Dealership vs. private owner: What to consider when buying a used car

In modern society where people are always rushing from place to place for work, business or personal affairs, it’s undeniable that having a working car is a necessity for a working individual. Despite how important it is to own a car, it is one of the most expensive assets anyone is likely to buy, second to property. Along with the cost of purchasing one, maintaining, insuring and repairing a car also sucks away a significant amount of income so many people opt for the purchase of a pre-owned car rather than a new one.

With the high demand for cars, multiple methods of purchase are available, with the two most common choices being private owners and dealerships. Both have their own advantages and disadvantages, and the best choice depends on the buyer’s specific situation.

The most obvious difference is overall cost of the car. Dealerships tend to list a higher asking price than a private owner and charge all kinds of extra fees on top of the listed price.
The business of dealerships is to make the highest profit possible, so the buyer has to be conscious of how much money is being asked of them. Salesmen are trained to try to get as much money out of the sale as possible. Private owners however often just want to get rid of a car and aren’t as savvy about the sale. There are still extra fees in the purchase such as tabs and registration, but the overall cost very often ends up to be far less than what it would be if the same car was purchased at a dealership.

Along with the more affordable price, buying a car from a private owner also comes with a significantly higher risk. A common reason for a person to sell a car is because there is something wrong with it mechanically – something that may not be obvious to a buyer at first glance, or even on a short test drive.

Although dealerships can also hide details about the condition of the car, they have a reputation to maintain and commonly offer warranty plans for cars purchased there. Once a car is purchased from a private seller, the buyer is on their own. The seller has no responsibility to the car anymore, and can shut the buyer off once the deal has been made, in which case their hands are tied.
Buying from a private owner can be dangerous, too. Craigslist is a popular place to list cars for sale, and it has also proven to be dangerous for some who don’t take proper precautions. It is essential to meet up with the seller in a public setting during a time where other people will be present, and always bring another person along. Anyone can post an ad on Craigslist, so it is important to be cautious at all times.

Ultimately, the choice is up to the person who is buying the car. For a college student, the main focus is most likely keeping the cost as low as possible, so buying from a private owner is likely the best choice if the budget is tight.

I think that there is no universal answer that works for every individual, but as a student myself with not a lot of money to spare, I would most certainly go for the cheaper option.
No matter where the car is purchased from, there is one key step to take before buying – Always have the car inspected by a professional mechanic. Just because the car “runs great” or “has no problems” doesn’t mean that it isn’t a ticking time bomb ready to blow and cost a fortune to fix. Many dealerships claim that their cars have always been inspected for any problems, but it is always worth the extra $100 at the mechanic to avoid a catastrophic breakdown later on.