A Complete Guide to Privately Selling Your Car A Complete Guide to Privately Selling Your Car
Selling your car yourself privately can save you thousands of dollars. The process doesn't have to be hard if you follow these basic steps. A Complete Guide to Privately Selling Your Car

While selling your old car or truck to a dealer may be a much simpler process, you are potentially losing out on thousands of dollars on your vehicle. A dealer is looking to resell your car at a profit and therefore needs a margin on the price. Privately selling your car yourself can be a good way to make a much larger profit on your old vehicle. A private sale may seem daunting, and while there are more steps for you to take, the process can still be pretty easy. Keep in mind these things if you plan on selling your car yourself.

Step 1: Research Your Vehicle’s Worth

The decision to sell a vehicle privately is usually based on the net profit you expect to gain from the sale. Before you go through the process of selling your car, do some research on the current market value of your car, based on its condition. If your car isn’t worth as much as you thought, it might be better to trade it in at a dealership, as you may get more money for it.

A few good resources to estimate your vehicle’s current market value include:

  • Kelley Blue Book
  • Autotrader.com
  • Edmunds.com

Step 2: Gather Your Paperwork

Some people leave this step towards the end, but it’s better to do this now so you don’t find yourself scrambling later. Having your paperwork together will help smooth the transaction process, and may even help you sell the car as a prospective buyer may want to know you have your proper documentation in order and have done your due diligence. Being prepared with your car’s history and paperwork builds trust with the buyer but also protects you, the seller.

Each state has its own requirements for required paperwork when selling a car, so check with your states DMV to get the specific forms you’ll need. As a general guide, be prepared with these documents:

Vehicle title

You’ll need to sign the ownership title and hand it over to the new owner.

Maintenance records

A buyer may want to know the car’s history and want proof the car has been properly maintained over time. If you’ve kept all your maintenance records in one place, then that’s great! If not, you can get them at the dealership or the mechanic who handled your services.

Bill of sale

A bill of sale is a document that records a transaction between two parties and provides proof the sale took place. To the seller, the bill of sale shows the date the vehicle was sold and the buyer’s information. To the seller, the bill of sale provides vehicle information that can be cross checked against a Vehicle History Report. The bill of sale should be completed and signed by both parties once an agreement is made.

Release of liability

This form protects you from being held liable for any damages incurred after the vehicle is sold. Without this form completed, disputes could occur over accidents or other events that may occur before the car is fully registered under the new owner, leaving you, the seller responsible.

Warranty documentation

If your vehicle is still under manufacturer warranty or an extended warranty, you’ll want to have these available to the buyer. If there are no warranties, provide as-is documentation so it is clear the new owner assumes all responsibility for repairs and damages once the vehicle is sold. As-is documentation can be included with the bill of sale.

Step 3: Clean and Prep Your Car

A clean vehicle will help attract more buyers and potentially sell the vehicle faster. You’ll want to detail clean both the exterior and interior of the car. Be sure to:

  • Wash and wax the vehicle exterior.
  • Clean the rims and tires. Adding some tire shine will really make your car pop!
  • Gently spray down under your hood. You want to get rid of excessive grime and dust from the engine bay.
  • Replace or wash old floor mats.
  • Vacuum the floor, seats, trunk, and small spaces.
  • Wipe down and clean any interior surfaces with proper wipes and/or a lint-free cloth.

You may additionally opt to touch-up any small paint chips or dents on the car using a factory matching color for your vehicle. It is a small, low-cost cosmetic fix that can help make your car appear better taken care of.

Step 4: Take Pictures

After cleaning and detailing your car, you’ll want to take pictures. Pictures will help advertise your vehicle and attract potential buyers. Use a good camera and be sure to take the pictures in a clear, well-lit area. You’ll want to take multiple shots from different angles, generally at least one for every exterior quarter panel of your car, as well as straight-on shots from each side. You will also want pictures of the car’s interior. For general purposes, include these shots in your car’s profile:

Exterior shots

  • Front
  • Rear
  • Both sides of vehicle
  • Wheels
  • Engine bay

Interior shots

  • Front and back seats
  • Trunk
  • Dashboard
  • Window and door controls
  • Carpets

Step 5: List Your Sale

There are many ways you can advertise and sell your private vehicle. If you have a social media account, the simplest way would be to make a post and tell your online friends and also have your friends tell their friends and share the news of your sale. But to reach a larger potential customer base, you may want to consider advertising. Reputable online sites such as eBay Motors, Cars.com, Autotrader.com, and Kelley Blue Book all have ways that allow you to list and sell your car privately online for a fee.

