Sell Your Car Privately
Selling your car on your own can be a nerve wracking experience. There are a number of documents you'll need to legally transfer the ownership, but beyond that, you might need to make repairs, get an inspection, and complete a laundry list of other chores to ensure you get the best price for your vehicle. It can all be overwhelming, but armed with a little knowledge, your car can be ready to sell in no time at all.
Preparing to Sell Your Car
- Investigate the market. This will prepare you for the amount of effort you may have to invest in selling your car, and whether or not you should allow yourself to be haggled down to a lower price. Some general considerations to take into account are as follows:
- Sedans, which are great family cars with typically good fuel efficiency, are generally in high demand year-round.
- Convertibles and high performance cars see best sales in summer months. It might be difficult for you to sell one of these in fall or winter.
- Trucks and vans sell very competitively, as these are useful work vehicles. You should not underestimate the value of these.
- Collectible cars can take a long time for you to find the right buyer for an acceptable price.
- Collect necessary paperwork and information. You should begin accumulating the paperwork you'll need to finalize the sale of your car before even putting your car on the market. Your car might sell in months or days, but you will not be able to legally transfer ownership of your car without the proper documentation. Each state has different requirements for documenting an auto-sale, but generally, you'll need:
- Title: you will need to sign the title, showing that you acknowledge the transfer of ownership, and give this document to the new owner after the sale.
- Maintenance records: these will show you have been diligent in the upkeep of your car, and will increase its value. If you have misplaced your maintenance records, the shop where your car was serviced will likely have these on file.
- Bill of sale: this document specifies the terms and conditions of the sale, and in the event of a dispute, can release you from certain legal obligations related to liability.
- Release of liability: without this form, you could be held accountable for damages or accidents that occur before the vehicle is registered under the new owner.
- Warranty documents: these documents should be given to the new owner upon sale of the car (if it is still covered by a warranty), as these transfer to the new owner with the sale of the vehicle.
- As-is documentation: especially if there are no warranties, you'll want it to be outlined clearly that any responsibility for repair or damage once the vehicle is sold is that of the new owner. This can be included in the bill of sale.
- Consider a pre-sale inspection. This is especially important if you have a limited knowledge of automobiles. Owners have a tendency to overestimate the value of their vehicle, and this can cause trouble or leave you feeling like you're being ripped off when you're trying to sell your car.
- A pre-sale inspection means that you won't have any nasty surprises if a potential buyer spots something wrong with the vehicle.
- You'll be able to contest possibly false claims made by buyers who want to unethically drive the price of the sale down.
- Potential buyers will know you are serious about the fair sale of the car, improving trust and putting them at ease.
- Estimate the worth of your vehicle. There are many resources available online for determining the worth of your car, but keep in mind conditions brought to your attention in you pre-sale inspection. A few small repairs before you put your car on the market can significantly increase your asking price. Some websites that can help you determine the worth of your car are:
- Find the right venue for selling your car. There are many websites, both pay- and free-to-use, that offer vehicle listings to prospective buyers. Be aware that general listings will have a wide audience, and you may have to screen several buyers until you find the right one for the sale. If you live on a well traveled road, you might consider putting your car in front of your home with a "For Sale" sign.
- Don't forget about using social media to your advantage. You never know when a relative, friend, or friend of a friend will be in need of new transportation.
- You can also look into peer-to-peer car selling websites. These will each have particular conditions that you'll have to look into before deciding on whether or not this is the right venue, but sites like Beepi, Carvana, and Zipflip could connect you with the next owner of your car.
Increasing the Value of Your Vehicle
- Ready your car for sale. At minimum, you should clean all surfaces of your vehicle, vacuum it, wash the exterior, and remove any garbage or crud that might have accumulated over the course of your ownership. If this sounds unappealing, you can always take your car to be detailed by a professional.
- Improve the condition of your lights. These fixtures are frequently affordable to replace and will be among the things buyers are on the lookout for. Most auto supply stores will have the parts you need in stock, and most fixes will require little more than a Phillips screwdriver.
- Contemplate windshield repair. Though you might think a small crack or chip inconsequential, these are hard to miss for new buyers inspecting the car for the first time. And when that new buyer notices this defect, he'll likely try to bargain you down from your asking price far below what the repair would cost you.
- A dealership might knock off as much as $800 for a "new windshield," as this might be the factory cost, whereas your insurance might cover most, if not all, of the cost of this repair.
- Make sure your brakes are in good condition. Brakes are a tremendously strong selling point, and mentioning to interested parties that you've recently had the brakes replaced will up the value in their estimation. For most cars, this will only cost $100 to $150, and could serve you well in the bargaining phase.
- Touch up dings and dents. You might be able to get several dents in the body of your car repaired for around $100. A "like new" body will up the value of your car, and if the potential buyer doesn't see the ding, he won't be able to use it as ammunition in negotiations.
- Examine your treads. Tires can be expensive, but making sure your tires are ideal for your sale can cost less than you might think. Buyers will check your car's tires for worn down or uneven tread. Replacing one or two trouble tires with matching used ones, which should average you around $30 - $40, can save you from a $300 - $700 deduction a buyer might request to offset the cost of new tires.
