by Andrew Rohrlich

Nowadays, you can easily find your next ride while sitting in the comfort of your home without ever having to step foot in a dealership. All thanks to online ad listing sites, you can find a used car for sale by owner, make an offer, and even pay online.

But there's a whole process that goes into this purchase. First, you should choose the platform for the purchase. Do you prefer the flexibility of marketplaces like Facebook Marketplace or the purchase protection of dedicated car listing sites like

After choosing the platform, you can start the search for the car. A little negotiation may be needed when you're buying from marketplaces. Otherwise, you'll get to finish a deal after an in-person inspection or a test drive.

All in all, online buying is intuitive and easy, but it's also a step-wise process that you should familiarize yourself with to ensure a satisfactory purchase. Below, you'll find more details about how to find a used car for sale by owner.

Benefits of Buying Used Cars From Private Owners

Dealerships make an excellent option for buying used cars, but since they offer additional services, the costs can quickly add up. On the other hand, vehicles sold privately tend to be cheaper. You can shop around and compare prices easily when buying from private owners. Private-party sellers are also more likely to have rare vehicles not available in dealerships owing to their limited inventory.

Another benefit of private-party sales is that you can build a rapport with the owner. You can learn about the car's history in great detail and get an insight into its maintenance. A private seller will likely also be up for negotiation, especially if they're in a hurry to sell.

Steps To Find Used Cars for Sale by Owner

If you're looking for cars for sale by owner, there are several channels where you can find a wide selection of vehicles. Although online listings are the most convenient way to search for cars, you can also check out newspapers or classified ads.

Step 1: Browse Used Car Listings

The first step in buying a used car is to search for the appropriate listings. Here are some platforms where you can buy used cars for sale by owner.

Social Media Like Facebook Marketplace

Facebook Marketplace is a great platform to find used cars for sale by owner. You can explore listings from different states or use the filter options to narrow your search. Since Facebook has a built-in Messenger app, you can leverage this tool to contact the seller, arrange a meeting, or ask questions about the vehicle.

Classifieds Like Craigslist

Craigslist also has a dedicated section for used cars for sale. The prices for listed cars are usually lower than on other platforms, and you can find good deals on used cars by owners in your area. However, be cautious when buying from classifieds since they don't offer purchase protection.

Here are some tips to avoid scams:

  • Do not wire money or send a check to the seller without inspecting the car first.
  • Do not give out your personal information, like your social security number or bank details.
  • Deal locally.

Other Online Marketplace Websites & Apps

There are many online marketplaces where you can buy cars from private owners. Some of the popular options include:

  • CarsDirect
  • Autolist
  • CarGurus
  • AutoTempest
  • Hemmings

If you cannot decide which website to choose, search for 'used cars for sale by owner near me' and click on the first three to five links. Then, search for your desired car by make or model.

Most of these websites have helpful features that make purchasing a used car a breeze. Some of these features are:

  • Home Collection: The website may have a home collection service if you buy a car from another state. It means they can transport the car to your doorstep.
  • Safety Inspection: Some websites offer a safety inspection service at the time of purchase. It can help you find out if there are any unseen issues with the car.

Step 2: Filter the Listings of Used Cars by "Owner" or "Private Seller"

So, you've decided on the platform/s you want to use. Now, how to find cars for sale by owner?

Filter the listings using keywords like "Owner" or "Private Seller." Doing so will give you a list of cars for sale by the current owner. Many websites will also let you filter the search results by:

  • State
  • Year of manufacturing
  • Make and model
  • Price range
  • Mileage
  • Body type
  • Fuel types

Step 3: View Used Car Details

Let's say you're scrolling, and a vehicle catches your eye. Click on the listing and view the details. Most websites will include features like:

  • Photos
  • Description
  • Mileage & engine size
  • Price
  • Insurance details (if present)

Go through the pictures of the vehicle and read the description. It should give you an idea of its condition and whether it's worth a purchase. If you're interested in it, go to the next step.

Step 4: Get the Contact Information of the Owner

Usually, you'll be able to contact the owner via their phone number or email address. If you're buying a used car from Facebook Marketplace, you can get in touch with the owner through the platform's messaging app.

Step 5: Request Additional Information From the Owner

Most sellers write thorough descriptions of their vehicles and include pictures from all angles. But even then, you might have some additional questions.

Before you plan a visit to view the car, take advantage of the communication mediums and ask enough questions to determine if the vehicle is worth the trip downtown. Here are some things you can ask:

  • Insurance Information: If the car has auto insurance, ask the owner whether there's a possibility for transfer of coverage. Ask them if they've talked to the insurance company and inquired about the transfer process.
  • Repair History: If the car has a repair history, ask the owner if they can provide documents to prove regular servicing.
  • Loan: You should not buy a vehicle with a loan until you've confirmed with the bank that it's eligible for transfer. Ensure the owner has paid off the loan and has a lien-free title.
  • Negotiation: Ask if the seller is open to negotiation.
  • Vehicle History Report: When a seller sees you're interested, they won't hesitate to give you the vehicle history report. It will show everything done to the car since it rolled off the lot. Request this report and read it carefully before you make a final decision.

