Buying a Used Car from a Private Seller in Maryland

Get a better deal when you buy your next vehicle by going directly to a private owner. Plus, you’ll avoid dealer fees. There are a few things you'll need to know about the process in the state of Maryland
When you buy a car from a private seller, you’ll need to handle some things that a dealership normally takes care of. PrivateAuto makes the pre-owned vehicle buying experience as smooth as a dealership transaction.

Find a Car

Your first order of business is to scope out cars matching your budget, must-haves, and preferences.

Here are some of your options for finding a used car online:

Auction websites such as eBay Motors and Bring a Trailer.
Social media listings (e.g., cars for sale on Facebook Marketplace).
Vehicle listing sites such as Autotrader.
Online classifieds
a. Local classifieds like KSL Cars.
b. National classifieds such as OfferUp.

These websites can be great a resource for finding your dream Ford F-150 XLT, but they fall short when it comes to the actual transaction. That’s why we call them “meetingplaces” instead of marketplaces.

We are the only transactional marketplace that offers self-serve technology solutions for every part of the deal. If you’d like to see how easy it can be, shop our used vehicles for sale and start the car buying journey.

While we are the best car-buying app, we don’t hate other listing sites. That’s why we created DealNow, a fast-track deal flow that allows you to start a deal on another platform and finish it with our transactional infrastructure.

Get your deal started now!
Image highlighting DealNow by PrivateAuto

Get the Best Deal

You want to get the very best car for your budget. PrivateAuto allows you to make offers on cars. You never know if the owner will accept less than their initial sale price until you try.

While other websites require you to message the seller and have an awkward exchange PrivateAuto lets you make an offer with the click of a button. The seller can then accept, reject, or submit a counteroffer.

Research the Car

You want to find out everything about the car you're getting to avoid getting scammed.
The two best ways to learn about a vehicle’s background are with a vehicle history report and researching the car’s title.

PrivateAuto provides a vehicle history report for all premium listings, for your peace of mind.

Here are some reasons vehicle history reports are good to have.

1. You know how well the car has been cared for.
2. You have visibility into any accidents or insurance claims.
3. You can see service records, major repairs, and other work.

A vehicle history report can help you steer clear of buying a faulty used car and help you identify the good ones.

Conduct Title Research

Before meeting the seller, it’s good to do preliminary research on the car title.
The best way is to use the National Insurance Crime Bureau website and research the title of a vehicle to protect yourself from fraud.

It doesn't happen often, but sometimes sellers will attempt to mislead or outright deceive. For instance, they may try to pass off a salvage title as clean.

Good title research will help you check for:

1. Reports of the car having been stolen
2. The car has been declared a total loss in an insurance claim
3. An outstanding lien (or lien release)

Just ask the seller for their full name and the vehicle identification number (VIN) in advance of meeting up. Run the title check, and have one less thing to worry about.


You’ve test-driven the car and you’re ready to buy. It’s time to handle the paperwork. Here are the key documents involved in a private-party vehicle transaction in Maryland.

1. Certificate of title
2. Emissions testing
3. Bill of sale

Maryland Certificate of Title

A Maryland title certificate requires both you and the seller to fill in the following information at the time of the sale:

Odometer disclosure
Date of sale
Purchase price
Your hand-printed name and signature
Seller’s hand-printed name, signature, and address (if there is more than one seller listed on the title, all sellers will need to sign)

Maryland Emissions Testing

In the State of Maryland, the following counties require emission testing to complete a title transfer:

Anne Arundel
Prince George
Queen Anne

During the vehicle smog testing process, the MVA will conduct three tests.

1. Gap Cap Test, specifically designed for cars with model years between 1977 and 1995 weighing less than 8,500 pounds.
2. Onboard diagnostic test (OBD), specifically designed for model years 1996 and newer that weigh less than 8,500 pounds, and heavy-duty vehicles model years newer than 2008 and weighing between 8,501 and 14,001 pounds.
3. Tailpipe idle test, specifically designed for car model years between 1977 and 1995 that weigh up to 26,000 pounds, and heavy-duty cars with model years newer than 2008 that weigh less than 8,500 pounds.

