Buying a Car from a Private Seller in Vegas: Avoiding Lemons and Staying Safe

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When you’re buying a car from a private seller in Las Vegas, there are lots of things to think about, from finding the right car to getting a good deal. Another important aspect when dealing with a car seller you don’t know is protecting yourself — from a personal safety standpoint, as well as financially.

Meeting with the Seller

Once you’ve decided to see a car in person, it’s time to contact the seller and set up a meeting. If you’re meeting up with a stranger to look at a used car, it’s always a good idea to be careful. Many people advertising cars for sale are honest, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Here are some tips to help you stay safe:

  • Talk to the seller on the phone, to get as much information as possible and help avoid scams, suggests Cars.com.
  • Get the seller’s name and contact information, and use resources such as online directories to confirm that the information is legitimate, Cars.com says.
  • Practice general personal safety: It’s a good idea to meet the seller in a public place, in the daytime, and bring someone with you. If a location or a seller makes you feel unsafe, leave immediately.

Inspecting and Test-Driving the Car

Now, it’s time to actually look at the car. When you visually inspect a used vehicle for sale, Chris Basso, of CARFAX, recommends that you look for the following:

  • Anything that doesn’t feel or sound right. During a test drive, accelerate and brake, safely, at various speeds. Observe any soft or unresponsive pedals, or steering issues.
  • Maintenance information, such as frequency of oil changes. Has the car’s owner followed manufacturer recommendations?
  • Overall condition. Inspect the body, doors, lights, paint, tires, and windows. Test all buttons, levers, and switches.
  • Signs of damage under the hood. Notice corrosion, discoloration, leaks, and parts that look worn or are not securely attached to the frame of the vehicle.

It’s also a good idea to have a mechanic you trust inspect the vehicle, to look for any potential problems you might miss.

Gather Data on the Car

The Nevada DMV says you can use the vehicle identification number (VIN) to check for any information on whether the vehicle was stolen or ever listed as a total loss at the National Insurance Crime Bureau website, and you can also use the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System to check on the vehicle’s title.

You can get additional information from a vehicle history report from paid web services such as AutoCheck.com or CARFAX.com, which contain data from sources such as car dealerships, DMVs, emissions inspection stations, police departments, and others. A vehicle report will provide you with important information, such as accident history, the number of previous owners and the status of the car’s warranty. Once you have details about the car, websites such as Kelley Blue Book can give you an estimated price range.

Basso suggests asking the seller to provide either the vehicle identification number (VIN) or the vehicle history report. State law does not require the seller to provide a vehicle history report, but a careful seller would want to see any report that potential buyers are going to see, he says. Also, providing the report can reassure that the seller has got nothing to hide, and can help him or her make the sale.

“If the seller refuses to provide either, that’s a serious red flag that could indicate a problem,” he says. “If the seller does provide the report, it helps to build trust, and saves the buyer (the cost of the vehicle history report).”

You can typically order a full vehicle report if you have all of the following information:

  • VIN. Unique to the vehicle, it tells you the vehicle’s year.
  • License plate number.
  • Make, mileage, model, trim package (for instance, basic “DX” vs. luxury “LX”), and year of the vehicle. (To make sure you’re looking up the right car.)

Once you’ve met with the seller, inspected the car and done your research, it’s time to complete the sale. Check back next week for some important laws to know about buying a car from a private seller in Nevada and getting your car registered.

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