The Pros and Cons of Buying a Used Car from a Private Seller

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Written by Anne-Marie Hays | Last Updated November 1st, 2019
Anne-Marie Hays is a Content Management Intern with Best Company. She enjoys comedy, hates crowds, and loves that you are reading this bio.

Car keys for your new car

If you are in the market for a used car, where do you look?

Many people prefer shopping at a local dealership, while others swear by craigslist or finding "the best deal ever" on the nearest empty corner lot.

Which is better? Which is worse?

What pros and cons are associated with each?

To help answer these questions and weigh our purchase options, we asked auto shopping experts to help break down the pros and cons of buying a used car from a private party, instead of a dealership. Here’s what they said:

PROs

CONs

Pro: Better Price (Usually)

Valerie Coleman, head of automotive at 5miles.com says, “A dealer or salesperson can do only so much for a customer. A private seller does not have commission or typical business operating expenses to account for, so may be able to get more aggressive with pricing.”

 

Con: Lack of Regulation

Sarah Lee Marks, a car concierge, DMV expert, and founder of MyCarLady.com explains, “Buyer beware. Private sellers are not regulated to the extent a dealership is, so misrepresentation is common.”

Pro: Chat with the Previous Owner

Sonia Steinway, president of auto loan service Outside Financial says, “...if you’re looking for a used car and you have the patience to review lots of options, look at both. If you value having a conversation with the previous owner, private-party makes sense.” Auto expert Val Coleman agrees, “You also typically can get more context or information about the condition of a car (one owner, mostly city miles, etc.) from a private seller…” You may still want to look into a vehicle history report for added peace of mind.

Con: Sketchy Test Drives

Lauren Fix, The Car Coach, says, “If you do buy from a private person, have an ASE certified technician look over the car before you make an offer on it. Also, be wary of test driving a car with a stranger, the dealer reps are ok, but who knows what to expect when buying off Craigslist or similar.”

Pro: Keep Your Nickels

Jake McKenzie from Auto Accessories Garage explains, “A private seller is less likely to be a professional salesman ready to nickel and dime you with extras or confuse you with financing…” The best possible purchase price is likely from a private seller, not a dealership.

Con: Interest Rates

Sonia Steinway, president of auto loan service Outside Financial says, “Keep in mind that loans to buy cars in private party sales are typically higher than for the identical car sold by a dealership. The interest rate on a loan reflects the risk that the lender won’t be paid back or won’t be able to recoup the money they lent out if the borrower defaults. And because the risk of non-repayment and default is higher on private party loans because of fraud, those interest rates are typically higher.”

Pro: Faster Transaction

One of the things that people hate the most about shopping at a car dealership is how long the process takes. Valerie Coleman, head of automotive at 5miles.com says that with a private party sale, you get “a quicker transaction time vs. spending hours at a dealership.”

Con: Fewer Amenities and Assurances

Lauren Fix, The Car Coach, says, “Buying at a dealer can create a good business relationship that can be beneficial for repairs and recalls. The dealer wants that too. Factory warranties are there to protect consumers and your purchase; buying from a private seller can leave you out in the cold with expensive repair bills.”

Jake McKenzie from Auto Accessories Garage says, “...a dealership also offers some assurance with warranties and their desire to have a positive reputation in the community.” Warranties and money-back guarantees are not readily available when you just buy from a private party. These add peace of mind to any purchase. We all fear that our used car will end up being a lemon.

Thanks to our experts for their helpful advice. For more car shopping how-tos and advice, check out our related articles below. 

Related pages and articles:
BestCompany: BestCar Finders
What Can I Expect at the Local Car Dealership?
A Beginner's Guide to Auto Financing
Are You Ready for Auto Loan Debt?
Car Buying Answers from an Expert: Jenni Newman
 


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