Buying a Used Car from a Private Seller in Washington

Get a better deal when you buy your next vehicle by going directly to a private owner. Plus, you’ll avoid pesky dealer fees. Here's what you need to know to navigate the process in Washington.
When you buy a car from a private seller, you’ll need to handle a lot of details yourself. Fortunately, we’ve figured out how to make this process much easier. Read on to learn the steps you’ll need to take to buy a used car from a private seller in Washington—and how PrivateAuto improves the car buying experience.

Find a Car That Fits Your Budget

First and foremost you need to find a car to buy. Based on your budget, requirements, and other factors, you probably have a good idea of what you’re looking for. It’s time to find it.

Start Searching

When it comes to finding that perfect car in your price range, here are some of your options:

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

While these can be great resources for finding that perfect Toyota Corolla, they fall short when it comes time for the transaction. That’s why we call them “meetingplaces” instead of true marketplaces.

PrivateAuto is the only transactional marketplace that offers self-serve technology solutions for every part of the deal. If you’d like to see how easy buying privately can be with PrivateAuto, shop our used vehicles for sale and get the car buying process started.

For the record, we don’t hate other listing sites. Some have a lot more private-party car inventory than we do (we’re still young and gaining traction), but we offer the transactional security and convenience that other sites simply do not.

That’s why we created DealNow, a fast-track dealflow that allows you to start a deal on another platform and finish it with our transactional infrastructure. Get your deal started now!
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Negotiate the Price

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

Other websites require you to message the seller and have a potentially 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

A smart buyer wants to know everything about the car they’re getting. The two best ways to learn about a vehicle’s background are with a vehicle history report and researching the car’s title.

Research the Title

Before you move forward with a vehicle purchase, do some preliminary research on the car title.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau website allows you to research the title of any car. You might just avoid being the next victim of some car scam.

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).

Ask the seller for their full name and the vehicle identification number (VIN). Run the title check, and have one less thing to worry about.

Vehicle History Report

A vehicle history report is always a good idea when buying a used car. It covers ownership history and maintenance records, and shows how well the seller cared for their car.

PrivateAuto provides a vehicle history report for all premium listings.

Here are some reasons a vehicle history report helps you have one less thing to worry about.

1. You know how well the car has been cared for.
2. You are aware of any accidents or insurance claims.
3. You can see service records, major repairs, and other work that has been done.

Take the Car for a Test Drive

Unless you’re buying a car long-distance, you’re going to want to test-drive it personally. PrivateAuto lets you arrange the test drive in a safe, easy, and convenient manner that protects your personal information.

1. Our in-app scheduler allows you to pick from the time slots the seller has chosen. No awkward back-and-forth conversations. You'll also see the seller's preferred meetup location.
2. You can choose to transact with verified sellers, which helps to weed out scammers and crooks who want to conceal their identity.


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 the state of Washington.

1. Certificate of title
2. Bill of sale

Washington Certificate of Title

A Washington certificate of title will require both you and the seller to complete the following information at the time of the sale:

Odometer disclosure
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)
Date of sale
Purchase price
Your hand-printed name and signature

Washington Bill of Sale

Washington requires you to complete a Vehicle/Vessel Bill of Sale form when you buy a used car in the state. This form 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.

We make it easy with an official Washington bill of sale in the PrivateAuto app. You and the seller review the details and then digitally sign after inspecting the car. No printing or scanning needed. It’s stored in your PrivateAuto account as a reference, should you ever need it.

Pay for the Vehicle

There weren't many great options to pay for a car until we arrived on the scene. Cash is inconvenient and risky, PayPal has fees, Venmo and Zelle have low transfer limits, and checks and wire transfers are slow and unwieldy.

We got tired of the limitations associated with existing payment methods, so we created PrivateAuto Pay. Here’s how it works:

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

You’ll never want to buy a car any other way.

Washington Title Transfer and Registration

After the seller signs the title over, you’ll go to the Washington Department of Licensing office (DOL) 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 associated Washington sales tax.

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

The Certificate of Title, signed over to you by the previous registered owner
A completed Vehicle Title Application
Vehicle/Vessel Bill of Sale form
Lien information (if applicable)
Payment for the Washington sales tax: 6.5% of the purchase price
Payment for Washington’s vehicle title transfer fee: $15
Payment for Washington registration fees: from $25 to $72
Payment for the $15 service fee
Valid ID or driver's license
Proof of insurance

Read our complete guide to a Washington title transfer for more info on the subject.
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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.

Washington Vehicle FAQ

What is a Washington quick title certificate?

A Washington quick title is a certificate of ownership for vehicles or boats that you can get immediately (instead of waiting for a standard title to arrive in the mail). For cars, a quick title costs $85.50.

Quick titles aren't available for:

- Snowmobiles
- Cars that are reported as stolen
- Insurance or wrecker-destroyed vehicles and boats
- Cars with a "WA rebuilt" brand on their title

What kind of vehicle insurance do I need to have in Washington?

How to transfer an out-of-state title?

What happens if the seller loses the title?

Is emission testing required in Washington?

How much are standard license plates in Washington?