I have never bought a car before in my life.
I was looking at some used cars for sale on Craig's list.
This is potentially a problem. The person at the other end of the deal may be equally inexperienced. Or they may be very experienced or they may be shady.
The idea of paying thousands of dollars for a used vehicle is nerve wracking enough without the complexity of determining if the person in front of you is trying to scam you, and making sure that all the required documents are legal.
The first issue when buying any used car is making sure the price you negotiate is a fair price. You can research how much cars of that year, make , and model are going for. But you need to know how that particular one you are looking at compares to the average. Buying a used vehicle is time sensitive because that particular car might not be there tomorrow.
Getting past the price issue you need to see all the required paperwork:
Title: this shows ownership. Check the DMV website in your state to see what an official one in your state looks like. This should show the people and if there is a loan this should also include the lender. The VIN will also be listed.
If there is a lender listed walk away from the deal. It is much more complex to complete the transaction. You need to make sure the lender is paid their portion of the proceeds to pay off the loan or they still own the car.
If there is a second person listed on the title they need to be there too. All the owners will need to sign the paperwork during this process.
If the title is from another state you have additional complexity. I would avoid this.
VIN: the vehicle Identification number. Every vehicle has one. They are in multiple places. One can be seen through the vehicle windshield. another can be seen on the door jamb. If they don't match the ones of the paperwork, that is a warning sign.
Registration. That is issued with the license plate. It will also have VIN, it should be current, and the names and addresses should match the owners. You should also check their drivers licenses to see if they are the owners.
Vehicle history. Is provided by a 3rd party. They can provide valuable information. sometimes the seller has one in advance. It should match the VIN. Some things it can provide: a list of previous owners; Estimated mileage' if there have been major repairs; if the vehicle was previously declared totaled by an insurance company. Getting vehicle history can save you from a scam. You will want to do this once you see the VIN, and you are thinking of buying the car.
The bill of sale. You will need to document to the state/DMV that you are the owner. This tells them what you paid, and is also signed by the seller. They may also have to sign the title and registration. This is legal document and must be accurate. Don't let the seller agree to put down a lower number. They may be trying to pocket some of the extra, and you will be committing fraud.
All these paperwork issues go away if you go to a legitimate used car dealer. Yes you may pay more, but the risk of finding out six months from now that you only think you own the car is eliminated.