Buying a car from a private party - using carfax, figuring out price

I have been looking for a used Chrysler minivan. I’m interested in the Town and Country and the Caravan years 2005-2010

I would like to know if there is any value in getting a Carfax report?

Also, what is the best way to figure out a fair price? Is Kelly Blue Book reliable? I noticed that their values are much higher than Edmunds. Some of the cars I have looked at have many options. Do those add much to the price?

I looked at one Town and Country that belonged to the current owner’s father who passed away last year. She does not know a lot about the car’s history except that he bought it used from a dealer in 2014. Any records got lost or misplaced when the family sorted his belongings. The car is in excellent condition and has almost every option available. Would a Carfax report be helpful in any way in this situation? Should I expect to pay for all those added features and options?

The best thing you can do is make sure the car has a clean title and pay for a vehicle inspection

The shop doing the inspection should have absolutely no relationship to the seller

Don’t be swayed by any verbal accounts that the car just got a clean bill of health, just had the oil changed, etc. It’s up to you to determine the car’s true condition

I would say Edmunds pricing is more realistic than Kelley Blue Book

Carfax is fairly inaccurate. Many things don’t find their way to Carfax, and they also sometimes report accidents, when in fact none have occurred

Thank you this is very helpful.

I don’t think I will pay for a Carfax report because although it may tell me how many owners there have been it doesn’t really tell me much about the car’s current condition - so better to put my money toward a vehicle inspection.

I am unclear as to how to determine if the title is “clean”? Does that just mean that the person selling it has the title paper in their possession? The people selling it are a little out of their element with this but in no way deceptive just a bit inept. Is there a way to research title with the VIN?

What carfax seems to be somewhat accurate at, in my opinion . . .

number of owners
dates of when car was sold
dates of when car passed . . . or failed . . . smog inspections
dates of when car was registered

“clean” means the car isn’t a reconstructed wreck, not a gray market import, no flood damage, etc.

Yes, when you look at Kelly Blue Book or any such site options and higher trim levels always add to the value. The same goes for low mileage vehicles will have a higher price than a high mileage.

I bought a car from a private party for the first time last summer. It went very well for me.

I did get a CarFax for the car. Right, wrong, or neither… it provided me at least some information about the history of the car. I scrutinized the report, looking for any clues about the maintenance history, any wrecks, etc. I don’t dispute that CarFax may not be comprehensive or even 100% accurate. But this is a car whose history you know nothing about; I’d rather know something than nothing. So I got value out of it.

Speaking of value… I used the value estimate tools from Edmunds, KBB, and NADA to come up with a figure. I think they provide a good starting point, but ultimately the price you pay is one that both you and the seller can live with. However, if all three of those sites provide you with a value around, say, $15K, and the seller is insisting on $17.5K…well, you may not be able to work out a deal there.

I also agree with having the car inspected by a mechanic, etc., if you aren’t mechanically inclined. I considering myself knowledgable about cars, so I usually have an idea of what to look for/listen for when doing the test drive. It’s worked well for me… but your results may vary.

Equally important is to really listen to the seller’s story of the car. If he has maintenance records, seems open/knowledgable about the car, then proceed forth. But if the seller is distant or reluctant to share info, then I’d walk away. I also agree with needing to see a clear title and using cash (or cashier’s check) up front.

It’s a crapshoot really, and honestly no different from buying from a dealer if you think about it. But you make your best guess and go with it. Good luck.

A clean title mean’s in addition to what @db4690 says has no lein’s & the person who has the title has the legal right to sign it.


Right so the Carfax will tell me something about the car’s history but not as important as an inspection of current condition.

OK, so who assigns the “clean” designation to the title?

When I look at the paper title I have for the car I currently own there is a section called “Title Brands” and in that area it says -None-. So is that what I would see on any clean title from a buyer?

I have purchased cars before from private parties but it’s been a while.

The best way to be sure of the title is like I do you & the seller both go to the DMV together.

Thanks, that’s helpful because some of these cars have many added features. Just wasn’t sure how well they hold their value. Things like a DVD player or navigation system. Not that important to me but some sellers want to get their money back for the options they added.

Thanks for sharing your experience.

I am curious about this one car’s history but not sure it will help me decide whether to buy it. I would rely on the inspection for that. But I agree it is good to know something. I have had many great experiences buying cars from private parties - have never bought a bad one - but this time around I’m feeling a little less confident.

There are a few things that tip the scales toward a positive outcome but like you said you do the best you can - there is no way to know for sure the future behavior of a car.

If the vehicle title is in the name of the deceased contact your DMV to see what is needed to transfer title. The person selling the vehicle may need to show a certificate of death to the DMV to transfer title. Some people believe selling a car is as casual as selling used furniture and may not provide the necessary paper work to complete the transaction.


Thanks. I’m going to find out whose name is on the title and then proceed from there. If it’s still in her father’s name I’ll call the DMV and find out what they require. Sounds like a bit of a headache. I don’t buy and sell cars that often so when I do I have to review all of the necessary steps to complete the transfer.

Aftermarket additions . . . stereo systems, fat rims and tires, lowering springs, loud exhaust, etc. . . . don’t hold their value very well, in some cases

Just because the previous owner spent 2K on modifications, additions, etc., doesn’t mean the car is actually worth 2K more than the identical car in unmodified form

Personally, I would rather buy a car which has had no alterations, improvements, modifications, etc. of any kind . . . perhaps making an exception for window tinting, as I’ve successfully been able to remove junk window tinting applications

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The value guides will show a break down of each options value if you check them on the option list.

The options that you see are likely factory options, Navigation, DVD with up to 3 displays, power sliding doors, heated seats, blind spot monitor, etc. are common options. Options can add $25 to $300 value for each, DVD systems for example is worth a fraction of its original cost in a 10 year old vehicle, it may not continue working much longer.

I mostly agree with you.

The are many features on the newer minivans that I would rather not have but they seem to have become standard and since I’m only able to afford a used vehicle at this time I can’t get all the options I want and skip the ones I don’t.

It is hard to find a minivan from 2005 and newer that does not have power sliding doors - something I think is completely unnecessary. I was wondering if it is possible to operate the sliding side doors manually on some of these minivans. Can the power feature be shut on and off?

Right - they might not work for very long. And I certainly wouldn’t want to spend the money to fix them. Most of them have little to do with how well the car drives and how safe it is. But they are very common features on the minivans I’ve been looking at.

Sounds like a good idea!

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The sliding doors can be opened and closed with the door handles and there is a cancel switch on the overhead console to turn off the power door switches in the passenger area.

I think we’re talking about 2 different things

Or at the very least, you and I are using different terminology

when you used the term “added features” . . . I LITERALLY understood it to mean that the owner had paid somebody to add these features AFTER they had bought the car, as in aftermarket components which were not built by the manufacturer. For example, an aftermarket navigation system, aftermarket Eagle alloy rims, etc.

And those things lose their value incredibly fast, unlike the car itself

But now I’m beginning to think you’re looking at a minivan that was ordered loaded from the factory, meaning the buyer checked off a whole bunch of option boxes on the order sheet. A top of the line minivan, for example, instead of a strippo minivan for a rental agency or government use

As for power sliding doors, yes, that is a very popular feature. And there are typically methods of operating such a door if/when it’s no longer functioning electrically