Veronica Scott

Buying a used vehicle is not always a simple task; in fact, it generally requires the consumer to make a number of big decisions, all of them important for ensuring that you’re getting the most bang for your buck. Some of these questions are obvious—like the question of what kind of car to buy, or what budget limitations need to be in place. Others, however, might seem less intuitive; when for instance, is the ideal time to buy a car? And should you buy from a dealership, or from a private party?

This last question may not seem like much of a choice for many consumers. To some, buying from a dealership is the only way to assure accountability and reputability; for others, buying from a private party is the only way to get a good bargain. But both options have pros and cons, and it is important for the consumer to weigh the options carefully.

There is the obvious point of price, and here there really is not much of a question. Dealers are almost always going to charge at least a couple thousand dollars more than a private party. That said, a dealership is going to afford certain perks that an individual seller simply cannot offer. For instance, at a dealership, you potentially have unlimited time to shop, to inspect, and to test-drive your chosen vehicle, without having to be concerned with another individual’s schedule. And you also have the luxury of having many different vehicles available on the same lot, ensuring a certain degree of choice. That’s not something an individual is typically able to offer.

But there is also a level of accountability that you get from a dealership. That may surprise you, given the common cliché of the slick, fast-talking used car salesman, but consider the simple fact that a dealership can very easily be sued for failing to disclose any damages to the consumer. It is extremely uncommon that a used car dealer would deliberately sell you a lemon—and if they do, there are laws in place to protect you.

By contrast, deals made with private parties typically cannot be undone; these sales are often said to be final, “as is” transactions, so if you get stuck with a lemon under these conditions, there is not necessarily anything that can be done about it.

None of this is to say, of course, that private parties cannot ever be trusted, or that buying from a dealer is always the best route to take. From a financial standpoint alone, buying from an individual may be the only option some consumers can afford. It is vital, though, to be mindful of these different pros and cons, and to consider what you’re getting—and what you’re sacrificing—by choosing a private party transaction over a dealership sale, or vice versa. Saving a few thousand dollars is obviously ideal, but being spared the huge loss of buying a lemon may, in the long run, be worth even more.