Is it Better to Buy a Car for Sale by Owner?

When you are looking to buy a car, there are a lot of different avenues to take. Car shopping options can be overwhelming. In fact, buying a new car is out of the financial wheelhouse for many. That leaves you with either buying a certified pre-owned car from a dealership or a used car from a private seller. Is it better to buy a car for sale by owner?

Finance and sales manager Warren Cox speaks with a customer about a Dodge Charger
Is it better to buy from a dealership? | Hasan Sarbakhshian/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Buying a new car can be stressful. So naturally, you want to eliminate any stress possible. Many people feel that buying a used car for sale by owner is a safe choice. The direct buy can be beneficial. Especially if you have enough cash for the purchase and you won’t need to take advantage of dealer financing.

Should you buy a car for sale by owner?

sometimes acquiring the car of your dreams requires to you to buy a car for sale by owner
1989 Lotus Esprit at Palace House Beaulieu. Artist Unknown. (Photo by National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

Buying a car for sale by owner has its advantages. For example, a private seller will know more about the vehicle. Assuming that the owner of the vehicle has own the car long enough, they should know the service history and have knowledge of any accidents, etc. However, the ball will be in your court in terms of deciding whether or not you feel you can trust the owner.

“vehicle history reports from CARFAX and AutoCheck can give you some history on a dealer’s car, but few things match buying a vehicle from a private seller who can thoroughly describe its condition.”
a car dealer shakes hands with clients.
(GERMANY OUT) DEU, Deutschland, Berlin: A turkish couple at AUDI.- Ali Haydar Berkpinar, a turkish salesman handing over the key. (Photo by Yavuz Arslan/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

What are some beneficial questions to ask?

Whether you are buying a car from a dealer or from a private car for sale, it’s important to do your research. If you are buying a car for sale by owner, there are some important questions to ask. Credit Karma lists some helpful questions to ask owners about their cars before deciding to buy.

One good question to ask the owner of a car for sale is whether or not they are the original owner. It’s smart to ask if a car has liens and how many miles are on the odometer. Next, you should ask the owner of a car in a private sale whether the vehicle has been in any accidents. Does the car in question have any recall history? Additionally, ask the current owner why they are selling and if they are willing to provide a detailed service history.

BMW X5 parked under a modern home roof

When is it better to go to the dealership?

Sometimes, it might serve you better to go through a dealer. This depends entirely on the subjective situation regarding funds. It’s also easier to look at used cars for sale by owner if you have mechanical experience and know of particular things to look for.

It may be wise to choose buying from a dealership instead of a private seller when you need to finance. Sellers of used cars for sale by owner can’t generally provide financing. You will have to buy the car up front. Additionally, if an owner won’t let you test drive the car or get an inspection done, they are probably hiding something. Plus, dealerships tend to have a variety of vehicles to choose from, so it may turn out easier to find what you’re looking for from a dealership instead.

A man inspects a car inside a dealership
A man looks at the sticker price of a new Chevrolet | Tim Boyle/Getty Images

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Buying a good car

Test drive your prospective vehicles. Weigh out your financial options. Do your research and ask questions. If you cover your bases, buying from a private seller can prove to be a great experience that ends with you having a good new (to you) car. Still, good cars can be found at dealerships as well. If you need financing options, it is easier to go through a dealership.