5 Tips for Selling Your Car

Is there an old car taking up space in your driveway? Even if you can no longer use it, someone out there can. You might sell your old car through a dealership, but you won't make very much money parting with it that way. If you know what to do, there's no reason not to sell it privately. Just cover all your bases to make the sales process as painless and profitable as possible.

Stage it
You would never expect to sell your house without staging it properly. The same logic applies to your car. Clean it thoroughly, inside and out, and take care of any small repairs you've been putting off. Have any routine maintenance -- including an oil change or tire rotation -- done before the sale. While making your car presentable will cost time, and probably money, it could help you make a better sale or convince an unsure buyer. 

Set a price
Research a fair price. Asking too little won't be fair to you, but asking too much won't generate interest from buyers. Always start with the good old Kelley Blue Book, but don't stop there. Scan your area's Craigslist or other classified listings to see what similar makes and models are fetching. Figure out your preferred price, and also an absolute minimum, before meeting with any prospective buyers.

Be respectful and safe
Once you've prepared your car and settled on a price, advertise online, in a paper, or through other means. Be prepared to field calls or emails in a timely fashion. You may have a dozen interested people, but each of them is probably considering other cars, too. The more conscientious you seem, the more likely prospective buyers will be to trust you. At the same time, you should be screening them. If anyone seems suspicious, there's no need to follow up.

If you're still concerned about safety, you can always meet prospective buyers in a neutral location, like a local parking lot. They'll usually ask to test-drive the car and have it inspected by their mechanic. Even if they seem trustworthy, you may want to accompany them on the test-drive, or to their repair shop. You can also bring a friend. If a prospective buyer makes you nervous, terminate the meeting.

Get the paperwork in order
To make a sale legal, you and your car's new owner will have to deal with some paperwork. Be prepared with:

  • Your title and registration: These documents indicate who has ownership of -- and legal liability for -- your car. Research your state's laws on how to transfer the title to the car's new owner and cancel your registration. Find quick links to your state's agency at DMV.org.
  • A release of liability: This document verifies the time and date at which the new owner takes possession of the car, and is easily downloadable from most states' DMV sites. It will protect you from liability for anything that happens to your car after you release it.
  • Your car's maintenance records: Hopefully, you have records of most major maintenance performed on your car. If not, you might ask your mechanic to write up a report on the condition of your car, and any recent repairs, that you can show to buyers. You should also contact your insurance company and let it know you're selling the car. You can either get a refund for whatever remains of your yearly premium, or roll your payments over to your new car. If you are getting a new vehicle, however, you might need higher or different coverage, so revisit your policy. Get started on insurance changes at least a week -- if not longer -- before you'll be selling your car to allow adequate time for processing. And whatever you do, don't allow your coverage to lapse. This could affect your credit score, among other negative consequences.

Be wary of scams
Scammers will always find new and creative ways to make a quick buck. Once you've found a buyer, only accept cash or a certified bank check as payment. If the buyer provides a certified check, call the bank and verify before releasing the car.

Be wary of a buyer who's eager to take possession of the car before all the details and paperwork have been addressed. You should never release the car before you've received payment and signed over the title, for both your protection and the new owner's. Trust your gut, just as you would if your personal safety were at stake. If something about a buyer or an offer doesn't feel right, hold out for a different buyer. 

Final thoughts
Selling your car privately definitely takes more time and effort than allowing a dealer to do it. But it can pay for itself in the control you'll have over the process and in the final amount of the sale. By thinking through the steps outlined here, you can say goodbye to your old ride with ease, and with a tidy sum in your pocket.

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