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How to Avoid Scams When Browsing Private Used Car Listings

Scams have always been around, and the automotive industry has seen more than its fair share.

There are several red flags you should look for when viewing a used car listing posted by a private seller you don’t know. While most private sellers are ordinary people like you, there are a few bad apples in the bunch that you may want to look out for. Being aware of common scams is the best way to avoid them.

Here’s how:

Look for a complete used car listing

While there are guidelines for good etiquette when it comes to selling a car, some private sellers still list their vehicle for sale without including all the information you need. While this could mean they just didn’t know the right steps to follow, it could also be cause for concern.

A listing is only complete if it has ample descriptive text and several non-altered photographs of the car. While you may be able to see the vehicle in person, a seller that includes clear photos from all angles in the initial listing shows that they have nothing to hide. The description itself should be detailed as well, providing insight about the mileage, age, accident history and any other factors that could impact your perception.

Sellers want to make the best presentation in any used car listing. Sometimes, this can lead to stretching the truth, or even outright lying in certain cases so it’s best to be on the lookout.

Just because a listing doesn’t contain all the information you’re looking doesn’t automatically mean it’s a scam – in fact, most are not – but don’t be afraid to ask for any information that’s not provided. Find out as much as you can about the car before spending your time going to see it – and that includes its history.

Avoid used car listings that seem too good to be true

Clever marketing is one thing, but there is the odd seller willing to throw ethics right out the window to make a sale. If a used car listing seems like an outlandishly good deal, there is a good chance the seller is withholding information.

There are plenty of tricks scammers use to make vehicles look better or seem more reliable than they really are. Lowball scams are common – this is when you see a car listed at a great price, but when you go and see it (and fall in love), suddenly that price is not available.

It’s also common for shady sellers to pressure you about how time-sensitive the deal is – there are two other people interested! If the buyer is rushing you, and the offer seems a bit too good, avoid being pressured into the deal – there are lots of used cars for sale out there, and lots of sellers that will give you the time you need to make an informed decision.

Get the proper information before paying

Depending on the quality of repairs, accident history or mechanical problems can be a pain down the road. Get a vehicle history report and a pre-purchase inspection to make sure that any damage has been properly repaired and the vehicle is mechanically sound.

A CARFAX Canada Vehicle History Report can help you determine whether a used car listing is telling you everything. Does the car only have a single previous owner? Was it ever used as a rental or fleet car? Arming yourself with third-party validation of the car’s history reduces the chances you’ll be taken advantage of by a scammer.

Beware of liens on used cars

A used car listing by an owner may include information about small dings, or even previous accidents. However, there is still more information to look into – like the vehicle’s ownership and lien status.

Registered liens can be a nasty surprise if you find out about them after you buy a used car. When a person finances the purchase price of a vehicle through a lender or financial institution, they will likely register a lien against that vehicle. The vehicle is the lender’s “security” that the buyer will repay their money. If they don’t, the lender could repossess the vehicle. As a buyer, if you purchase a used car with an unpaid lien you could end up responsible for the remainder of the debt.

Finding a lien doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker, just make sure it’s cleared before you close the deal. Learn more about liens here.

Never pay before you get the vehicle

Again, while most used car sellers are honest people just looking to get more for their used car than the dealership offered them, there are a few professional scammers out there to watch out for. They can make the buyer feel like they’re involved in a legitimate sales process all the way up until they receive payment – then they vanish.

If a buyer is requesting money first and offering to send the vehicle after, walk away. Offer to meet so you can do a proper test drive and take the vehicle in for a pre-purchase inspection, then handle the final details in-person to make sure everything goes smoothly.

To learn how to avoid common surprises related to a used car purchase, click here.

Buying a used car privately can be a great opportunity to get the right car for you at a fair price. Just do your homework, get the vehicle’s history and know how to protect yourself, and you could drive away happy and confident in a vehicle you love.