Step 1: Find your Car
Looking for a private party used car is easy. There are a variety of print publications, newspaper classifieds, weekly shoppers, consumer circulars, community bulletin boards and websites that offer a wealth of private party used cars for sale.
In recent years, the Internet has created a whole new pre-owned vehicle marketplace of information, inventory and related services. A resource such as AutoTrader.com (touting the largest selection of used vehicles found anywhere on the planet) is a great place to start your used car search.
Step 2: Get a Value
Once you've found a prospective used car contender one that looks and sounds good in the ad and one you could definitely envision yourself owning and driving, now its time to figure out if the sellers asking price is fair.
To begin, you need to research the cars retail value by inputting the make, model, year, options and mileage information at the NADAguides.com Used Car Information Center. This information is the fundamental foundation upon which all other assessments of value are built. Once you've inputted the make, model, year, options and mileage data, you'll be provided with a value report outlining several different values, including their descriptions.
The range of values listed on the NADAguides.com vehicle value report is directly related to the year of the car you're interested in purchasing. Late model used vehicles are provided with two values average trade-in and average retail. Older used cars are provided with three values low, average and high retail.
When you're buying a used car from a dealer, you should research the vehicles retail value. This is the typical asking price of a vehicle sold on a dealer lot or the price a private party usually asks for the car on the open market.
Following is a complete description of what each valuation criteria means taken directly from the NADAguides.com used car-pricing report.
Low Retail Value: A low retail vehicle may have extensively visible wear and tear. The body may have dents and other blemishes. The buyer can expect to invest in bodywork and/or mechanical work. It is likely that the seats and carpets will have visible wear. The vehicle should be able to pass local inspection standards and be in safe running condition. Low retail vehicles usually are not found on dealer lots.
Average Retail: An average retail vehicle should be clean and without glaring defects. Tires and glass should be in good condition. The paint should match and have a good finish. The interior should have wear in relation to the age of the vehicle. Carpet and seat upholstery should be clean, and all power options should work. The mileage should be within the acceptable range for the model year. An Average Retail vehicle on a dealer lot may include a limited warranty or guarantee, and possibly a current safety and/or emission inspection (where applicable).
Note: Vehicles with low mileage that are in exceptionally good condition and/or include a manufacturer certification can be worth a significantly higher value than the Average Retail price shown.
Step 3: Research the Car's Marketability
The next step is to determine the marketability of that vehicle in essence, what other people are currently paying for similar cars with similar features in your local marketplace.
It's important for you to know how significantly a vehicles marketability affects its value. Think about it a sleek sports car with low-profile racing tires is probably worth less money in a snowy climate like Minnesota than in a sunny climate like California. Further, certain vehicles are more desirable than others, depending on the city, county or state in which you live. Maybe a majority of local buyers prefer trucks and SUVs to cars maybe more prefer four-wheel- or front wheel drive to rear-wheel drive and perhaps even more want a car thats been modified, with aftermarket rims and a wheel drive to rear-wheel drive and perhaps even more want a car thats been modified, with aftermarket rims and a tricked-out sound system. At the end of the day, the market in which you live, the desirability of the vehicle you own and buyers mindsets ultimately determine a vehicles monetary value.
In order to determine the marketability of the car you want to buy, you need to do a little homework. A great place to start is with resources like AutoTrader.com. Here, you can research prices of similar make, model and year vehicles, in the same (or similar) condition as the car you're interested in purchasing, and with comparable mileage. Additionally, you can research the marketability of similar vehicles in your local market area a good indication of local car-buyer mentality.
Whats more, you can review local newspaper classifieds, community bulletin boards and local flyers and circulars that usually run car ads on a regular basis. By combining the NADAguides.com book value for your car with your local market research, you are finally getting closer to a realistic market value for your own used car.
Finally, don't forget to assess the specific features about the vehicle that, in essence, make it more desirable to potential buyers like yourself hence, potentially increasing its overall value. Is the car a hot-selling item? Does it have a sunroof, a comprehensive sound system, shiny aftermarket rims, leather seats, customized upholstery or any other unique characteristics that you would find appealing and would ultimately be willing to pay more for? NADAguides.com has written several articles regarding add-ons and their potential to increase a vehicles value, including Do Add-ons add Value? published by various newspapers around the country.
Remember that while certain aftermarket accessories and vehicle customizations can certainly increase a cars value, they might also deter certain prospective buyers, ultimately decreasing its value in the process. Its up to you to determine what youd be willing to pay for the added features the vehicle possesses and assess a value accordingly.
Step 4: Determine your Budget
Before you enter into the used car buying process, you need to determine what you can afford to spend.
If you plan to finance the car, you need to calculate what you can afford on a monthly basis (in the form of a monthly car payment) after taking into consideration all other personal monthly expenditures (i.e. mortgage, rent, utilities, etc.).
Once you've determined your monthly car payment allowance, now its time to figure out how much cash you can expend in the form of a down payment. Again, this will depend on your current financial status.
Finally, you need to determine an affordable used car purchase price. If you've already calculated what you can spend for a monthly car payment as well as any down payments applicable towards the purchase of the car, you've basically already determined what purchase price you can afford.
If you plan on financing the vehicle, be sure to make loan arrangements ahead of time this way, you'll know what loan amount and terms you qualify for. Additionally, it will demonstrate to the seller you're a qualified, serious buyer.
Step 5: Check for Guarantees
It's important to know ahead of time if the used car you're buying is covered under some type of warranty. In certain situations, the car may be covered under a manufacturers certification program. Other times, it may be covered by an independent extended warranty of some kind.
