Buying A Used Car From A Private Seller In Tennessee

When purchasing a used vehicle from a private party in Tennessee, there are some basic tips you should follow.
When shopping for used cars, it is important to stay safe and secure. Let's talk about how to navigate the car-buying process in Tennessee.

PrivateAuto has private seller used cars for sale in Tennessee, and also provides an end-to-end platform to get the deal done. From instantaneous payment transfers to secure messaging, we offer an outstanding level of convenience and security for the transaction process.

What Are the Steps to Buying a Used Car in Tennessee?

1. Find a vehicle that fits your requirements
2. Agree on a price
3. Take the car for a test drive
4. Handle paperwork
5. Transfer funds to the seller
6. Transfer ownership
7. Register the car (and pay sales taxes and fees)
8. Get new license plates

Let’s go over the process in more detail.
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Find the Right Vehicle

You’re better off buying a car from a private party than from a Tennessee car dealership. In order to be profitable, dealerships buy low and sell high. You’re far more likely to get a better deal by going directly to a private-party seller.

PrivateAuto has a wide selection of used cars for sale in Memphis, Nashville, Jackson, Oak Ridge, and elsewhere across the state of Tennessee. PrivateAuto offers security and convenience features that none of our competitors have, from in-app test drive scheduling to instantaneous funds transfer.

Oh, and, speaking of test drives…

Take the Car For a Test Drive

Once you’ve found a car and agreed with the seller on the price, it’s time to meet up and take the car for a test drive.

Arrange the Meetup

Other used car marketplaces leave the test drive organization to you. Traditionally, organizing the initial meetup requires exchanging personal contact info and having a lot of back-and-forth with the seller. With PrivateAuto, your personal info is not shared. Our handy in-app scheduler allows you and the seller to arrange the perfect time and place.

Research the Car’s History

It’s always wise to research a car’s history before purchasing. You can get a detailed history report through a service like CarFax. Or, you can get a car history report when you use PrivateAuto.

PrivateAuto and AutoCheck have partnered to provide buyers with a motor vehicle information check and report. When PrivateAuto sellers choose a Premium listing, we include the car history report.

Choosing a Premium Listing will allow you to see if there are any:

Reports about the car being stolen
Accidents/total loss

Do a Mechanical Inspection (Optional)

Before you buy a used car, you may want to perform a mechanical inspection on it. This is especially advisable for cars that have high mileage. If you have the skills, you can perform the pre-purchase inspection at the test drive. Or, you can get it inspected by a local professional mechanic.


Paperwork is a critical part of the transaction process. Different states have different document requirements, but here is the usual paperwork involved in a used car transaction:

Odometer disclosure statement
VIN inspection

Fill Out the Certificate of Title

You and the seller need to fill out the Certificate of Title. Required information contains the following info:

Odometer disclosure
Seller’s hand-printed name, signature, and address
Date of sale
Selling price
Your hand-printed name and signature

Odometer Disclosure

In the past, any vehicle less than 10 years old was required to have an odometer disclosure form completed at time of sale.

If the car is 20 years or older at the date of sale, then you don’t need to include the odometer disclosure. This process is used to ensure an accurate reading. It’s also important to note if there are any known issues with an odometer.

Our app includes an odometer reading entry, where both the buyer and the seller confirm mileage before taking the next step.

Tennessee Bill of Sale

In Tennessee, a bill of sale is required if purchasing a vehicle from a private seller.

PrivateAuto includes a Tennessee bill of sale as part of our standard in-app transaction process. At the appropriate phase in the transaction, both you and the seller will be prompted to e-sign the bill of sale within their mobile PrivateAuto app.

The whole transaction, including the bill of sale, can be completed in a few minutes when you meet for the test drive and approve the car. It’s so fast and convenient you won’t believe it. And then, you won't have to keep track of all your paperwork, you will always have the electronic bill of sale accessible in your PrivateAuto account to prove that the transaction was legitimate.

Perform a VIN Check

When buying a used car, you should always check the vehicle identification number (VIN) that the seller has written on the title. Carefully compare it to the actual VIN on the car. You want to avoid the problem of having the wrong car information number on the title when you go to register your newly-bought car with the State of Tennessee DOR.

The PrivateAuto app has a VIN field where buyers and sellers individually confirm the VIN. This helps eliminate errors (or the rare case of outright seller fraud).

Emissions Testing

As of February 5th, 2022, residents of Tennessee no longer need to perform an emissions test when titling or registering a car.

Transfer Funds to the Seller

It’s time for you to pay the seller for the vehicle. Until PrivateAuto arrived on the scene, there haven’t been a lot of safe ways to send large amounts of money in a private vehicle transaction.

Welcome to PrivateAuto Pay

Our integrated banking gateway, PrivateAuto Pay, allows you to instantly send any amount of cash. The seller will get the payment in a matter of seconds, whether it's late at night or a national holiday. We charge no payment processing fee. It’s truly revolutionary.

So, if you don’t like the idea of carrying a briefcase full of money or waiting for a check to clear, you’ll love PrivateAuto Pay.

Easy Financing Available

Oh, and if you didn't want to pay out-of-pocket for your next vehicle, you can apply for a used vehicle loan right within the PrivateAuto mobile app. Once you get approved, your profile will show that you have verified funds, making you stand out from other buyers.

When closing the deal and sending payment, our lending partner will pay the seller in full. You'll make monthly car payments to the lender. It's that easy. Wondering how much your payments will be? Our car loan calculator will tell you.

