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What Used Car is Best for Me – Car Dealership vs. Buying Privately

used car sale

If you’re in the market for a new car, you might be wondering what car is best for me. There are two major ways to purchase cars – you can either go to a car dealership, or you can opt to buy privately.

When it comes to used cars, you will usually have two seller options – dealership or private sellers.

Both of these come with their own pros and cons. It can be confusing to choose between the two when you want to buy a pre-owned vehicle. Here is a rundown of what you are up against when choosing a car dealer vs. private seller.

Vehicle Price

Upfront price of the vehicle is the deciding factor for most people when looking to buy a pre-owned car. However, there is more to it than just the asking price.

Often, the asking price asked by private sellers is much lower as compared to the one asked by dealerships. However, you are likely to find that unlike dealers, private sellers do not offer financing options.

This means, when you purchase from a private seller, you pay the full asking price for the car upfront. In addition, when you purchase a car from a dealer you have the option of spreading the payment over a period of time.

Private sellers are more flexible when it comes to price negotiations. However, what many buyers don’t understand is that private sellers intentionally price their vehicles higher, so as to negotiate and sell the vehicle sooner.

Car dealerships certify vehicles and offer a bit more vehicle security, because of which the price is marginally higher.

However, car dealerships are willing to offer the option of trading in your current vehicle and putting that value toward the cost of the new vehicle. Private sellers rarely, if ever, offer trade-in as an option.

Vehicle Selection

If you are shopping around for a used car, then variety is the name of the game. You want options to pick and choose from.

A private seller is someone trying to sell their pre-owned vehicle outside of official channels, and would just give you the one option, whereas, a dealership, especially a used car dealership, will have hundreds of vehicles in their lot.

It can be difficult to find a specific make and model with a private seller, if no one is selling what you are looking for locally. However, car dealerships have extensive networks and may source the car you want from another branch.

When you find a car you are interested in, or even before you, you will want to reference Kelley Blue Book to learn about a given car’s KBB value. This will tell you a window of price that you can expect.

Vehicle History & Condition of Used Cars

Used cars for sale by owner can be a big pain if they faulty engines and worn tires. That’s why you really need to be sure of what you are getting into before you complete the purchase of a used car near me. Unfortunately, it is difficult for most people to understand the technical aspects of a vehicle to make a choice in a used car sale. This is where car dealerships come in helpful.

Dealerships have certified mechanics to look into the condition of the vehicle. They ensure the vehicle is in top condition by checking engine, transmission, exhaust smoke, engine vibration, air filter, fuel injector, turbo charger, and timing belt among aspects.

Dealership vehicles come with official inspections and repairs if needed.

There is no questioning the fact that private sellers have more information about the vehicle and its history because dealers probably handle hundreds of cars in a month.

That said, in case of a private seller of a used car they are less likely to tell you about something wrong with the car in their efforts to make an easy sale.

Dealerships have a reputation to keep. They are not going to cheat you by palming a substandard vehicle simply to make a sale.

You can also check the vehicle history from reports at AutoCheck and CARFAX. Dealers want repeat business and they rely on word of mouth for publicity. That being said, car dealerships also have a quota to meet so it important to make sure that you do not accept their first deal and instead take the time necessary to get the right deal for you.

Auto Mechanic Certifications

Certain dealerships offer certified pre-owned vehicles that come with a special warranty. These dealerships are bound by the guarantee and to this effect conduct exhaustive inspections. This ensures that you are getting a good buy.

Privately sold vehicles do not have this kind of security, especially if you do not know the seller from before.

Private car sellers are not legally bound by the strict rules that dealerships are to offer mechanic certification. While buying from a private seller you certainly want to do a bit of extra research to ensure the vehicle is in a reliable condition.


Dealerships are a more convenient option for many people as compared to purchasing from a private seller.

For instance, they provide the facts upfront and ensure that you are a buying a vehicle that has been inspected to be in good working condition. Private sellers may withhold some critical information about the vehicle in a bid to make a sale even in an economy as strong as this one.

Dealerships also come with complete documents when you purchase one of their vehicles. They handle all the paperwork regarding the title and vehicle registration transfers.

All you need to do is pay the purchase value and sign the dotted line. With a private seller you are equally responsible for correctly handling of all associated paperwork. This will require more than one trip to your local tag office or department of motor vehicles.

Taxes on Car Sale

This is a major trade-off between private sellers and used car dealerships since they are primarily governed by your local laws. In some states, private vehicle sales are not assessed a sales tax. You can seriously benefit from choosing a private seller in these states.

If you live in California and New York, two with incredibly high taxes, you can assume that the tax system will not be in your favor.

However, in other states the sales tax is only assessed on the difference between the asking price of the new vehicle and your trade-in.

In these types of situations, buying a car from your local dealer can save you thousands of dollars. It’s necessary that you check the local laws before using this as a deciding factor.

The Bottom Line

When looking for a used car sale, there are many potential drawbacks of buying from a private seller. The only edge you might gain from a private purchase is when you know the vehicle seller beforehand and trust them completely.

In case of a blind purchase, it is better to choose a used car dealership, since they have more options, better trade-in values, and offer financing. Some dealerships also provide vehicle security by way of car warranty and certified inspections.


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