Buying a car from a private party

I thought I’d touch base on a few things that everyone needs to know at some time or another- Buying a car from a private party.  Before going to check out the car, check online to find out what the fair market value is on that particular model. What Paperwork do you need?  There are some things to keep your eyes open for.  The title for example.  You should ask to see it before handing over the cash. Have you considered getting a carFax?  If you’ve never met this seller before, it may be a good investment. When was the last smog test?  Were there any issues? Does the seller still have the owners’s manual?  If they’ve owned the car for a long time, they may not have thought about producing it.  There should be a bill of sale with all pertinent information like the VIN, mileage, plate#, and both seller and buyer’s names and addresses.  If the car is less than 5 years old, you may want to call the dealership that carries that brand to see if there’s still a warranty on it, and if not, find out why.  If the car is only a couple years old, it’s important to find out if there are any lien holders on the car.  If the current owner has the service records, it’s easy to tell if they’ve taken good care of it with regular oil changes.   

The test drive-  It’s important to look for the smaller things that the seller isn’t expecting you to look for.  Is there a vibration or shimmy in the steering? Do the brakes take a long time to come to a stop? Do the brakes have to be compressed all the way to the floor board before the car stops? Do they jump when stopping quickly? How much pressure does it take to get the car to stop?  Does the A/C work? How about the radio? Many times we forget about the defroster, so check it out too.

The registration- Does the name on the registration match the name of the person’s ID? Is it up to date?  Proceed with caution if things aren’t adding up. Does the VIN match?

Tires- Turn the wheel sharply in one direction or another to see the front  tires better.  Are the grooves well defined?  Are the wear mark even or do they look oddly on one side or another?  It’s probably a good idea to take a tire gauge and see if the tires are where they’re supposed to be. Look carefully to make certain all tires are the same size.

If the seller appears to be in a hurry in any way, walk away! Check out the body for damages or signs of an accident. If you live near the coast, it’s important to look underneath the car to see if there’s any rust.  If the car’s had an accident near the engine, it may be best to look for another car. Walk around the car to see if there’s any visible difference in paint color from one panel to another. In the cockpit- Try out EVERYTHING! Bring someone with you so you can try all of the lights and turn signals.  it’s also a good idea to go online to safercar.gov to see if the car in question has any recalls, and whether they’ve been taken care of.

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