Quick Used Car Buying Questions


I may have to fast track a used car purchase tomorrow as I found a great deal. It’s been a long time and it occurred to me I’m not sure of the process.

There’s a shop next to where the owner lives that services Subarus. So I can take it there for an inspection.

??Are all inspections the same or is there something specific I should ask?

??Should I run a search on the VIN number?

??How does swapping tags go? My other car was totaled. So I have no tags. Does he just have to trust me to drive it safely to DMV and then return his plates?

? Would you ever give some half the amount to hold the car so he doesn’t show it to others? Or ask if he can hold it till I get a full cashier’s check? It’s just a logistical thing of doing it in one day and banks are closed on weekend. He’s got others interested in looking on Sat.

??Anything else I’m forgetting?



Get it inspected for sure. Slow down, fast decisions are not the best decisions. Sure others are looking at it, what do you think a seller would say - hey no one else wants it so take your time!

If you miss this car there are others, lots of others. YOU are the one with the money and you are the one in control - don’t forget it. If the car checks out leave a deposit and get the vin # of the car on a receipt. You’ll need the vin and perhaps the mileage to contact your insurance company. Check with your state as to how to handle DMV to get plates.

The SELLER must have the title…When you pay him, he signs it over to you…You take it to the DMV and buy new plates for it, bring them back and drive it away…

As for inspections, Year, make, model, mileage?? You get what you pay for…

Tell the mechanic you want a good pre-purchase inspection, and he will know what to do. On Subarus, the issues are tires being identical and tire wear the same all four. If this guy is a Subaru specialist, ask him what else should he check out in a more thorough fashion. Use the information he provides as leverage as you deal with the seller.

I would never put down a deposit, as Uncle Turbo says, there are other cars out there if this deal falls through.

Thanks all. I won’t rush into anything. And I have been researching used Foresters to replace my totaled one ad nauseum. 2004, 89,000 for $8300. That’s a bit under even the fair condition for that car in my area (Oregon) where they are extremely popular.

Is the bill of sale thing necessary or does it depend on the state?

So I’ve got 2 opinions on a deposit. I’m inclined not to do that because I have nothing then. And Subarus are always for sale. I just can’t wait a lot longer.


Each state has different rules on bill of sale. On private sales, I insist on one anyway. You can never go wrong if you get one, because the bill of sale will either be needed (and you have it), or not. No clue what Oregon may require, but a quick call to DMV or a visit to the Oregon DMV website might provide a better answer.

Be aware that at 89K there is a 90K service due soon, and probably a timing belt change at 105K miles that will cost around $500-600 to do. Account for those items in your value computation.

I don’t have a problem giving the seller of a used car a small deposit, as long as I get a receipt for the deposit, and the receipt clearly states that the deposit is for the car in question.

Hand written receipts are fine.

Call your local DMV or title service to find out the requirements for private sales in your state.

The bill of sale is useful in lowering the sales tax you will have to pay…The dollar figure stated should be as low as possible. Without one, they will compute sales tax using blue-book price…They may try that anyway…

Before I pay for a pre-purchase inspection I give the seller a fully refundable deposit (personal check around $100 – $500 depending upon the value of the vehicle) and sign the following sales agreement. It’s a bit like earnest money and a term sheet when buying a house. You want the lock the seller into the deal and establish the price before paying for inspections. The agreement always gives the buyer a way out. If not, after a great inspection the seller could raise his price. It also gives the seller a warm and fuzzy feeling as it includes an “as is” clause.

I’ve used this many times without any problems.



A deposit in the amount of $__________ is hereby acknowledged by ________, (?Seller?) received from _________________________ (?Buyer?), for the sale of the automobile described below. Buyer agrees to pay Seller the balance of $ on or before ______________________. Seller agrees to provide Buyer with free and clear title upon receipt of full payment. Seller agrees to immediately refund Buyer?s deposit if mechanical inspection of vehicle does not meet with Buyer?s approval.

Automobile Description





Seller warrants the odometer reading of _____________, to the best of its knowledge, reflects actual mileage and that the odometer has not been disconnected or altered while in possession of Seller.

Seller is the true and lawful owner of said vehicle the same is free and clear of all liens and encumbrances, and has full power, right and lawful authority to dispose of this vehicle.

The above described vehicle is sold ?AS IS? and ?WITH ALL FAULTS? and Seller hereby expressly disclaims all warranties, either expressed or implied, including any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose, and neither assume nor authorize any other person to assume for it any liability in connection with the sale of this vehicle.

The laws of the State of _____________ shall govern the terms and conditions of this Purchase Agreement and Bill of Sale.





So what if your other car was totaled? Why didn’t you get the plate back, if you’re in a state where the plate doesn’t go with the car?

If you’re in a place where they DO stay with the car, yeah, just go to DMV, you keep the plates that are on it anyway.

If you’re in a place where they DON’T, I’d say just make sure you have the signed title transfer with you whenever you drive the car until you get to DMV and get new plates.

Speaking of which, I once bought a car in Nevada, a seller-keeps-the-plates state. I had no idea about this practice. I didn’t have the title transfer with me when I picked up the car (I’d always been taught that you should never have a signed title in the vehicle…it would have just been for a few hours, so I was dumb not to take it). I didn’t notice it had no plate. Then I began driving home, via Hoover Dam, with its police checkpoints. In a car with no plates and no title.

I was sweating bullets. But I got through without incident, and they didn’t come after me. I guess they only look at what is coming INTO the checkpoint, not what is going out.

Later, I saw a cop car coming to a highway intersection, far ahead of me. I slowed way down so that he would pull out ahead of me so as to not see my plateless rear end.

Oh: Yes get it inspected. Yes, get a carfax or other report (buy a month subscription, so you can check any other cars you look at. more economical). A 1/2 deposit sounds like a lot. And if the banks are closed, depending on the amounts you could try Walmart, or you could handle the transaction via an electronic funds transfer using your bank’s website, or you could try Paypal if you don’t mind exorbitant fees. To be sure he isn’t being scammed, your seller should watch you do this stuff, and confirm any transfers to his accounts, and he should immediately transfer his paypal balance to his bank account. Also, if you do cashier’s checks at Walmart he should be there to watch you get the checks so he knows they are genuine.

Also, the mechanic might not drive the car when they inspect it, so you should definitely pay close attention to any odd noises, and when you pop the hood after the drive (pop the hood after the drive) it shouldn’t have any odd smells. Just a faint oily aroma.