Maybe your car is looking and feeling pretty worn out, or maybe your life circumstances changed recently and you need a new car to meet your new needs. Regardless of the driving forces, when it’s time to transfer ownership of your car to a new owner you have several options.
You can simply take your used car to a local dealership and trade it in. The upside – this is the easiest route. The downside – dealer trade-in value is likely the lowest value for your car you could possibly receive, because dealers have to re-sale your car, either at auction or to a private party, and they have to ensure they make a profit on it.
While it certainly takes more effort, private car sales aren’t the hassle they once were, particularly with the modern car-selling tools available to every consumer. This article will walk you through the steps of selling your car yourself, which should remove any questions you have about the process.
Step One: Determine the Value of Your Car
Once upon a time, only dealers had access to used car valuation tools like the Kelley Blue Book (KBB) price and a vehicle history report, two critical items when determining the best price for a car. Now anyone can access both items, along with a wide range of additional tools, as discussed below.
A used vehicle’s market value and service history can be found through a variety of sources. While CarFax is a common and well known source, iSeeCars.com offers its own Price My Car tool, as well as a comprehensive VIN Report (VIN stands for vehicle identification number), which combines both a market value assessment with a history of service, both customized to a specific vehicle based on its VIN. The iSeeCars VIN Report takes into account everything from local sales of similar vehicles to your car’s current odometer reading. It also provides an ownership history, recall history, and predicted depreciation over the coming 1, 3, and 5 years. These tools can help you confirm the right asking price for your vehicle.
Step Two: Organize Your Car’s Documentation
Once you know the value of your vehicle you can prep it for sale. The most important document you’ll need is your car’s title. If there’s a car loan on your vehicle the bank or lienholder will have the vehicle title, which means you’ll need to work with the buyer and your lender on the title transfer once the car is sold. You should always tell prospective buyers the vehicle has a loan that has to be paid off early in the car sale process.
It’s pretty straightforward when selling a car with a loan on it, where a bank or financial institution holds a lien on the vehicle. You simply ask the lender for the exact pay off amount, which the buyer can provide to the lender with a cashier’s check, at which point the lender will release the title. The difference between the pay off amount and your car’s sales price is what you’ll have left after selling the vehicle, which the buyer can pay directly to you. A cashier’s check is among the most secure forms of payment, so feel free to require one from the buyer.
You’ll also want to gather all paperwork related to your vehicle. This includes any service records and warranty documentation you may have, as well as past registrations to confirm the vehicle’s history of use. Feel free to redact personal information, like addresses and phone numbers, from maintenance records and other documents for your own peace of mind and privacy concerns. It’s not all that common, but it is always possible scammers will try to get access to your personal information, so be prudent throughout the vehicle sale process and on the lookout for scams.
Step Three: Advertise Your Vehicle
There are several options for finding potential buyers when it’s time to sell your car. You can advertise in local classified listings like your city’s newspaper website or Craigslist, or use national car marketplaces like Autotrader, Cars.com, Edmunds.com, and Facebook Marketplace. Each of them has a large audience and an interface that makes it easy to zero in on cars based on price, location, color, features etc.
Be sure you take plenty of photographs of your vehicle for the online ad, as these will increase the confidence for non-local buyers that can’t easily see the vehicle in person. While you shouldn’t invest too much money in a car you’re about to sell, spending some time and/or a small amount of money getting the vehicle cleaned up will improve your chances of getting your asking price.
Step Four: Working With Potential Car Buyers
Once your ad is live you should begin receiving inquiries from interested buyers almost immediately, assuming you did your homework and came up with a realistic asking price based on your car’s market value.
Many car sellers feel uncomfortable when it’s time to deal with potential buyers. This is understandable, and some basic security measures should be taken before meeting a buyer in person. For instance, if a buyer wants to see the vehicle, don’t meet at your house or in some random location, and never meet them at night. Meet them where other people are likely to be milling about, like outside a busy store, or where security cameras are likely to be in use, like a police station parking lot.
Feel free to bring a family member or friend along. The more the merrier! And if the buyer wants to take the car for a test drive, ask them to produce a valid driver’s license and proof of their own car insurance card first. Then ride with them on the test drive – never let them take the car on their own.
Step Five: Selling Your Car
You may have to negotiate the price with a buyer, but don’t be too quick to lower the price, especially if you’re still early in the sales process. If you valued your car properly, you should be able to find a buyer who will pay at or near your asking price.
Once you have a buyer ready to buy your car you’ll need a bill of sale to record the transaction.
A bill of sale states the car’s year, make, model and VIN, plus the buyer’s and seller’s name, the date of the transaction, and the selling price. Both the buyer and seller should sign the bill of sale and both should have a copy of it once signed.
As stated before, you’ll also need to sign over the vehicle title to the buyer, and if your title is held by a bank you’ll need the buyer to work with the lending institution to pay off the loan before the title is released. Meeting at the bank for the final transaction will make this process much easier, and even if you don’t have a vehicle loan the bank is a good place to transfer the title and receive the buyer’s funds, as you can verify the buyer’s form of payment before signing over the title.
In some states, like California, you’ll want to sign a release of liability form, which is a record of the car leaving your possession and transferring to a new owner. This protects you from any future liability issues related to the car. Similarly, in many states you will want to remove the car’s license plates and keep or destroy those, while in other states the license plate number stays with a car, even when ownership is transferred. California also requires the seller to get a smog test before they can transfer ownership. Check with your state’s department of motor vehicles (DMV) to confirm which protocols are in place.
If you own a classic, special interest, or high-performance vehicle you may get the most money for it through an auction site that specializes in these types of vehicles. Two prominent sites that private buyers use to find these vehicles are Bring a Trailer and Cars & Bids. Both allow you to list your car in front of a large audience that’s likely to recognize and appreciate your vehicle, and if two or more people want your car the sale price can really skyrocket. We recently published an article comparing Bring a Trailer to Cars and Bids that explains how they work in detail.
If you’re still not convinced about selling your car to a private party there are other, non-traditional dealership options to consider. You can sell your car to online retailers like Carvana or Vroom. We even have an article that compares to two if you’d like a better understanding of how that process works. And if you’re combining your car selling process with the car buying process (a common pairing) you can use a non-traditional physical dealer like CarMax, which offers a network of stores across the country and a wide selection of cars and SUVs to choose from.
More from iSeeCars.com:
If you’re interested in a new or a used car to replace the vehicle you’re trading in or selling, be sure to check out iSeeCars’ award-winning car search engine. It uses advanced algorithms to help shoppers find the best car deals across all vehicle types and provides key insights and valuable resources, like the iSeeCars free VIN check report and Best Cars rankings. Filter by make, model, price, and special features to find the best deal on your next vehicle.