Buying a New (Used) Car

6 Jun

To add to the craziness of moving in to a new apartment this past month, I also decided to purchase a new (used) car!  What can I say, I like to do it all at once?

My current car is 14 years old and has been costing me quite a bit of money in the past few years; it turned into one of those cars where everything just starts breaking and I was scared that something would fall off or explode every time I got in the car.  One day it started making some funny noises- ones I certainly hadn’t heard before- and I knew I had to do something drastic.  I was tired of shelling out money for a decomposing car! I vaguely knew what kind of new (used) car I wanted (Scion xA or xD) and had a budget in my mind ($10k).    So I turned to Craigslist for help… and what are the chances?  I found the perfect ad posted that day!  It was my ideal car (the xD) with low mileage, the right price, and a good ad.


At the risk of spoiling the surprise, I GOT IT!!!!  Isn’t she pretty?  :)

It was an exciting, educational, and slightly confusing process to buy a used car from a  private seller so I wanted to document it here.  Here’s how it all went down for me:

1.  Find one you like.  I found mine in an ad on Craigslist.  You might find something in the newspaper, or drive by a car parked in a lot with a sign, etc.  I liked the ad I found because it was really detailed and had tons of pictures.  The seller didn’t skim over the bad parts, either; he put it up front that the car needed new tires, had a door ding, etc.  I liked the vehicle, so I emailed the seller and set up a time to go see it.

2.  Go see it.  Important safety note here: bring someone with you to see the car!  (especially important if you are a woman)  Stranger danger, and all that bad stuff.

Anyway, go see the car.  Take a good look at everything- inside and outside.  Does it look good?  Does it smell good? (Seriously.  Who wants a stinky car?  Have you seen that Seinfeld episode where Jerry can’t get the smell out of his car?!) Ask why they are selling the car.  Ask any other questions you can think of.  I didn’t ask a whole lot, because I know next-to-nothing about cars, but that’s just me.

3.  Test drive.  The seller let my BF and I take it by ourselves, but every seller may vary; they may want to come with you.  We asked the seller for a good loop since we weren’t familiar with the area.  If there is an easily accessible highway, take the car on the highway.  Play with the turn signals, wipers, radio, air conditioning, heating, side mirrors.  Test the windows and locks.  Basically hit every button you can find and make sure they work properly.

4. Haggle.  We arrived back at the sellers house and I told him that I liked the car.  I hate price haggling so I asked him “what’s the best price you can do on this?”

He gave me a little info about how he priced it, saying, “I looked at Kelly blue book and went a little lower to account for the fact that the tires need to be replaced… What kind of price are you thinking?”

I asked for $250 less than his posting and he happily accepted. (Shoot, should I have asked for more? Oh well).  I told him I wanted the car but wanted to take the car to a mechanic for a pre-purchase inspection.  We set up a tentative day for me to take the car to a mechanic, and I told him I’d touch base once I set up the appointment.

5.  Find an auto shop.  Once home, I set about researching a good auto mechanic in the general location of the seller’s house.  In my case, I live about 30-40 minutes from the seller, so my normal mechanic wouldn’t work.

I googled “auto service —-(city name)” and picked a place that had good reviews– a BP gas station about 5 minutes from the seller’s house.  Perfect!  I set up an appointment with them and let the seller know when I’d be by to get the car.  In my case, we set up the inspection for 3 days after I initially saw the car.  This probably isn’t ideal since that’s a long time to wait and hope that no one else buys the car out from under you.  But that’s how our schedules worked out, so I didn’t have much choice.  After the fact, the seller told me that a few other people came by between my two visits; if any had offered him a check I’m sure he would have taken it.  Yikes!

6.  Preparations.  I knew that I wanted to buy the car (barring any huge service problems found at the inspection) so I prepared a few things before I took the car to the mechanic.

a.  I printed out temporary tags for the trip home.  My state (VA) allows you to purchase a $5 trip permit that you print at home and tape in the back window of the vehicle while you drive it home.  This is important because most sellers will take their plates off once you purchase it, and you can’t drive a car with no plates.  It’s also illegal to take the plates off your current car and put them on the new one.  That would be MUCH easier, but it is what it is… Anyway, if you do the trip permit, remember to bring tape to tape it up in the window, too!  ;)

b.  If you have to pay in cashier’s check, research where you will get that check.  I lucked out in that my bank had a branch right down the road from the seller.  I suppose you could also get that check in advance, but I didn’t want to get a check out for the full amount in case we somehow haggled the price lower (due to things found at the pre-purchase inspection, etc).  I felt more comfortable getting the check once I was 100% sure of the sale.

c.  If you’re really gung-ho about buying the car, enlist someone to come with you.  If you’re going to buy the car, you can’t drive yourself over there solo; then you’d be stuck with 2 cars and only yourself to drive them home!

7.  Pre-purchase inspection.  I drove over to the sellers house with my mom and picked up the new car. We drove it to the service station and waited about an hour while they checked it out.  Once completed, the mechanic told me it was a great car (!!!!!) and pointed out a few things he found wrong (tires needed to be replaced, which I knew, and it needed new wiper blades).  This made me feel SO MUCH more at ease with the whole buying-from-Craigslist situation.  As I mentioned earlier, I know nothing about cars so having a professional check it out put my mind at ease.  This inspection cost me about $75 and I think was worth every penny.

8.  Get the dinero.  After hearing from the mechanic, I called the seller and told him I wanted to buy the car.  (sidenote: what an awkward conversation that is! “Hello, the inspection went great.  Can I buy this car?  Okay great, thanks.”)  I had to go get the cashier’s check, so I got the seller’s full name (to write the check out to) and I hopped over to my bank.

9.  Buy it.  With check in hand, I went back to the seller’s house.  He gave me the signed title and took off the old plates.  I had him sign my trip permit and taped it in the back window.

10.  Register it.  I happened to have a good block of time that afternoon so I took the car straight to the DMV to register.  But as luck would have it, that step was not so easy… but that’s a story for next time.

Have you ever purchased a car from a private seller?  Do you have any other tips or tricks to suggest?

One Response to “Buying a New (Used) Car”


  1. Buying a New (Used) Car, v2 | Saving Money in your Twenties - June 27, 2013

    […] I shared with you a few weeks ago, I recently bought a new-to-me car.  Everything went just dandy with the transaction, exceeeeept at the end.  I conveniently left it […]

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