What's better: buying used privately, or from a dealer?

The subject basically says it all…Just curious what the opinions are on this. I think you can probably get a better price privately, but is it safer (warranty,etc) to go with a used car dealer? As good as the reputation used car dealerships have… :slight_smile:

Thanks for your input,


I don’t think there is much of a difference other than any warranty that the dealer may offer.

Many private sellers will doctor a car with major problems and sell it knowing full well it has serious problems. Bad ethics is not confined to used car dealers only.

After working for some dealers, I can say that I have seen the dealers get taken a few times also; such as the low miles Dodge that someone filled with STP oil treatment to cover up a bearing knock and traded in or the Chevy with odd problems that was discovered to actually be TWO Chevys. Spliced together right behind the firewall; welded from one side to the other. :frowning:

Private sale or dealer; a thorough check is a must and even then problems could develop. You never know.

Based solely on my experience, I’ve had better luck with dealers, though only slightly better. You’re right that you can get a better deal from a private seller, but dealers often have better cars, or so I’ve seen anyway. What’s more important than where you get a car is how the car was treated and maintained. An ex-rental from a dealer could have been abused mercilessly, while an old police car from a meticulous private seller may be in excellent condition.
Make sure you look over carefully any vehicle you may be considering, take it for a good test drive, have a good independant mechanic check it out, and go from there. This goes for any vehicle you may buy, whether from a dealer or private party.

It may depend on the age of the car you want. Dealers tend to deal mostly in the newer used cars; there is more profit in them. Private parties tend to sell the family heirloom from their driveways. The buyer typically goes to whoever is advertising the car he wants.

theres ups and downs to both, dealer cars,even second hand dealers, tend to inspect thier cars pretty well and its easy to get a detailed history, as well you get a great slection without hunting down dozens of locations. on the other hand private cars can be much better cared for as one owner etc, as well almost with out expection private cars are cheaper and its nice to not have the pressure of a dealer with you, but you may find it more awkward to walk away. in my opinion private is better

I guess I defer on most on this. I always buy used and have almost always bought from private owners. I get to know a lot about the car’s history and also meet the previous owner in person. I am not going to say you can’t be fooled but usually it is safer when you see an older guy that can’t drive any more unloading a car or other similar situations. To me if someone lives in a million dollar home, chances are he will not want to get in trouble for an extra $500 selling me a lemon without saying so. He might unload it as a trade in though. When I go to the dealers to buy a used car they never know what was done to the car. Ask them about the timing belt and you will know they don’t even know if the car has one let alone if it was changed or no. The only time I bought used from a dealer was a car know to me with tranny problem and the dealer was a friend and he put in a used tranny and I took the car.

Not all private sales are really private sales. Sometimes used car salesmen will take cars home to sell as “private sales”. Some individuals get a license to buy from auctions and sell from their front yard for a little extra income. usually if they sell less than five cars a year, they can do this legally.

If you see a private sale from a yard that you pass daily and this is the first time you’ve seen a car for sale there, then it’s probably legitimate. Any other situation, go with your gut, but judge the car, not the owner.


Someone said something about a dealer benefit was that they did some kind of checkup on their cars.
Haaa haa hoo haaa haaa!

I worked at a Toyota dealership for two weeks for the sole purpose of learning sales technique. Now, this was a Toyota Dealer (read :“Quality”) who had a “100 Point Check” on used cars (read “Quality”).

The reality set in when I took in a used trade-in on the sale of a new Toyota. I was new so asked the sales manager what I needed to do. I assumed I would drive it to the service area and hand the keys in there. Nope, the “100 Point Check” consided solely
of whether or not the car made it the 100 feet to the used car lot. People, they did not change the oil, check the tire pressure, or even wash it. They had me park it in the used car section.

The saga continues. The next day I actually sold this trade in. The only service done on the car was the addition of a window price page and a big windshield decal that said “100 Point Check!”

