How to Be Careful When Buying a Car

When you buy a car, whether it is a new car from the dealership, a used vehicle from a car lot or dealer, or a used car as a private sale, you need to come to an agreement for your purchase. Typically, the sales process to get there is the same. You’ll need to respond to an advertisement for the car, meet the seller to inspect and test drive the car, discuss agree on a sale and complete payment for the car you are buying.

Every step along the way, you need to be cautious and wary. It’s a way to protect yourself from encountering a difficult situation with the seller or with the car.

Part 1 of 5: Respond to ads with caution

From identity theft to weeding out scams and poorly represented vehicles, you need to be careful which ads you respond to and how you respond.

Step 1: Analyze the ad picture for the vehicle you found. If the picture is a stock picture and not of the actual car, the listing may not be accurate.

Also look for ill-placed items like palm trees for car ads in the northern states.

Step 2: Check the contact information and method. If the phone number on the ad is from overseas, it could very well be a scam.

If the contact information only includes an email address, it’s not a reason to worry just yet. It may just be a case of the seller being cautious as well.

Step 3: Contact the seller to arrange a viewing and test drive. Always meet in a neutral location if you are meeting a private seller.

This includes places like coffee shops and grocery store parking lots. Provide the seller only with your basic information such as your name and contact number.

Provide a cell phone number if you can as it can’t be easily traced back to your address. A private seller will never need your Social Security Number.

  • Tip: If the seller wants to ship the car to you or wants you to wire them money for the car sight unseen, you’re the victim of a potential scam.

Part 2 of 5: Meet the seller to see the car

When you are going to meet the seller to check out a car you are interested in, it can provoke excitement and anxiety. Keep calm and don’t put yourself in an uncomfortable situation.

Step 1: Meet in an appropriate location. If you’re meeting a private seller, meet in a location that is brightly lit and has plenty of people around.

In the event the seller has ill intentions, you can slip away into the crowd.

Step 2: Don’t bring cash. Avoid bringing cash with you to a car viewing if you can avoid it, as the potential seller may try to swindle you if they know you have cash with you.

Step 3: View the car completely on your own. Don’t let the seller guide you around the vehicle as they may try to distract you from flaws or problems.

Step 4: Test drive the car before you buy it. Listen and feel for anything that feels out of the ordinary on the test drive. A minor noise may lead to a major problem.

Step 5: Have the car inspected. Arrange for your trusted mechanic to look over the car before you buy it.

If the seller is hesitant or unwilling to let you have a mechanic inspect the vehicle, they may be hiding a problem with the car. Be prepared to walk away from the sale. You can also arrange to have a mechanic perform an inspection as a term of the sale.

Step 6: Check for a lien on the title. Ask the seller to see the car’s title and look for lienholder information.

If there is a lienholder, don’t complete the purchase unless the seller takes care of the lien before the sale is complete.

certificate of title

Step 7: Check the title status on the car’s title. If the car has a rebuilt, branded, or salvage title that you weren’t aware of, walk away from the transaction.

Never buy a car when the title is anything but clear if you aren’t fully aware of what it means.

Part 3 of 5: Discuss the terms of the sale

Step 1: Consider a state inspection. Discuss whether the vehicle will have its state inspection performed or be certified before you take possession.

You’ll want to know if there are any safety-related issues that need attention before you complete the sale. Also, if there are repairs required to pass your state inspection, that means you may not be able to drive the vehicle you are buying until the repairs are completed.

Step 2: Determine if the price matches the vehicle’s condition. If the vehicle is to be sold without certification or in “as-is” condition, you can usually demand a lower price.

Part 4 of 5: Make a sales agreement

Step 1: Make a bill of sale. When you come to terms for your vehicle purchase, write down the details on a bill of sale.

Some states require that a specific form is used for your bill of sale. Check with your DMV office before you meet with the seller. Be sure to indicate the vehicle’s VIN number, make, model, year, and color, as well as the sale price for the car excluding any taxes or fees.

Include both the buyer’s and the seller’s name, phone number, and address.

Step 2: Write down any terms for your sales agreement. This can include a clause subject to financing approval, any repairs to be completed, and if the vehicle is to be certified.

Include whether any optional equipment such as floor mats or remote start is to remain with the car or go back to the seller.

Step 3: Provide a deposit for your purchase. Secure methods of a deposit are by check or money order.

Avoid using cash if at all possible as it can’t be traced in the transaction if there is a dispute. Indicate on your sales agreement how much your deposit is and how it was paid. Both the buyer and the seller should have a copy of the sales agreement or bill of sale.

Part 5 of 5: Complete the car sale

Step 1: Perform title transfer. Complete the title transfer on the back of the certificate of title.

Don’t provide payment until the title transfer document is complete.

Step 2: Pay the balance. Provide payment to the seller for the balance of the agreed sale price.

Pay by certified check or money order for a secure transaction. Do not pay by cash to avoid the possibility of a fraudulent encounter or a robbery.

Step 3: Indicate on your bill of sale that payment has been made in full. Have the seller sign that payment has been received.

