Paying cash for a used car without a local bank
November 8, 2021 1:12 PM   Subscribe

I bank at a community bank with branches only within my local region. If I’m interested in buying a used car from a private seller in a city a couple hours away, what are my best options for doing so? I’d prefer not to carry several thousand dollars in cash but I’m struggling to see another way of handling it.
posted by cali to Shopping (20 answers total)
Get a cashier's check from your bank, and then the seller can deposit it at their bank.
posted by backseatpilot at 1:31 PM on November 8, 2021 [3 favorites]

Cashier's check or money order.
posted by firstdaffodils at 1:37 PM on November 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: For those saying cashier’s check, the challenge there I think is that you won’t have enough info (i.e., final price) before test driving and possibly haggling, or even whether you’re for sure buying it before you go. Or is the market so tight that these aren’t really factors anymore? Alternatively, if you agree on a price what’s considered reasonable for the time to go get a check? It would take a few hours at least.
posted by cali at 1:45 PM on November 8, 2021

Could you get the cashier's check for the minimum amount you expect to pay and then go to an ATM if you need more? That will still be a pain in the ass if you end up not buying the car at all, but it does solve the problem of driving around with a lot of cash.

You could also ask you bank how people generally handle this. Or open an account with a larger bank, temporarily.
posted by mskyle at 1:48 PM on November 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

Deposit of like $500 cash to let them know you are serious after test drive and haggling, then provide the rest via a cashier's check, money order, or wire transfer.
posted by chiefthe at 1:49 PM on November 8, 2021

Also, any time I have bought a used car, I haven't taken it home that day -- have to work out plates, etc. So, I would assume you would give the deposit then be back to pick the car up.
posted by chiefthe at 1:51 PM on November 8, 2021

It has been many years, but once when I needed a fair amount of cash, my bank told me to go get a cash advance on my debit card at any bank in town. There were no fees associated with this from either bank. Not sure if it's possible for you, but maybe worth investigating.
posted by ktkt at 2:18 PM on November 8, 2021

Response by poster: Thanks for all the answers so far! I am also wondering if a service like western union could work, assuming someone could send the money on my behalf to the seller, in which case they could pick up the cash right away and hand over title to me (plus I’d have a receipt)
posted by cali at 2:29 PM on November 8, 2021

As a seller, I would not accept Western Union. (Too many scams involve it.) I'd require cash or maybe a cashiers check, if you met me at my bank & they confirmed it was valid before I gave you the title.
posted by belladonna at 3:13 PM on November 8, 2021 [8 favorites]

Ask your bank how to handle it, they may have relationships with other community banks/credit unions for things like this. When I have sold cars in the past, I would not take a cashier's check unless I went to the bank with the buyer and watched the bank issue it. It's too easy to fake a cashier's check and it's a well-worn scam to use fake checks. If I were a seller and had two buyers, one with cash and one with a complicated arrangement or a check I wasn't 100% sure was real, the cash buyer would get the sale. It might be worth reconsidering how to carry cash securely.
posted by quince at 3:14 PM on November 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

I sold my truck, got 2k in cash
Have bought a car with 5K in cash. or have met at a bank in my bank's network.

Agree on a price. Tell seller. Don't have the cash on me. I'm going to my bank's branch in this town. I'll be back with cash. I'm pretty nervous about cash transactions; let's meet in front of the police station in 30 minutes.
Go get coffee. Pull the cash from under the rug in the trunk, or wherever. Go meet seller.

Make sure they have title in hand.
What will you do about plates? and Registration?
posted by theora55 at 3:19 PM on November 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: This is in California, where license plates typically stay on the car when ownership changes and title can be transferred online
posted by cali at 3:29 PM on November 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

With only two hours separating you, it seems like you have a few options. You could get them to meet at the closest branch to them. You could inspect the car, write the bill of sale, and them come back later that day with a freshly issued check. You could bring a $5k check and a couple thousand dollars cash, which balances the risk. It just depends on how much of a pain driving is and how little effort the seller is willing to exert.
posted by michaelh at 3:45 PM on November 8, 2021

There are tons of cashier's check scams. As a seller, I would never accept a cashier's check unless I saw it being issued at the bank. (I did accept a cashier's check for a long distance car transaction, but I made the buyer wait two weeks before releasing the title or the car) So, whatever you plan to do, make sure the seller is down with it before you make the drive.
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 3:56 PM on November 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

I have sold two cars recently. The beater I took 2500 cash for in the grocery store parking lot. The nicer one (8500) I was handed a cashiers check by the teller at a local credit union, which I then took to my credit union. There is no way I would have taken a cashiers check that I did not receive directly from the bank- just too many ways for things to go wrong.
posted by rockindata at 6:02 PM on November 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

As a seller, I would not accept Western Union.

The OP could Western Union the money to themselves in [second city] but that's going to be expensive.

If it's going to be done as a cash transaction, here's a potential kludge along the same lines: get a bunch of money orders made out to yourself at USPS or Walmart and cash in the ones you need once you get to [second city] and have a price agreed. You'd probably want to call the branch ahead of time to make sure it has enough cash on hand and what kind of ID it requires. This option also lets you convert any cash from splitting a money order into a new money order (again made out to yourself) and provides somewhere public to do the exchange if you can't do in front of a police station.

But first talk to the bank about any kind of affiliate network they might have.
posted by holgate at 6:34 PM on November 8, 2021

Best answer: Use and have both of you set up an account if you agree to the sale. It takes a few days but maybe you can test drive and then start then process and wire the money to, then meet in person to get the car keys/title and only then release the funds to the seller in person so they see that you did it. They'll get the funds in their account after that.

There's a fee, but maybe you can agree to split it 50/50 so that everyone is protected.
posted by at 6:58 PM on November 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

If your bank has a branch in town, I'd say meet at the branch.

If it doesn't, then maybe
posted by kschang at 8:20 AM on November 9, 2021

Best answer: Ask a friend or relative to come with you to pick up your new car. You will feel safer carrying cash with a companion, and it's always good to have a second pair of eyes check out your new ride. On the way home buy them lunch.
posted by leaper at 10:12 AM on November 9, 2021

Be aware that there maybe limits to how much money you can take out via debit transactions per transaction or per day/week.
posted by Mitheral at 9:18 AM on November 10, 2021

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