Selling a car privately comes with its own challenges, especially when it comes to the fundamentals of pricing it correctly, negotiating with buyers and scheduling meetings and test drives. Buying has its own challenges as well, where you’re not quite sure what abuse the car has gone through and if whether or not the wheels are going to fall off as soon as you drive it away. With this in mind it’s important to recognize the pitfalls of buying and selling used cars, and being able to step over them.
Things to watch out for when buying:
1. Make sure the owner has all the paperwork.
If they don’t, walk away from the deal. Not having paperwork is wrought with multiple trips to the DMV and paying unpredictable fees. For instance if the car has a lien title, it means someone else owns it so you’ll need to go to the DMV and claim responsibility for the vehicle. Sometimes it requires that the vehicle be inspected, and if it doesn’t pass the inspection you can’t have the car registered and it’s a mess of paperwork and fees until you can get it registered.
2. Inspect the car heavily, and don’t trust what the owner says unless you can see it right in front of you.
Sellers want to sell, so they’ll do or say anything to close the deal. Look out for leaks of any kind, uneven tire wear, condition of the brakes, suspension etc. By far the best measure to take in this regard is to ask the owner if you can have it inspected by a professional mechanic. If they say yes, then there’s probably nothing to worry about, they could have nothing to hide. If they say no, then you can walk away without having wasted thousands of dollars on a lemon car.
3. Is the car suspiciously clean?
Some sellers will clean their car to mask damage or leaks. So inspect more heavily if the car is suspiciously clean. Sellers prey on buyers being very excited about buying their “new” car, especially when they are teenagers about to buy a cool sports car. Scammers will try to fool them by keeping the car looking nice and clean at the forefront, so the buyer won’t think to look underneath the engine. Always inspect the bottom of the engine around the oil pan, especially on an older car that’s been abused.
Things to watch out for when selling:
1. Buyer will comment about normal wear and tear, like scratches on a 30-year-old car. Buyers will look for any reason to lower the price. If you keep all your service records and can explain anything the buyer throws at you, you’re good to stand your ground on your asking price. It’s always good to be a little flexible, but there comes a point where enough is enough. As long as your tires don’t have a leak, a few psi of air pressure isn’t something the buyer should be worried about.
2. Be wary of test drives.
Some buyers aren’t really buyers. They just want to drive your car around the block. Only give a test drive if they show cash in hand. Also make sure they have a valid license and insurance, as it’s totally possible for them to damage the car in some horrific way and you’ll be responsible if they don’t have a license or are insured.
A trade might sound like a good idea, but remember you don't know anything about their car. So be wary of buyers who are looking to trade, especially if their car is typically worth a whole lot more than yours. It’s certainly possible that the owner who wants to trade is just looking to unload their car on you, but don’t fall for it. If they can produce service records and a clean title, then maybe it’s worth taking to a mechanic and having it looked at but otherwise, it’s best to stay away from these kinds of transactions. If you're willing to do a trade, you might as well do go to a dealership for a trade-in. Granted, you might lost more money on your trade-in at the dealer, but at least you'll have recourse vs getting scammed.
You can easily know if a deal is fair if you know everything about the car in question, whether it be your own that you’re trying to sell or someone else’s that you’re trying to buy. Do your research before you buy. Know the current market value, the issues, what to expect in the future, and parts availability. If the parts no longer exist for the car you’re about to buy, it could make things a whole lot more difficult.
All of this of course can’t guarantee you’re going to get a good deal, or even a fair deal whether you’re buying or selling a used car. However this all will help you discern a car buying or selling situation before you get too deep into a negotiation and realize the deal is either bad, or about to go bad.