No matter what stage you are at in the buying process, if something doesn’t feel right, put the transaction on hold. Buying a car is a big decision and one where you don’t want to make a mistake. Flesh out the problem you have with the transaction and resume the purchase if you discover that your worries were unfounded, or walk away from the sale if you simply aren’t comfortable. Be sure to have one of YourMechanic’s certified professionals perform a pre-purchase inspection and keep up with your car’s regular maintenance.


Next Step

Schedule Pre-purchase Car Inspection

The most popular service booked by readers of this article is Pre-purchase Car Inspection. YourMechanic’s technicians bring the dealership to you by performing this job at your home or office 7-days a week between 7AM-9PM. We currently cover over 2,000 cities and have 100k+ 5-star reviews... LEARN MORE

SEE PRICING & SCHEDULING

The statements expressed above are only for informational purposes and should be independently verified. Please see our terms of service for more details

Recent Pre-purchase Car Inspection reviews

Excellent Rating

(4,807)

Rating Summary
4,481
175
36
37
78
4,481
175
36
37
78

Caz

17 years of experience
57 reviews
Caz
17 years of experience
Honda Insight - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Acworth, Georgia
Patient, thorough, professional and takes his time to explain things. This is the second time I have used Caz's services, and he consistently delivers. Look forward to working with him again.
Volvo XC90 - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Alpharetta, Georgia
My husband and I are looking for a reliable used car for our teenage drivers. We had two that we were considering and wanted to have them inspected prior to purchasing. Caz did a thorough inspection of both vehicles and recommended we walk away from both. We really appreciated his transparency and knowledge. We will definitely use Caz again.

Chris

22 years of experience
2001 reviews
Chris
22 years of experience
Porsche Macan - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Irvine, California
Chris you as so knowledgeable and really out my mid at ease with the private seller purchase. Highly recommend to anyone shopping for a car :)
Lexus ES300h - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Temecula, California
Amazing guy.... called and gave me what felt to be his honest and straightforward opinion on my vehicle.... def will book him again in the future for work

Casey

19 years of experience
27 reviews
Casey
19 years of experience
Hyundai Santa Fe - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Katy, Texas
Casey is awesome. Helped me fully understand the health of the used vehicle I was buying for my mother in law. Great service and very knowledgeable for sure. Casey found only one issue we needed to deal with and was able to book the repair just a few days later.

Colby

14 years of experience
21 reviews
Colby
14 years of experience
Ford Ranger - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Longmont, Colorado
Colby called to notify me he was in route to the inspection--to ease my mind and to ask if there was anything in particular/extra I wanted him to check out. He was going to do a pre-purchase inspection of a 2002 Ford Ranger. He assured me that I hired the right guy since he'd worked for Ford for 13 years. An hour or so later, he called me while he was driving home to discuss his inspection. I could ask him everything I wanted as we dialogued. That was so helpful! And way more personable and real than just reading the report he emailed. The report was thorough and included a test drive. He had recommendations for some work to be immediately done; rotors & brake pads. Then, included the cost for him to do that work should I choose. The price was fair and not crazy expensive. I'm still deliberating on whether to have that done or to wait for my mechanic to do it once I have the truck. Thank you again Colby.

Need Help With Your Car?

Our certified mobile mechanics make house calls in over 2,000 U.S. cities. Fast, free online quotes for your car repair.

GET A QUOTE

Related articles

What Fees Come With Buying a New Vehicle?
Fees that come with buying a new car vary depending on where you buy the vehicle. Common extras include a prepaid maintenance plan and paint sealant.
A Buyer’s Guide to the 2012 Volvo XC90
While While the trend seems to be the bigger the vehicle the better, the 2012 Volvo XC90 proves that you can combine seven-passenger seating with a smaller size – without overly sacrificing comfort. For those who want a smaller footprint...
A Buyer’s Guide to the 2012 GMC Yukon
When When you want a big SUV that can hold its own, come what may, you’ll be happiest with a GMC Yukon. Although the inside of one of these vehicles can sometimes resemble an upscale hotel room, the 2012 GMC...

Related questions

Recommendation of Subaru Forester

Hello. There is a big concern with the air bags on this car. If the car is, or even "was", equipped with a Takata airbag, I wouldn't consider purchasing it due to the Subaru Recall. Even if the airbag was...

I live in Dubai. I would like to know if a 2009 Mazda CX-9 is easier to maintain compared to a 2009 Ford Explorer.

Hi there: This is a very good question. The best way to determine which one is easier to maintain, you might want to research car reviews on Edmunds.com for consumer reports on the Mazda and Ford you're looking at purchasing....

What do you think about the reliability of this the 2013 Audi Q5?

Hi, thanks for writing in. As you may already know, the reliability of most vehicles depends largely on how well the car is maintained as well as the owner's driving habits, vehicle driving conditions, etc. This is especially important when...

How can we help?

Our service team is available 7 days a week, Monday - Friday from 6 AM to 5 PM PST, Saturday - Sunday 7 AM - 4 PM PST.

1 (855) 347-2779 · hi@yourmechanic.com