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Our guide for buying a car on Built for Backroads

1. Explore car listings
Browse car listings. If a car interests you, start by searching the VIN on Google or Bing to see if you can find any history on the vehicle.

2. Contact the seller
Reach out to the seller directly to ask questions and get more information. If you are serious about a car, we recommend getting a Carfax report after contacting the seller and arranging a pre-purchase inspection (PPI) with the seller.

3. Make a deal
All details including final price, payment, and transfer of title are all handled directly between the buyer and seller.

 We don’t charge any buyer fees, pre or post sale.

No buyer or seller fees, period. It’s free to list your car as a seller or purchase as a buyer.

Why do we do this?
Read what BimmerLife had to say about us

We do our best to provide the VIN for every listing so buyers can research the history of the car. If you don’t see it in our listing, request the VIN from the seller directly.

A good first step is to do a Google / Bing search of the VIN to see if any past sales, forum posts, or salvage records come up. 

We suggest requesting a photo of the VIN inside the door jamb (not the windshield) for verification that the seller has possession of the vehicle and that the VIN provided is accurate.

If you are serious about purchasing the vehicle, the VIN can be used to purchase a Carfax or AutoCheck report to understand more about the car’s history, although these reports aren’t perfect and a pre-purchase inspection is still strongly recommended as a final step in the information gathering process.

There are two major players who offer vehicle history reports – AutoCheck and Carfax. Each can give you an idea of a car’s past and the reports usually offer different details. Carfax is the gold standard, but it can be valuable to run both reports to cross-check information. 

Getting a report
It can be helpful when sellers offer these reports, but screenshots or PDFs of these reports can easily be altered or edited. If the seller has recently ordered a report, it may be possible to view the report directly on the website of the reporting agency and it is advisable to request the link from the seller. Otherwise we recommend purchasing the report directly from the website for peace of mind.

Carfax pulls data from over 100,000 sources and has over 17 billion records. Carfax sifts through the data to find theft records, flood damage history, accident indicators such as deployed airbags, and title changes. The report will tell you how many previous owners the car has had, if the odometer reading is correct, if there’s a loan or lien against the car, and if it has a clean title or was ever deemed a total loss. 

The service history can show work that has been completed and when it was done if it was conducted at a shop that reported this information. This history might not be complete if an owner worked on the car themselves or took it to an independent shop that did not record work completed. Nonetheless, it can sometimes offer an idea of how the car was cared for. 

AutoCheck is owned by the credit report giant Experian. AutoCheck looks at many of the same factors as Carfax, but sometimes they gather data from different sources. AutoCheck pulls from a smaller pool of data compared to Carfax. 

While the information is more limited, the report offers title information, open recall status, registration history, accident records, liens or loans against the car, past flood or storm damage, and lemon status. It also can disclose any records of theft or odometer rollback. Sometimes people request Carfax to delete certain records about their vehicle (either due to inaccuracies or dishonesty), but sometimes these records can still be found in the AutoCheck report.

These reports aren’t perfect and sometimes they contain errors. This is part of the benefit of purchasing from a private party – you can ask any questions that may arise and look at any available service records that the seller may have retained. 

We highly recommend a pre-purchase inspection (PPI), especially if the vehicle is being purchased sight-unseen due to distance. A PPI offers an unbiased analysis of the car’s condition that can help uncover existing issues or reveal maintenance shortcomings. A PPI should be conducted before the final price negotiation so that the condition of the vehicle has been verified by a knowledgeable third party.

Choosing an Inspector
It’s important for the buyer to find an inspector who is knowledgeable with the make and model of the car, as each model has its weak areas. A PPI can be conducted at your trusted mechanic shop, at a dealership, or with a specialized mobile PPI service. 

Inspection Process
The buyer schedules and pays for the PPI, and the seller drops the car off for a few hours for the inspection or makes it available for a mobile inspector. There isn’t an industry-wide PPI report standard, so be sure to know what is included in the inspection. Sometimes the PPI can even include a free Carfax report.

