An independent dealership isn't associated with any particular automaker. The selection and size can vary wildly, depending on whether you're shopping at a corner lot or a full-size dealership with a service department. Since the quality also can vary from one place to another, we recommend you run Google and Yelp searches and see what kind of reviews that dealer has. The Better Business Bureau is also a good resource.
Independent dealerships are useful if you're trying to find a really inexpensive vehicle. If you have poor credit, you'll have a better chance of getting a vehicle financed at these dealerships. But keep in mind that their interest rates may not be as favorable.
Some independent used-car lots may specialize in a certain type of car, which can make your selection process easier if you have that one in mind. For example, there is an independent dealer near the Edmunds offices in Santa Monica, California, that only sells BMWs. Another used-car dealer specializes in classic cars.
Use your best judgment if you do business with independent dealers and make sure you run a Carfax report or other vehicle history report for any vehicle you are seriously considering. We also recommend that you read our "Field Guide to Independent Used-Car Lots."
Shopping for a car in the private-party market offers a varied selection and the opportunity to get the best price, though you sacrifice the convenience of seeing many cars side by side as you do at dealer lots. Negotiating with a private-party seller is usually much easier than negotiating with a salesperson at a dealership since most car owners haven't received formal sales training. There are numerous ways to find private-party vehicles. Some of the more popular places to go on the web are Autotrader, Craigslist and eBay.
Unless a vehicle you purchase from a private party is still under warranty, you'll be buying the car as-is. This is a riskier move for you as a buyer, but if you bring a mechanic with you or get the car inspected before you buy it, you can offset this risk. With private-party sales, you'll find that the prices are lower across the board. Our pricing analysts calculate that a used vehicle will typically cost about 12 percent more at a dealership than it would if sold by a private party.