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Tips for Purchasing a Used Vehicle from a Private Party

  • Use common sense. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is!  
  • Don’t meet the seller in an unsafe location.   Meet at a permanent location of the seller or a location in public. Avoid situations where you only reach the seller on a beeper. Be leery of telephone numbers from sellers that are blocked.   Be leery when buying vehicle’s that are advertised on a street corner or a swap meet.
  • Never go alone. If you must be sure someone who isn’t going with you knows where you are going and whom you are meeting.
  • Let the seller know that you will not be bringing cash, but will pay by personal or cashier’s check if you decided to buy the vehicle.
  • Ask the seller for valid picture identification (I.D.) and compare the information to the vehicle registration.
  • Be sure the title is authentic. Counterfeit titles can be produced.  Simply holding the title up to the light can identify authentic titles. On an authentic title, iridescent watermark Eagles will appear.  Fraudulent titles will not have the identifying marks and the vehicle may have been stolen.
  • Be leery of pre-signed ownership documents, or sellers who are not both the registered and legal owner.  The documents may be forged, or a lender may have a lien that prevents transfer of title.  Do not accept any documents, such as a notarized bill of sale or registration in place of the title.  Never accept a vehicle if the seller tells you they will get you the title later.  
  • If the ownership documents are recently issued or duplicate, the vehicle may have changed hands recently or the title lost.  Ask questions as to why!  
  • Check the ownership documents for an indication that the vehicle is a salvage and be very cautious if it is.  Many salvage vehicles are rebuilt with stolen parts or are unsafe.
  • Be sure all numbers match.  Look at the numbers on both the public Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) plate, and the license plate.   Public VIN’s are usually located on the driver’s side where the dash meets the windshield.   Check the Federal sticker, which is usually located on the driver’s door.   The VIN is also located on the sticker.  If the sticker appears to have been tampered with you may be looking at a stolen vehicle, which has been VIN switched.   These numbers should be the same as on the title and registration.
  • Do not buy a vehicle with a public VIN plate that appears to have been tampered with or missing.
  • Before you pay, be sure the documentation is adequate to obtain registration and legal title.  Check with the department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) first if there is any doubt.