Used Car Buying: Car Lots And Salesmen Vs Auto Classifieds

Some used car buyers prefer dealing with professional car salesmen while others take their chances on private classified advertisers.

Years ago, buying a used car was often just a matter of asking around the neighborhood for motivated sellers. After a little friendly haggling, some cash exchanged hands and a buyer could drive away with a used car and a title slip.

Nowadays, it's not always easy to find an eager private car seller. Occasionally a car may be parked in the seller's front yard or a car may have contact information written in soap on the windows. These advertising methods are always hit-or-miss, and a potential buyer must decide if all the variables are attractive (model, mileage, condition, color, etc.).

Most used car buyers now depend on the expertise of a local car dealership or the specifics listed in a newspaper's classified advertisements. Between the two options, there is no clear 'winner' in that sense- whatever method results in a satisfactory sale is the best one to use. Car dealerships do offer some services not available from private sellers, but private sellers may not have a lot of overhead expenses to cover in the selling price. Here are some pros and cons to consider when deciding between a car dealership and a private sale in the classifieds:

1. Financing options. A used car dealership may be associated with a new dealership as well, which means financing may be readily available. If a buyer qualifies for a car loan, he or she has the option of upgrading to a newer used car or the model of his or her choice. Private sellers rarely offer formal financing arrangements, although some may allow a buyer to make payments over time. A buyer may also be able to finance a loan through a local bank, which usually means lower interest rates than standard car financing options. If credit is not a concern and a low-mileage late model car is available, a car dealership may be the best option. If a buyer is prepared to pay cash or has enough credit for a bank loan, a private sale may save hundreds of dollars in accrued interest over the life of the loan.

2. Selection. Clearly a car salesman at a used car lot can offer more choices than a private seller trying to unload a single car. If a buyer is not looking for a specific model and year, a car salesman can present several options and demonstrate the benefits of each. A private seller can allow for a test drive of their car, but the sale itself is either/or. Either this particular car is suitable or it's not. On a car lot, a buyer can decide that a midrange car offers more trunk space for the same price. Occasionally a private seller will have other cars available for sale, but in general private sellers will only advertise one car at a time. If a buyer is looking for options before buying a used car, then a car dealership is the clear winner. If a buyer is looking for a specific model or a collector's item, a classified ad sale will narrow down the search considerably.

3. Condition. Many used car lots feature cars which were part of a trade-in promotion. Because they have access to professional garages, dealerships may have these cars repaired and/or detailed before offering them for sale. The selling price may reflect all of this work, but the car will usually be reliable and clean. Private sellers will often detail their offerings, but serious mechanical work may still be required. Private sellers don't always know the car's history, so most sales are 'as is'. Classified ad copy may exaggerate the condition of the car in order to attract more customers, so a buyer must be especially cautious with private sellers. Used car dealerships usually don't publicize condition as often as price, model and year. Selling a lemon reflects poorly on a dealership's overall reputation, so it's in their best interest to sell mechanically-sound vehicle.

A private seller is trying to generate cash through selling off an unwanted asset- they aren't obligated to worry about the future of a car they'll no longer own. A private seller may be very conscientious about cars in general, so a buyer may benefit from a classified ad. Car dealerships have the facilities and the motivation to maintain used cars, so they may prove to be more consistent.

4. Final sales prices. Used car dealerships are free to adjust their prices in order to include repairs, detailing, sales commission and other expenses. But a salesman also knows he or she needs to make a certain quota of sales in order to stay employed. This means a certain amount of haggling could reduce the price of the car substantially. Car dealerships also accept vehicles as trade-ins, which means a further discount towards the price of a quality used car. Private sellers can offer a lower initial price, because they don't have nearly as much overhead. But they are also motivated to make some cash and get an unwanted car off their property. Many times a classified ad will read '$500 or best offer.' This establishes a top price and lets the potential buyer know there is some room for negotiation. Car salesmen are not going to promote a lower price right away, so a buyer must be comfortable with the idea of bargaining. This may be a negative for dealerships, since many would-be buyers are simply not comfortable with making offers and counter-offers. A private seller has little need for a trade-in, but he or she may be willing to sell a car at a sacrificial price.

5. Convenience. Car dealerships can easily be reached by telephone throughout a business day, but a private seller may not be available whenever a buyer is ready to browse. Messages may or may not be returned in a timely manner, and the car may be sold very quickly. A dealership can afford to hold back a car if a potential buyer seems interested. But car dealerships are not open 24 hours a day, and a private seller may be able to accommodate a buyer during the evening or on weekends. A used car salesman on a lot may not be working on a specific day, or may be busy with other customers.

One advantage of a car salesman over a private seller, however, is experience with a specific manufacturer. Private sellers may be able to provide information on the car itself, but a professional car salesman can offer insight into design changes or important factory information. A private seller may sell a clean, reliable Ford model at a decent price, but a car salesman can tell a buyer if Ford still offers replacement parts for that vehicle.

© High Speed Ventures 2011