In Maryland, the Vehicle Emissions Inspection Program (VEIP) test fee is $14. For those who use a self-service kiosk, the fee will be $10.

If your car fails the test, the first retest will be free.

Emission Check Exemptions in Maryland

Some eligible car owners can apply for an MVA inspection exemption by completing the back side of the VEIP inspection form (Form EP-1) and submitting the form in person to the MVA or submitting it in the mail.

Emissions test exemptions in Maryland are:

Car models older than 1976 or vehicles weighing more than 26,000 pounds
Diesel-powered or electric cars
Historic/antique cars
Hybrid vehicles
New vehicles
Cars owned by senior citizens over 70 years old or qualifying cars with mental disability tags

Maryland Bill of Sale

Maryland requires a notarized bill of sale form if:

1. The car is less than 7 years old
2. You’re paying more than $500 below the bluebook value.

This document protects you by memorializing the terms of the sale, the VIN, the selling price, mileage, and the names and signatures of both parties. If the seller ever wants to contest the transaction or any part of it, you have their signature on a legal document with all of the terms and details to back you up.

PrivateAuto makes it easy with an official Maryland bill of sale in the mobile app. Both you and the seller review the details and then digitally sign after inspecting the car. No scanning or printing is needed. Everything is stored in your account as a reference.

Pay for the Vehicle

There weren't many great ways to pay for a car—until PrivateAuto arrived on the scene.

Venmo and Zelle have low transfer limits.
Cash is inconvenient and risky
PayPal has fees.
Checks and wire transfers are slow and unwieldy.

We got tired of the limitations of existing payment methods, so we created PrivateAuto Pay.

Here’s how it works:

1. No exchange of contact or banking info.
2. No transfer fees.
3. Instantaneous transfers. Close the deal when you meet for the test drive.
4. Works 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. No coordinating around bank hours.
5. Good for transfers up to $1M.
6. Enjoy escrow-like safeguards without the expense and hassle of an actual escrow service.

Maryland Title Transfer and Registration

After the seller has signed over the title, you’ll go to a Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) office to complete the title transfer process. At the same time, you’ll register the vehicle in your name, get new license plates, and pay the Maryland vehicle sales tax.

Here’s what you’ll need to provide when you visit your local MDOT office:

The Certificate of Title, signed over to you by the previous registered owner
Emissions inspection certificate (if applicable)
Lien information (if applicable)
Payment for the Maryland excise tax: 6% of the vehicle’s purchase price
Payment for Maryland’s vehicle title transfer fee: $100
Payment for Maryland registration fees: from $135 to $187
Valid ID or driver's license
Proof of insurance

Read our complete guide to a Maryland title transfer for more info on the subject.
Buying Privately Made Simple

Should I Buy from a Dealer or a Private Seller?

Traditionally, dealerships have offered more convenience, while private sales have offered better value.

Here at PrivateAuto, we’re big fans of the private seller route. Here are the advantages:

1. Get a better price by cutting out the middleman and going straight to the source. Dealers must buy low and sell high to make a profit and keep the lights on.
2. Avoid fees. Car dealers charge documentation fees that range from $50 to over $1,000.
3. You drive the deal on your terms. PrivateAuto allows you to make offers and negotiate the best deal directly with the seller.
4. In some states, buying from a private seller means no vehicle sales tax. For example, Arizona, Hawaii, and Nevada charge sales taxes on retail (dealership) vehicle purchases, but not private-party ones.

We believe in making private-party transactions as easy as buying a used car from a dealership. That’s what we’re all about.

Maryland Vehicle FAQ

Do you pay sales tax on a used car in Maryland?

Maryland calls their sales tax an “excise tax,” but it’s the same thing: a 6% tax on the purchase price or book value of a car. Unlike many other states, Maryland doesn’t have local sales taxes; 6% is the most you’ll pay in tax on your vehicle purchase.

Can you transfer ownership of a vehicle without a title in Maryland?

Can I drive a car I just bought without plates in Maryland

Where can I go to transfer a vehicle title in Maryland?

How to request a duplicate vehicle title in Maryland?

Is car insurance high in Maryland?

Is it illegal to not have car insurance in Maryland?

Who is exempt from Maryland car tax?