Now, let me dispell one other myth. Dealerships rarely overpay for cars and private parties often do. So, dealers can fairly often - if you’re willing and able to do some solid negotiation - provide a better value than some private sellers. None of this is 100%
but there is a theme there. On good cars that are in demand, you’ll probably over pay at the dealer.

That’s about all I learned. I then went to the library and check out Napolean Hill’s book “Think and Grow Rich,” and learned much more about real salesmanship.

I’ll second that. My time as a car salesperson (also Toyota) was a real eye-opener. You cannot believe ANYTHING you hear. Read any used car warranty carefully, because you may be surprised to find out what’s NOT covered. Anything not in writing is worthless. Any claim of “multi-point” safety check, etc, is dubious. Maybe the car has been looked at, and maybe not.

I prefer buying used cars from private parties, but I will go to a dealer if the dealer has what I’m looking for. I REFUSE, however, to believe anything the salesperson tells me. I inspect the car as if I were buying from a private party.

Thank you very much for the inside dope on dealer used cars. I knew from service experiences my local Toyota was a major ripoff but I believed their used cars did go through those check lists. I realize, of course, there are some dealers that are honest though.

Whether you are buying from a dealer, a private individual or something in between, there is no substitute for a thorough inspection by a qualified, trustworthy mechanic. Do this even for relatively new, “certified” cars. No inspection, no sale!

Also, don’t rely on CarFax. Problems you want to know about may never have been reported. A bad CarFax report means it’s a bad car. But, a good CarFax report doesn’t mean it’s a good car.

I only use carfax as a screening tool. Get the one month membership. Ask for the VIN over the phone, if they don’t provide it then I hang up. Otherwise I look it up on carfax, if everything checks out OK then I waste my time driving to them. The current car I have was first registered in Arizona and then in CA. Now I didn’t mind that but I knew the car had seen more sun for its age and also probably more AC wear. Granted the car had one of those costum dash covers.

A reputable dealer with a certified used car may be more expensive, but it provides great peace of mind if you are buying a more expensive used ride. One caveat, you can somtimes get a very well kept used car from someone you know takes very good care of their car.

I purchased a 1997 Mercedes C280 in 2005 from a guy who had every oil change and service call documented and he was a fanatic about keeping it showroom new. I now have 175,000 miles on it with only tires and brakes on my list of service calls.

But for a situation like this, I’d go to a reputable dealer

How do you define a reputable dealer? I went to the largest dealer chain in my area three times. I was told it had something like the 100 point inspection. The third day I found a CV boot was bad, and other things. $1,500 later, everything was fixed. Fortunately under warranty. Second vehicle a pick-up through the same chain, but a Ford Dealership. I purchased a Mazda truck. It was sold to me with a blown head gasket, and no warranty. I trusted the dealership too much. Third vehicle from the same chain. It was the best so far, but in my experience all these trade ins were when the vehicle needed repairs, or when I did find service records maintenance was lacking. I am going to try a private sale next after a trusted mechanic check things out, and I see the service records. Seeing the seller in person I think would provide helpful info based on how the person conducts themself.

My 2 cents:

My experience is that dealerships try to rip me off in any way they can. For example, I saw an ad for car priced at $9000; when I went to the lot, it was $10,000. Same car (they had the VIN in the ad). The salesman swore they would never sell it for less than $10,000.

This happens to be the same year and model of car I eventually bought from a private individual for $5500. He was selling it rather than trade it in for the $3000 a dealership offered. So it was a win-win: the seller got $2500 more for the car, and I paid $3500 less. I had a trusted mechanic check everything out. I also got the carfax report and did a little research into the seller (if you’re really serious about this, bad signs like bankruptcies and felony sentences are matters of public record).

I’d say it’s a good idea to chat for a while with a private seller and get a feel for the person. In my case, he turned out to be an opera singer, and I was an opera critic, so I felt pretty confident in his honesty (he knew I’d have ways to get back at him if he sold me a lemon!).