Buying a Classic Car from a Private Seller

Buying classic cars, classic trucks, muscle cars or antiques from private sellers is a popular activity. For most shoppers in the United States, it’s their first place to look for a good deal. As with any buying and selling activity, dealing with a private seller assumes you understand what to expect.

Advantages of Buying from a Private Seller

There are many advantages to buying from a private seller. First of all, private sellers, unlike dealerships, don’t have the overhead and facilities costs of a business. Their principal motive is getting a fair price for their car rather than earning a profit. Additionally, private sellers won’t be interested in selling you any extras, such as extended warranties, maintenance contracts, or other add-ons. The upshot is that any given car is purchased most cheaply directly from a private seller.

Purchases from private sellers are generally exempt from state and local sales taxes. Depending on your state, this can save you considerable money.

Most private sellers are enthusiasts just like you and are intimately knowledgeable about their cars. They usually can answer even the most detailed questions. This is especially important for classic cars, where many decades of history may be important to consider. Most private sellers aren’t professional negotiators so buyers tend to feel more confident in their ability to strike a fair deal.

Most private sellers are quite happy to allow you to test drive their vehicle or to have an inspector test it on your behalf. The vehicle won’t be parked inside a showroom or on a crowded lot, so access should be easy.

Disadvantages of Buying from a Private Seller

There are some downsides to consider when buying from a private seller, however. Because the seller isn’t a business, don’t expect help with services you may need to take ownership of the vehicle. Fortunately, is a great source for information on important services like financing, transportation, insurance, inspections, and other useful services.

Two reasonable adults can disagree widely over the condition of a classic or collector car that is many decades old. It’s up to you to rely on your own research. What the seller thinks is in excellent condition may not meet your definition of the term, or vice-versa. If you are unsure of your ability to thoroughly evaluate the vehicle we suggest you hire a third-party inspection service.

Private seller transactions aren’t regulated. You are accepting the vehicle on an “as is” basis without a warranty or even protection from “lemon laws” or other consumer protection legislation. Once you pay for it, it’s yours!

The Certificate of Title

Buying a classic car from a private seller involves minimal paperwork. It’s important that the seller’s documentation be in good order and demonstrates the seller’s right to sell you the vehicle. This is the purpose of the title certificate. Be sure the title correctly displays the seller’s name and the vehicle’s VIN. If the vehicle’s model year is earlier than 1981, the serial number should be displayed.

The title should not list any third parties, such as finance companies, as lienholders. If there is more than one titleholder, all titleholders must be present when you buy the car or else the sale won’t be legal.

Also important to note is that the title should not display any designations indicating that the vehicle has had a troubled past. Such designations include words such as “salvage” or “rebuilt.” These designations indicate that the vehicle was once deemed ineligible to drive on public roads in the state where it was titled. If the vehicle does have a salvage title, be aware that you may have considerable trouble getting it registered and insured for street use.

On the back of the title certificate is a transfer-of-ownership form that needs to be filled out by you and the seller. In some states, this form needs to be notarized before the vehicle can be re-titled in your name.

The Bill of Sale

You should memorialize the sale with a simple document called a bill of sale. The bill of sale need not be complicated. It shows the date of sale, names of each party, a brief description of the car, the price paid, and the form of payment. It needs to be signed by both parties. A bill of sale is especially important for cash sales, as it serves as your proof that you actually purchased the car.

Once the sale is done, congratulations! You’re the proud owner of a classic vehicle. For more information on financing, shipping, insurance and other important services, visit the Resource Guide.


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