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How to Sell a Car Privately

Finance | 04/11/2022 22:00

Buying a new car is exciting, selling your old one may not be as exciting. There are two options you have as a car owner: selling your car privately or selling your car to a dealership. And while there are perks and downfalls to both options, selling your car privately will most likely give you more bang for your buck. 

Selling your car privately does require a bit more work on your end, but it will pay off in the long run.

Here are our top tips for selling a car privately.

Explore your options

There are two main options to sell your car: privately or through a dealership. Selling your car privately means you can charge whatever you would like, sell it on your own timeline, and essentially deal with the process yourself. If you go through a dealership, it is much easier and they will handle all of the legwork for you. You can even use the car as a trade-in and upgrade to something else. But you do not set the price for your car – they set it. And it is usually for significantly less than what you would get in a private sale. 

If your main goal is save on your monthly car payments, you could also consider refinancing your vehicle instead of selling. But that's for another article.

Decided to sell privately? Make sure you take these important steps

Here are our top tips for selling your car privately (and making the most money).

Understand and Research Your Car’s Value

Valuing a car can be difficult, especially if you have an emotional attachment to it. It’s easy to think “this is the best car I’ve ever had, it’s worth at least XYZ”. But you need to keep your emotions and your expectations in check

The best place to start your research is online. Look at a range of websites including Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds to see exactly what the market value of your car is. The values are based largely on the condition that your car is in. Assess your car’s condition honestly. The guide below can help you determine your car’s current condition.

  • Excellent Condition. Your car looks new and is in excellent mechanical shape. It is rust free and has never had any body work or painting. The engine is clean with no visible defects or leaks. Your car also has a clean title history, will pass all safety and emissions tests, and has complete and verifiable service records. Cars in excellent condition are rare, making up about 5% of the used car market. 

  • Good Condition. Your car is free of major defects and problems. There may be some minor blemishes to the interior or exterior, but nothing major.Your car has a clean title history and there are no major mechanical issues. Your tires should match and have a good amount of tread on them. There should be little to no rust. To be sold at retail, your car will require minor reconditioning. Most cars for sale will fall into this category. 

  • Fair Condition. Your car has some mechanical or cosmetic issues. It needs some work done and may be in need of servicing, but your car is in reasonable running condition. There may be some rust damage and the tires may need to be replaced. The title history should still be clean. 

  • Poor Condition. Your car isn’t in good shape and is running poorly. Maybe there is extensive rust damage or a damaged frame. You may need to have an independent appraiser determine what the car is worth. 

Chances are your car is in good or fair condition depending on how old it is and how much you drove it. Take note of how many miles the car has and if there are any recurring issues. Then use the online tools to assess a fair market value for your vehicle.

Prepare Your Car

You want to put your car’s best foot forward when preparing to sell it. It’s a good idea to have your car inspected by a mechanic to make sure there aren’t any issues of which you aren’t aware. This will give you a chance to make any necessary repairs before you even list the car for sale. In addition it’s a good idea to:

  1. Gather your service records.

  2. Give your car a good cleaning – inside and out. Maybe consider giving the car a wax or polish before taking pictures.

  3. Ensure all lights are working.

  4. Check the oil and other fluids.

  5. Check the tires.

Have all of these things done before you even advertise that your car is for sale. You never know how fast your car may sell and it may be the difference of several hundreds if not thousands of dollars.


Once your car is in tip top shape, start advertising. Tell your family and friends and look for places online where you can list it. Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist are good free places to start. If you want to pay for advertising to reach a different sector of the market, you can try Auto Trader, EBay Motors, or consider taking out an ad in the local paper. 

Show Your Car

Once people start contacting you about your car, they will most likely want to see the car and possibly take it out for a test drive. It is recommended that you meet in a public space and that both parties have an extra person with them for added safety. 

If they would like to take a test drive, ask to see a photo ID and take a picture of it with your phone, and assure them that you will delete it when you are done. Be sure to ride with them, bringing your friend or family member if it makes you more comfortable. 

Seal the Deal

If the buyer is happy and you agree on a price, secure payment as soon as possible. Have them pay with cash or a cashier’s check, which is more secure than a personal check. Make sure you have a full payment in your hands before you hand over the keys. You will then need to finalize all of the paperwork.

Get your car's paperwork in order before you sell

When you sell your car, you must have the title of the car. All other paperwork will depend on your state and can vary. 

The Car’s Title

First and foremost you will need the title of the car, and you must make sure it’s in your name. If your car is still under financing, you will need to pay off your vehicle in full before the deal can be finalized. The title will show a lien if you do not own the car outright.

If your car suffered from certain types of damage, you may need to get a title brand from the DMV. A title brand is a permanent note on the title that will alert any prospective buyers about your car’s condition. If your car was in a flood or salvaged, you may need to get this brand. Failure to do so may result in a fine or other penalties.

Warranty Information (If Applicable)

If your car is still under warranty, check to see if it’s a transferrable warranty. This may help you to negotiate a better price on your car. 

As-Is Documentation

This is not required, but might be a good idea for you to consider. As-is documentation outlines the condition that the car is in. This paperwork will ensure that the new owner acknowledges and accepts all future responsibilities with the car. It essentially says that the previous owner has disclosed all information and the new owner accepts the car as-is.

Odometer Disclosure

The Truth in Mileage Act, which is a federal law, states that all owners must disclose the odometer reading of the car they are selling. You must do this if the car is less than ten years old and up to 12,000 pounds. Check with your state to determine exactly what you must include, but an odometer disclosure typically includes the VIN, make of the car, model of the car, year, the buyer’s name and address, buyer’s signature, seller’s signature, current mileage, and a notary seal.

Bill of Sale

A bill of sale is not required, but it is a good idea. A bill of sale outlines the buying agreement and typically includes a vehicle description, odometer reading, purchase price, and signatures of both the buyer and the seller. A bill of sale can absolve you from any future liability issues that may arise.

And that’s everything you need to know about selling your car privately. 

Selling your car privately can be a hassle, but it can certainly be worth it in the long run. Follow our tips for selling your car and make sure you get top dollar for your car.

If you aren’t looking to sell your car, but are looking for some extra cash, consider refinancing with Auto Approve. We work closely with lenders across the country to get you the best rates possible, which can translate to huge savings. So don’t wait – get your free quote today!


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