Craigslist is another popular route if you want to sell your your car without paying additional fees. Craigslist is a “for sale by owner” forum which is pretty easy to set-up and use, but listings can be somewhat unorganized. Nevertheless it’s a great way to sell your car and market to local buyers.

If you’re advertising online, you have the luxury of providing helpful details to the buyer. Detailed descriptions let buyers know you’re serious about your sale and can make a strong first impression. When making your ad, you’ll want to be as accurate as possible and include information such as:

  • Asking price. Include if your price is firm, “or best offer” (OBO), or a quick sale. Add in a little wiggle room on the price that’s higher than what you’re willing to accept.
  • Mileage
  • Vehicle condition and description, such as color, make, and model
  • History of accidents or damage
  • Modifications or upgrades
  • Recent servicing or repairs
  • VIN number. This will allow for the buyer to order a vehicle history report on your car.
  • Number of owners

You can also consider purchasing a print ad in the local newspaper. Space in print ads are usually limited and you may not be able to include pictures, so be sure to include only the essential details such as the make, model, year of the vehicle, mileage, color and condition of the car, selling price, and your contact details.

Some town areas and local businesses may be open to you parking your car and displaying the vehicle on their property. If you have permission to do so and feel comfortable leaving your car in a public space, this may be an option for you. If the area is highly trafficked, just leaving the car with a visible “For Sale” sign along with a price and contact details can get you a lot of potential buyers.

Step 6: Screen Your Potential Buyers

Once you’ve set up your vehicle’s sales listing, be ready to respond to incoming inquiries. Try to respond to any serious inquiries within 24 hours so you don’t miss any opportunities of a potential sale. Ideally, you should try to converse with a buyer via email or text message first so there is a documentation of your conversation. You can refer to the conversations should there be any disagreements during the negotiations. But you’ll want to speak to a person on the phone at least once before meeting so you can get a feel for the individual buyer.

When setting up appointments, you’ll want to ask for the person’s full name and clarify acceptable forms of payments. An online payment method such as PayPal or a cashier’s checks are the safest options. Cash can be dangerous to carry and difficult to trace. Personal checks and money orders may bounce. Be sure any payment method clears before you sign over the title and hand over the keys.

Let the buyer know that monthly payments will not be acceptable. If a buyer stops payments, there’s no way for you to collect payment. The buyer should be responsible with coming up with the complete payment on their own through cash savings or a loan through a reputable lender.

Step 7: Meet With the Buyer

A local buyer makes the sales process easier as you can agree upon a nearby location to look over the vehicle. For personal safety, visit in a public location. A savvy buyer may ask to meet at a garage or auto shop to do a vehicle inspection. You should take this as a good sign as it likely means they are a serious buyer. National or overseas sales are a lot more complicated, and you may want to avoid this if you are simply looking for a quick sale.

Have a small sales pitch ready highlighting some the benefits of your car. It’s good to do some research on your vehicle beforehand. Understand the buyer and their needs as well, then tailor your pitch and conversation to their needs and situation.

If you haven’t already set a fixed price on the car, have a starting price that’s higher than what you’re willing to accept so you have room for negotiation. Also have a minimum price you’d be willing to accept and stick with that number. Feel free to make counteroffers if you’re unhappy with the buyer’s price, but also know when to walk away from the sale. Remember a sale is negotiating a price you can both be happy with.

Step 8: Finalize the Sale

Once you and the buyer have agreed upon the terms and conditions of the sale, you’ll need to complete the paperwork mentioned in step two. If plan to accept a cashier’s check, go with the buyer to the bank to get the money. Once the payment has been completed, you’ll need to:

  • Complete the bill of sale
  • Sign over the title
  • Fill out the Release of Liability form and submit this form to your state’s DMV if required
  • Provide warranty documents and copies of maintenance records. Black out any personal information from those forms.
  • Complete and include any required state transfer paperwork
  • Hand over all copies of keys for the vehicle

Once this is all done, be sure to remove your old vehicle from your insurance policy.

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Mike Ouyang

Mike Ouyang

Mike is a PR manager, writer, and content editor for LendingTree focused on creating informative and digestible financial content for the everyday consumer and reader. Mike graduated from College of Charleston and received his MBA from Winthrop University. Follow him on Twitter @MikeOuyangTweet