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Don't be intimidated the next time you walk onto a used car lot--gain confidence with education. Arm yourself with the knowledge of what kind of car you need, new or used, as well as the price range you want and how much you can qualify to borrow.

You should also learn how to evaluate your potential vehicle, what to look for during a test drive and how to negotiate. By educating yourself you'll be able to make a smart decision and not be stuck with a lemon or riddled with buyer's remorse.


Follow these tips to protect yourself:

Check the seller’s phone number

If you find the listing on craigslist or in an internet classified ad, do an online search for the phone number to see if it is linked to other car ads. If the seller is selling multiple cars, that might be a red flag. Some people will try to sell vehicles they do not own.

Ask about the car

Don’t say too much—be purposefully vague and just ask about “the car” without giving any details. If the seller responds with “Which car?”, you’ll know that he or she has multiple cars for sale. Once again, this could mean they are trying to curbstone you, or sell you a car that isn’t theirs.

Get an inspection and a written repair estimate

Have the car inspected by a mechanic before you buy it. If you don’t have a mechanic, Google and Yelp are good places to read reviews of local shops. It’s a smart investment—a pre-purchase inspection costs about $100 and can alert you to problems you may not find yourself.

Get a vehicle history report

AutoCheck and CARFAX are the two best-known sources for vehicle history reports. These reports can reveal vital information about the car, including whether the odometer has been rolled back or if it has been in an accident. Use the car’s vehicle identification number (VIN) to get this information.

Transfer the warranty

See if any manufacturer’s warranty is left on the car that could be transferred to you. A used car that is only a couple of years old, or that has low mileage, may still be covered.

Ask to see the driver’s license and title

You should always ask to see the seller’s driver’s license to see if it matches the name and address on the car’s title. If the person’s name on the title is different from the name of the person selling it to you, that’s another red flag.

Be wary of fictitious friends and family

Unlicensed dealers often use family and friends as part of their sales pitch. They may pretend that it’s their friend’s car, their mother’s car or “my Uncle Dave’s car.” If the seller tells you that he is selling it for a friend or relative, be extra cautious.

File a complaint

If something does go wrong, file a complaint with your local office of consumer affairs, the Motor Vehicle Administration or state department of motor vehicles, and the state Attorney General’s Office.



Buying a car privately can be a good way to save money on the car you want. By following these tips, you’ll avoid falling prey to curbstoning. Whether you are buying a car privately or from a dealer, credit unions are often an overlooked source of legitimate and affordable auto financing. Many people make a mistake in thinking that they can’t get a loan to buy a better car, so they end up settling for less.