Step 6: Make an Offer

Once you're satisfied with the information you've gathered, make an offer. It's best to start low and work your way up from there. Negotiating will help you get the best price and terms.

Step 7: Meet In-Person and Take a Test Drive

Test driving a car is the only way to know for sure whether a particular model is the right one for you. Arrange an in-person meeting with the seller and schedule a time for the test drive.

Before you get into the vehicle, here are some things to check on the exterior:

  • See if the pictures match the vehicle's condition.
  • Check for rust, dents, and scratches.
  • Inspect the tires and brakes.
  • Open the hood and check the engine.

Once you inspect the exterior, it's time to get in and start the test drive. Start by checking whether the seat belts and latch anchors are in good condition. Then, turn on the engine and listen for any strange noises.

Do a few short drives around the block and see how the ride feels. Make sure the brakes don't feel spongy and that there's no noise coming from the engine. Also, do the following:

  • Turn on the air conditioner and heater to make sure they are working.
  • Check the lights, power windows, sunroof, radio, etc.
  • If the seller has listed any additional features, check to see if they work.

In a sale by the owner, it's best to go to the seller's place rather than having them come to yours. Choose a neutral location for the test drive. It should be relatively busy, such as a shopping mall. Some police departments also have safe exchange zones where you can meet the seller.

Step 8: Conduct Pre-Purchase Inspection

Even after you've test-driven the car, you should take it for an inspection. A pre-purchase inspection will give you a better sense of the car's condition.

Have a certified mechanic check the vehicle's entire mechanical system, which includes the brakes, suspension, and steering. The mechanic should also check for any signs of rust or damage to the body and paintwork. During the inspection, ask questions about any repairs that may be needed and request an estimate of what they will cost.

Step 9: Negotiate and Finalize a Deal

After you decide to buy a particular car, negotiate with the seller and finalize the deal. You can haggle on the price and payment terms to get the best deal.

When you reach an agreement, choose your financing option and sign the paperwork. If you can't pay in cash, consider a private-party loan.

The purchase paperwork includes the bill of sale, release of liability, and title transfer. Being the buyer, you also have to pay the state-mandated sales tax.

How To Avoid Dealers Posing as Private Sellers

When you search for used cars for sale, you will find that some listings are from dealerships, and some are from private sellers. But sometimes, dealers pose as private sellers to increase their sales, as many buyers prefer private sellers due to lower price points and dealership fees.

How do you differentiate used cars for sale by owner from a dealer posing as one? Here are a few tips:

  • Inspect Car Photos. First, look at the pictures. Are they taken in a showroom or on the street? If they're in a showroom, chances are the car is in a dealership. Dealers also hire professional photographers to take pictures of the cars, unlike private sellers who often use their phones.
  • Check Photos for Watermarks. Many dealers also put their watermarks on the pictures so they can't get stolen. You might not see it at first glance, but it's there. Look at the bottom or sides of the images.
  • Examine the Number of Listings. Another tip is to see how many vehicles are listed by the same seller. If one person lists multiple cars, they're most likely a dealer. How many private sellers do you know selling six vehicles at once? You can check the 'more ads by this user' section on Craigslist. Or, do a reverse image search of the car's photo to find out where else the photo has been used. If you find it in multiple listings, there's a dealer behind the screen.
  • Inspect the Contact Information. The seller's contact information can also tell you whether or not it's a dealer. A dealer will have a general email address like If they have a phone number, run it through Google to see if it's associated with a dealership, as most businesses update their online information.
  • Scan the Keywords. Lastly, look for keywords in the listing like 'dealer fees,' 'warranty,' and 'approved financing.' Private sellers don't offer warranties or financing options. Instead, they usually specify they'd like to get paid in cash.

Find a Used Car for Sale by Owner, Then Checkout With Caramel

Now you know how to find used cars for sale by owner on online marketplaces or listing websites. With so many options, thorough research and vigilance are a must.

Choose the platform you want to buy from, scour it for a vehicle that interests you, contact the seller, and make an offer. If this goes right, you can go ahead and schedule a time for the test drive and pre-purchase inspection.

When buying used cars for sale by owners, consider getting a safety inspection done by a certified mechanic. It will help rule out any hidden issues with the car and ensure you're getting your money's worth. Once you get a green signal from the mechanic, negotiate with the seller and finalize the deal.

This article was written by Andrew Rohrlich. As a brand and product marketing expert, Andrew Rohrlich has crafted products, experiences and communications for household names like Gap and for multiple automotive technology businesses. For nearly a decade Andrew has studied automotive retail in depth from a customer point of view and aggregated the industry’s best research, thought leadership and know how to provide credible and important information to auto shoppers and sellers.

Start your transaction with Caramel, learn more about how the process works, or reach out to our Support team with any questions.