Think about what time of the day it is and remember if you would like to have someone call at that time. This means that if it is the middle of the night, chances are you do not want to call. Also you want to make sure that you have all the questions that you are going to ask written down. This way you can compare all of the answers that you get, with other answers that you get, as well as being able to take those answers to a mechanic for a preliminary mechanical prognosis.
When you have made an appointment to view the potential purchase, be sure that you are on time to that appointment. If you are going to be late, then you really should call ahead to let the seller know. If you can't make it at all, then call to reschedule. This way they do not get upset or feel that you have wasted their time.
After you have arrived to inspect the vehicle, make sure that you check for wear and tear. While you may not be a certified mechanic, there are a few things that you can check for yourself that can give you a pretty good idea of what the car has been through. Check the tires, pedals and driver's seat. Excessive wear indicates quite a bit of driving, and the possible need for a more detailed examination by a mechanic.
As you are test driving the car, listen to how the engine sounds. If the engine is sounding rough, then you need to have it looked at prior to purchase. The transmission should shift smoothly, regardless of type. It doesn't matter if it is a manual or automatic, there should be no difficulty in going from one gear to another. Breaks should not squeal or shudder when stopping or applying pressure. Basically as you are driving the vehicle, test or try out anything and everything that you can think of. If it is mechanical or electrical then check it. After you have driven the car for a while, and prior to purchase or leaving, be sure to check all the fluid levels. If they are low, then that could indicate that there is a leak somewhere, or that there is significant damage.
After you have completed all of the tests and determine that you want to purchase this vehicle, make an offer. You should have your cash, or the payment, in hand if at all possible. By having your cash in hand you can often get better deal. The reason for this is the psychological impact that cash typically has on people. Prior to leaving, make sure that the title is signed over to you and that you have a completed bill of sale since you are going to need these to get the vehicle into your name.
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