How to Buy a Car From Owner

Buying a car from the owner can benefit you and the owner. Cars bought from an owner are typically cheaper than a car bought from a dealership, but they come with no warranty or guarantee. No matter where you purchase a car you should be prepared to do your research and negotiate what you consider a fair price. Car buying, especially from an owner, can prove stressful, so take your time and do not allow a seller to pressure you into a purchase.

Locate a car you are interested in purchasing. The local newspaper and penny ads have advertisements for vehicles being sold by their owners. Websites such as autotrader allow you to not only search by vehicle type, but you can also search for vehicles that are being sold by their owners.

Visually inspect and test drive the car. The test drive allows you to get a feel for how the car drives and whether there are obvious mechanical issues such as squealing brakes. Taking the car to a mechanic while you test drive it will allow you to have it inspected for any problems before you complete the purchase. Speak with the seller about taking the vehicle to the mechanic. The seller should not have a problem with this but may ask that you make an appointment with the mechanic that works best for both of you. You should look at the physical condition of the vehicle. You will not want to purchase a vehicle with rust, major body damage or signs of general abuse to the vehicle. The mechanic will inform you of any repairs the vehicle needs and approximately the cost of the repairs. If you feel you can afford the repairs, you may consider purchasing the car.

Make an offer on the vehicle. Take into account any issues that your mechanic discovered during the inspection. If the mechanic informed you of major repairs, deduct the price of the repairs from the asked cost unless the seller has priced the vehicle for the amount it would be worth without the repairs minus those costs. Having cash on hand may convince the owner to accept a lower price than what they originally wanted. The cost of the vehicle should be less than your state's book value especially if you are looking to acquire a loan for the purchase.

Pay the owner and acquire a signed title from the owner. The owner must sign over the title so you can put the vehicle in your name and have it registered. The title must also have the new buyer information completed by the seller. Do not provide any money to the seller until the title has been signed. Any seller that is trying to sell a car legally will have no problem signing the title and giving it to you at the point of sale.

Check the title against the vehicle identification number. The title will have the VIN printed on the front. The VIN is located on the top of the dash and can be read through the windshield of the vehicle. The VIN is a 17 digit number. The title must also have the seller's name and not the name of someone else. Ask for a receipt or written bill of sale to show proof of the purchase.


  • Never wait for the clear title as people trying to sell stolen vehicles often try to con buyers into thinking the title will be available after the transaction has been made.