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Don’t get Broadsided when Purchasing or Selling a Vehicle Privately

Don’t get Broadsided when Purchasing or Selling a Vehicle Privately

Car purchases are fun when deciding the model, color, and amenities. Car purchases are not always fun when selling/buying a car or dodging crooks and criminals on the private market. Here are some of our favorite tips for staying safe when purchasing or selling a vehicle privately.

  • If the vehicle you’re buying is priced lower than the book value or the seller negotiates significantly down in price, it’s probably too good to be true.  Ask questions, if it’s a crooked deal, they won’t answer clearly, or at all, they’ll move on. Look for other red flags before buying.
  • Just because an individual “looks professional” doesn’t mean they are and vice-versa.
  • Check out the vehicle in-person BEFORE paying for it.  Photos can be deceiving.
  • Take the car for a test drive. The owner may want to go with you, which is normal.
  • Allow buyer to test drive, with you.  Don’t just hand over the keys.
  • Get a VIN or CARFAX® report on the car to learn its history. There may be a fee for reports, but paid reports are well worth it.  i.e. been in a flood, major accidents, owners, a lemon, flood damage, etc.  
  • If seller will only communicate via text/email, oops, red flag. Why the secrecy?
  • If the seller has an elaborate story of why they’re getting rid of the vehicle, red flag. Ask more questions.
  • Do not give, issue, or deposit funds for the vehicle until it’s in your possession.
  • Extreme haste to complete the transaction should be regarded as suspicious.
  • Need a place to make the transaction? Why not visit with a manager or loan officer at CUA and arrange to have your seller/buyer meet you at CUA with the vehicle. If it’s a legitimate deal, they’ll like the comfort of conducting the transaction at a known business. CUA can take a look at the car (though we’re not mechanics) or walk you through the process of getting the title in order and any documentation you should receive/give the seller/buyer.
  • Don’t allow an unknown buyer to borrow your tag to get the car home.
  • Cashier’s checks or checks of any kind are not “guaranteed” payment. Even if you call to see if they will clear, the funds cannot be held for you. If someone is paying you, get cash or negotiate the check at their financial institution with both the buyer and the vehicle present.
  • If possible when buying, do the transaction in the lienholder’s lobby and do not leave without a guarantee lien release.
  • If you’re buying a used car, have a trusted mechanic check it out. A few dollars upfront to spot issues can save you a greater amount later or help you negotiate the price.
  • Don’t test drive or transact alone. Have a trusted friend, family member, neighbor, credit union employee present.
  • Don’t get into a car for a test drive if you have a bad gut feeling. Just say you changed your mind.
  • Remove any parking decals or identifying information on/in the vehicle you’re selling. Check the glovebox too.
  • Usually ownership is not transferred and final until you finish the title work. Be sure to file (or get) a Notice of Sale form, Sales Tax form, or Vehicle Transfer Notification, if your state requires. It might help protect you if something happens with the car before the title is changed.  
  • Check to make sure your buyer has a valid driver’s license and insurance. If they don’t this might be a liability issue for you down the road.

None of these tips are fool proof. Ask questions, be cautious, and if it doesn’t smell right, don’t go through with the transaction. Better safe than sorry, right?


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