Selling Your Car
- Know your purpose to help with pricing. If you need to sell your car on the fly to get money quick from the sale, you should consider pricing it lower than its rated value. Pricing low can also help your car sell if it has been in an accident or needs major work done to it. However, if your car is covered by warranty, you have recently done work on it, and/or you have maintained it well, don't hesitate to highball your asking price a bit.
- Most people expect to haggle a bit when buying a car privately. This being the case, you may only want to highball your asking price the amount that you are willing to be haggled down.
- Set a price. Check out the range of prices for cars similar to yours in classified listings. This should help you establish a ballpark range for your asking value of your vehicle. Once you've taken into account this information, the amount of work you've put into your car, and and the condition of your car, you should have a good idea of what you want to set your price at.
- Photograph your car. Quality pictures attract more buyers than a blurry cell phone shot. Take multiple pictures from different angles, being sure to get clear pictures of the front end, rear end, front interior, rear interior, wheels, and engine of the car. When taking your picture of your car engine, try to do so when there is good light, or have a friend hold a light so the condition of the engine can be clearly seen.
- Advertise on your chosen venue. Now that you have your car ready and a competitive asking price, you're ready to list your car. Let potential buyers know if the price is firm, or if you're willing to negotiate, usually indicated by the letters "OBO" which stands for “or best offer."
Letting buyers know that you're trying to get rid of your vehicle quick can also attract prospective buyers. You should also include:
- Car mileage
- The condition of your vehicle
- A history of accidents or damage
- Modifications or upgrades
- Recent repairs
- VIN (vehicle identification number)
- Number of owners.
- Come up with a sales pitch. If you're not a trained car salesperson, you may benefit from making a list of all the positive features of your vehicle, in addition to reasons why people might want to buy the car. Have specific figures at the ready, like fuel efficiency and odometer mileage.
- Screen interested parties. There is always the chance that your advertising might attract a less than savory individual. If you are a woman and feel uncomfortable meeting a stranger on your own, arrange to have a friend with you, or be sure friends or family know when you're going to have an appointment to show your car.
- If you feel uncomfortable at any point with an individual, do not hesitate to cancel the sale or come up with an excuse for not selling. Something as simple as, "I'm sorry, another buyer offered a better price," can save you from being hassled.
- Be sure you offer your full name when screening and ask for the full name of the potential buyer.
- Indicate in your communications the kinds of payment you find acceptable
- Take a test drive together. Under no condition should you allow a prospective buyer drive the car alone.
You don't want a car thief to drive off with your car! Choose a public, safe place for you and the interested buyer to cruise around. Be as helpful and honest as possible throughout the test drive.
- Before offering a test drive, make sure your insurance covers other drivers.
- Try not to let yourself be outnumbered while in the car by a buyer and his or her friends.
- Have your pre-sale inspection information at the ready, so that if the buyer asks to take the car to a mechanic before agreeing to the sale, you already have the information ready.
- Negotiate with potential buyers. After completing the test drive, you should re-state the asking price, how firm you are on that price, and any other significant features, like warranties, that might be alluring to a buyer. It can be helpful walking into a negotiation with a firm understanding of how much you're willing to budge the final sales price of your car. Whatever you do, don't allow yourself to be bullied.
- Finalize the sale of your car. The requirements for transferring ownership of your car to the new buyer will be different for each state. When it comes to personally identifying information, which might be included on your maintenance reports, you will want to black out unnecessary details to prevent the possibility of identity theft. There may also be transfer paperwork required by your state that must be filed by the seller of the vehicle.
Generally speaking, you'll need to:
- Complete the bill of sale.
- Sign over the title
- Fill out the Release of Liability
- Submit necessary forms to your state DMV
- Provide warranty documents
- Provide copies of maintenance records.
- Hand over the keys. But not before you verify the payment. If you've been paid by check, you'll want to be sure that the check doesn't bounce. Keys should only be given after payment has cleared, and following that, all you have to do is take off your license plate, remember to cancel your insurance, and get a ride home, if necessary.
- Some states do not require you to remove the license plates for your vehicle after completing the sale.
- Don't be afraid to be firm; some sellers might only be shopping around, but your time is valuable to you. You can ask if the buyer is planning on financing or paying in cash, which will tell you whether they are ready to buy a car.
- Be sure to check your local laws regarding parking your car on the street with a "For Sale Sign." In California this is actually illegal and can result in a ticket!
- Never allow your car to be test driven without you being present. Until the car transfers ownership, it is considered your responsibility and you could be liable for damages incurred with it.
- Meet with potential buyers during the day and if possible in a public place. Tell friends and family where you are. Provide them with all contact information for your appointment.
- Buy a Used Car Off Craigslist
- Sell a Car on Craigslist
- Get Rid of an Old Car
- Be an Acceptable Retail Co Worker
- Shop at a Drugstore
- Choose the Right Car for You
- Choose a Car Salesperson
Sources and Citations