The cost ($200-$500) generally determines the depth of the inspection. A basic inspection will be mostly visual, which includes inspecting the engine bay and lifting the vehicle to check for leaks or broken components. A more involved inspection will include a detailed road test, measuring engine compression, taking paint thickness readings to check for accidents, and running engine diagnostics. 

Once the PPI is complete, the report should be sent directly from the inspector to the buyer and seller. This removes any possibility of the seller editing the report.

Review any maintenance records and try to determine the value of the car before beginning negotiations. It can help to look at recently closed auctions for comparables/comps if you can find a car with similar options and mileage. It’s best to be honest about your budget and negotiate using words like, “Would you consider $x” or, “My budget is $x”. It can be helpful to ask the seller if their price is negotiable prior to going to look at the car, but actual negotiations should happen after seeing the car and gathering all the information you can about the vehicle. 

Final negotiations should be handled in person after the vehicle has been inspected. Making an offer before going to see the vehicle makes it more difficult to negotiate again when issues or shortcomings are discovered, and many sellers ignore email or text message offers.

A live video walk-around of the vehicle is highly recommended prior to negotiating so that any issues or shortcomings can be found and the price can be negotiated accordingly. A pre-purchase inspection (PPI) is strongly encouraged prior to making a final offer. If at all possible, arrange to have a friend or family member that is local to the vehicle take a look at it before making your offer. Shipping details and arrangements should be discussed prior to the final offer to avoid unexpected costs. Once a price is negotiated, get the final price confirmed in an email or text message for clarity. 

A written contract is often part of the sale process and is typically handled by the seller and signed by both the buyer and the seller, with both parties getting their own copy of the contract. The contract should include any spares or accessories that are to be included with the sale of the car. Review it closely before signing to insure accuracy, and make sure any errors or omissions are properly amended. This contract can serve to limit the liability of the seller and to explicitly list items included in the sale to protect the buyer. The contract should never be accepted in place of the title.

All payment, title transfer, and ownership transfer are handled between the buyer and seller. Payment typically takes place at the seller’s bank with a cashier’s check from the buyer’s bank. Once the check is accepted by the bank, the title is signed over or transferred to the new owner according to state laws.

Deposit Fraud
Watch out for any situation where the seller requires a large deposit or requests that you send money to a third party. In this scenario, the buyer may pay but then never hear from the seller again. It is a good practice to use a trusted escrow service for remote transactions, or if possible, exchange payment in person. 

Fake Escrow Companies
These companies may appear as if they are a legitimate third party escrow service, but the seller is the one who actually sets it up and the payment goes directly to them. If utilizing an escrow company, confirm that it is legitimate or work with the seller to choose an escrow company together.

Inaccurate Titles
Scammers sometimes list cars as having clean / clear titles when this is actually not the case. AutoCheck, Carfax, and the state DMV can be used to confirm title details. Exercise extra caution if the car has history in a state that has frequent issues with flooding or hurricanes, as it can sometimes be moved to another state effectively ‘washing’ the title even after flood damage. Confirm that the VIN on the title matches the VIN on the car.

The Federal Trade Commission suggests extra caution around using Bitcoin or other crypto currencies since fraud protection is more difficult.

Carrying large sums of cash can be dangerous, and buyers have been known to be robbed by fraudulent sellers when bringing cash to pay for a vehicle. If paying cash, it is best to handle the transaction inside the bank.  

Helpful Info
Unfortunately, scams are constantly evolving and new ones are always emerging, so we recommend talking to your bank when getting your cashier’s check to see if they are aware of any new scams. It can be helpful to run your transaction details by them for a second opinion to see if anything might be unusual or suspicious. 

Remember that any deal that seems too good to be true should be a huge red flag. Due diligence and seeing the car in person may reveal shortcomings or issues with the car that substantiates the good price, or it could be a scam. Unreasonable time constraints, emotional or tragic stories, unconventional payment arrangements, or high pressure tactics tend to accompany these sorts of scams. 

While it may feel suspicious for a seller to arrange to meet you at a police station or public place rather than at their own home, this is for the safety of the seller and is common practice. For your own safety, be sure to meet at a busy location and bring a friend or family member with you, and avoid cash whenever possible.