Warranty programs are important because they cover the cost of specific major repairs should something happen to the vehicle mechanically. Whats more, certified cars (ones that carry manufacturer warranties) go through a rigorous inspection process and are typically in better condition with less mileage than standard used cars that don't carry a manufacturer-backed guarantee.
Vehicles covered under a manufacturers warranty (referred to as CPO, or certified pre-owned cars) typically cost more than standard used cars. In some situations, a CPO car may cost as little as $400 higher to as much as $2,800 higher depending on the make and model.
The seller may have already factored the cost of the warranty into the cars asking price. Additionally, the certification information may have been provided in the sellers initial used car advertisement. If you're unsure whether a guarantee exists for the vehicle you wish to buy, be sure to ask the seller ahead of time. It could very well impact the value of the car as well as the sellers willingness to negotiate price.
For more information about manufacturer-backed warranties, check out our CPO Center, an information hub designed to teach you almost everything you'd ever want to know about certified pre-owned cars, including warranty programs, the CPO inspection process, as well as an overview of various certified pre-owned programs available to consumers.
In most cases, you wouldn't buy a Certified Pre-Owned car from a private party the majority of the time, cars are sold as-is, where-is in these situations. However, if you buy from a private party, you stand the chance of saving money but you also have to do more of the legwork on your own, including securing financing and transferring paperwork.
Step 6: Don't Buy a Lemon
Buying a lemon is probably the single biggest fear of most used car shoppers. While there are no guarantees when it comes to purchasing a used car, there are certainly a variety of guidelines you can follow to help ensure you're getting a reliable, mechanically sound vehicle at the end of the day.
In our Inspecting a Used Car section, we outlined the steps you should follow when personally inspecting a pre-owned car, including putting the vehicle through a comprehensive exterior, interior and mechanical appraisal. In addition to a handy checklist, we offer a variety of tips and advice to effectively appraise a used car from top to bottom.
What's more, we strongly suggest you solicit the help of a certified, reputable mechanic (someone you know and trust) to inspect the used vehicle prior to purchase. Its always a great idea to get the vehicle inspected, especially if you're considering the purchase of an older vehicle with higher mileage or one that hasn't been routinely maintained or serviced.
Finally, we suggest you obtain a detailed, NADAguides.com Vehicle History Report for the car based on its VIN number (the cars vehicle identification number) as back-up documentation about the validity of the vehicles title and mileage, in addition to determining if the car is salvaged or flood damaged in any way.
Step 7: Negotiate the Deal
Buying a car is one of the largest purchases a consumer can make. At NADAguides.com, we understand the importance of negotiation as a tool to help car buyers get the best deal on a vehicle. Maybe you think the dealers asking price is over-inflated or perhaps you like knowing you're getting the best deal possible. Whatever your reason for bargaining, this section is designed to provide you with important information about when and how to use the art of negotiation to your advantage.
Before you enter into a negotiation process, be sure you're ready to buy nothing wastes more time than bargaining for a vehicle you have no intention of purchasing.
It also helps to do your homework ahead of time. Once you've researched the vehicles retail value at NADAguides.com and once you've examined the marketplace to determine what similar vehicles with similar features are selling for in that marketplace, you should have a clear understanding about the vehicles current value based on its year, make, model, trim level, condition, mileage and market desirability.
Now that you've done your homework and you have a good idea about that used cars fair market value, its time to negotiate price.
Before you enter into the negotiation process, be sure to set a realistic low offer as well as a high price limit you would feel comfortable paying for the vehicle. Remember to keep in mind your budget and your price limitations when you enter into the negotiation process and be firm about those limitations. Most private party sellers understand that negotiation is a large part of the automotive purchasing process and expect the buyer to adopt some type of bargaining tactics before signing on the dotted line.
If you've arranged financing for the vehicle ahead of time, or if you plan to pay cash for the car, let the seller know you have the finances it takes to purchase the car immediately. This will demonstrate to the seller that you're a serious customer.
Start by making a low offer. Most times, the seller will counteroffer with a higher price than your initial offer, so be prepared to work up from your starting point to reach a selling price thats acceptable for both parties.
Be patient about the negotiation process it takes time to arrive at an agreeable selling price, and be prepared to leave if you cant reach a price thats right for you. Remember, be firm about your price limitations and don't forget to be realistic about your budget. Only you know how much you can afford to spend.
For more information about bargaining tactics, be sure to read the Negotiating Strategies section, a comprehensive overview about how the art of negotiation can help net a better used car or new car deal, whether you're buying from a private party or a dealer.
Step 8: Complete the Paperwork
Congratulations! You're the proud owner of a great-quality, affordable used car. Now its time to sign on the dotted line to make the sale official.
In addition to successfully paying for the car, you'll need to complete and submit the necessary DMV documentation, including the title and registration paperwork, to legitimize the sale.
Because each city, county and state in the country requires different DMV paperwork, the process of determining what documentation you need while successfully completing that documentation can be difficult and confusing. To help you avoid confusion, NADAguides.com offers a complete DMV Center designed to provide you with a checklist of the documents you need to buy a car and transfer ownership, as well as detailed directions about how to accurately complete the paperwork. Some of the documents you can expect to complete include a bill of sale, a release of liability, a transfer of ownership, smog certifications, titles and more. Be sure to research the documentation required in your city, county and state at NADAguides.com first to avoid confusion at the DMV later.
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