Tennessee Title Transfer

The key component of the entire transaction is transferring a Tennessee car title from seller to buyer. Once the seller signs the title and hands it to you, the vehicle is legally yours. There are still some steps remaining for you to take following the title transfer, but you now own the car.

To transfer Tennessee vehicle titles successfully, sellers must complete the Transfer of Title by Seller section on the front of the certificate of title and include the following:

Proof of insurance under the buyer’s name
ID for buyer and seller
Proof of inspection
Title transfer fees
Affidavit of non-dealer transfers

In the state of Tennessee, if you make a mistake when filling out the tile transfer, you will have to order a duplicate. Any scratch-outs, white-outs, or erasures will make the document invalid.

Title Transfer Fees

The title transfer process involves several fees. These include the registration fee, title transfer fee, TN license plate fee, and sales tax. You may also need to pay an emissions fee or gift tax, depending on your location and the vehicle.

Title fee $11
Title transfer fee $1

What to Do When There Are Multiple Vehicle Owners?

If there is more than one seller listed on the title, both sellers will need to sign the document in order for the title transfer to be legitimate.

Conduct Title Research

Before meeting up with the seller, it’s always good to do preliminary research on the car title.

Tennessee county clerks will recommend using the National Insurance Crime Bureau website to research the title of a potential used vehicle purchase 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 a clean title.

Good title research will help you check for:

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

Finalize with the TN DOR and County Clerk's Office

When the seller is out of the picture and you own the vehicle, you need to finalize the process by visiting your Tennessee county clerk's office and the Department of Revenue (DOR).

In Tennessee, portions of the finalization need to be done at your local county clerk's office, and other aspects need to be completed at the Tennessee Department of Revenue (DOR).

Finalizing the transfer of ownership is done at the DOR while registering the car under your name and getting new license plates, is done at your local TN county clerk's office.

Transfer the Title in TN

After buying a used car in Tennessee from a private seller, you’ll need to complete an Application for Certificate of Title, attach it to the title, and submit it to the DOR along with the required paperwork and payments.

License Plates and Registration

Different rules for license plates will apply in different states during a private car sale. Some states allow the plates to remain with the car and pass on to the buyer. Sadly, Tennessee is not one of those states. When you buy a used car in TN from a private owner, Tennessee laws mandate that the seller must remove the license plate from the car. As the buyer, you’ll need to get new license plates.

The registration process can only be done in person at the county clerk's office.

For the initial registration, you will need:

Signed Certificate of Title
Sales tax

What Are the Fees When Buying A Used Car in Tennessee?

The car purchase price never includes the used car sales tax, registration, and title transfer fees, which the buyer will pay on top of the car’s price.

Here are additional fees you'll pay when buying a used car in Tennessee:

Title fee: $11
Registration fees: from $86 to $89
License plates: $23.75
TN sales tax: 7% of the car’s purchase price

PrivateAuto charges no buyer fees.
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Find Your Dream Car with PrivateAuto

PrivateAuto makes buying a used car fast and hassle-free. Whether you’re looking for a Ford F-150, Toyota RAV4, Nissan Altima, or Ram 1500, you’re sure to find a great deal.

We are the only end-to-end car-buying platform that gives you everything you need to get the deal done, from making offers to sending payments.

Browse our used cars for sale in Tennessee.

The PrivateAuto buying process consists of a couple of simple steps:

Create an account and get verified on PrivateAuto

In order for PrivateAuto to be a safe place for everyone, we require email, phone, and driver’s license verification, including facial recognition.

Look for your dream car

It’s so simple to browse listings of used cars for sale on PrivateAuto. Filter by make, model, mileage, year, and other criteria to curate your search.

Make offers

Make offers on cars that fit your requirements. It’s up to you whether to accept the seller’s asking price, or to offer a lower price. You can also decide whether to accept ID-verified sellers only.

Schedule the test drive

When purchasing a used car, it is important that you test drive it before committing. No more back-and-forth texts. You never have to give out your phone number. Use our handy scheduling feature to coordinate a time and place for a test drive. (BTW you’ll be able to finalize the transaction instantly at the test drive location)

Complete paperwork

Easily e-sign the bill of sale within our mobile app, from your phone. With our shared documents feature, you can easily locate the paperwork needed after the sale.

Transfer the funds

Before PrivateAuto, receiving funds was the most stressful part of the entire purchasing process, especially for any used vehicle purchases over $5,000. There just aren’t a lot of good ways to send large amounts of money quickly and conveniently.

But, those days are over! Verify and send the funds instantaneously with PrivateAuto Pay, our innovative banking integration. Instantaneous funds transfer any time of day, every day of the year.

Do the car title transfer

The seller will transfer the vehicle title to you and you will be the official owner.

Finalize with the state of Tennessee

You’ll need to get new license plates, register the car in your name, pay taxes and fees, and otherwise check all the boxes with the Tennessee DOR.

Selling your vehicle in Tennessee? Choose PrivateAuto to get the best price and transact efficiently and safely!

Tennessee Used Car FAQ

What is the lemon law in Tennessee?

The state of Tennessee has a lemon law to protect buyers if they purchased a faulty car from a dealer. In TN, the Lemon Law does not apply to private sales.

What kind of insurance do used cars need?

Who pays for the title transfer fee in Tennessee?

Is buying a car privately for cash a good idea?

How to protect yourself when buying a car privately?

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