How to Sell a Car Privately
When the time comes to get a new car, many people are tempted just to trade in the old one. That's certainly the easiest way to go about the exchange, but with a little more effort, you can get more out of your old car by selling it on the private market.
Where that effort comes in is when you have to get your car ready for sale by cleaning it up, photographing it and dealing with potential buyers. Having to deal with other people is probably the main reason people choose the trade-in route, but a little patience can be rewarded with higher returns.
Here are a few tips on how to get the most out of your private party sale:
1. Find your car’s value
Knowing what your car is worth is the first step. Checking its value on KBB.com will let you know how much the vehicle is worth on the private market, a dealer sale or trade-in. There’s also an Instant Cash Offer tool that allows dealers to make an offer on your vehicle, essentially setting a floor on your asking price. You can determine whether the extra money you might be able to get on the private market will be worth your time and energy in advertising, showing and eventually selling your ride.
2. Clean the Car
Trying to sell a dirty car is a good way to lose money on a sale. If you don't have time to clean the car yourself, an interior-exterior detail won't cost much, especially when you consider how it can boost your car's salability. Make sure you get the car cleaned before you take pictures of it. Photos of a dirty car won't present well and may give potential buyers the idea that it hasn't been maintained very well.
3. Make sure everything works
From simple things like burnt-out light bulbs and faulty power outlets to the more involved – radio, power window switches, seat controls – it's important to make sure everything works before you try to sell your car. Pay particular attention to safety-related items like brakes, lights and steering and suspension system components, as the buyer will most likely have to pass some sort of state safety inspection to register the vehicle.
4. Take lots of pictures
Potential buyers will want to see the car you're selling from every angle – front, back, sides, 3/4 angles, front and rear seats, dash, cargo area, engine bay and undercarriage. Be sure to take pictures in a well-lit place without too much glare and shadow. Pick a plain or simple background – a concrete wall or empty parking lot, for example – to avoid distracting attention from the car. Make sure trees, power poles and other objects don't obstruct your photos or cast ugly shadows across the car when you're shooting.
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Most cell phone cameras will do, but if you can't take good photos consider hiring someone to shoot for you – especially if you're trying to sell a high-value car. Even a mint-condition Rolls-Royce can look bad if the photos are no good, and that won't attract buyers.
5. Have all your paperwork ready
Be sure to have your title, registration or other transfer-of-ownership papers in hand when a potential buyer comes to see your car. Each state has its own requirements, including certain state forms for bill of sale and tax liability notification.
RELATED: How to Sell a Car Without a Title
Some states require that the bill of sale be notarized. In many cases, a hand-written bill of sale will suffice. Just make sure you have a bill of sale that includes the year, make and model of the vehicle, as well as the sale date, vehicle mileage and names and addresses of the buyer and seller. Ask to see the buyer's license to confirm their name and address for your records. Make two copies – one for each party.
6. Ask for insurance
Ask potential buyers for proof of insurance before you meet. On the off chance that something happens during the test drive, you don't want an uninsured motorist behind the wheel. Also, make sure your own insurance is in order before the test drive. You don't want to get stuck with repair costs if there's an accident while you're trying to sell the car.
7. Suggest Trusted Mechanics
If you've done your homework and everything is working the way it should, the vehicle should pass a mechanical inspection with flying colors. Find a handful of mechanics near you – preferably ones with good customer reviews – and offer them to your potential buyer as options for a checkup. If you present good mechanics, you keep the ball in your court and reduce the risk that the buyer might push a mechanic that is less than reputable.
8. Meet in a safe place
When a potential buyer comes to see the car, remember that this person is a stranger. Your house probably isn't the best place to meet. For maximum security, rendezvous in a well-lit public place. Make sure family members or roommates know where you're going. Give the buyer's phone number to someone before you leave.
9. Trust your gut
If something doesn't seem right to you – the potential buyer is acting strange or you don't like something about the way the deal is going down – pull the plug. Like the sign in that convenience store on the edge of town says, you have the right to refuse service to anyone.
10. Be open to different forms of payment
Livestock bartering and bitcoin swaps won't be everyone's cup of tea, but there are ways of making payment that don't involve cash. Venmo and PayPal are widespread, and most banks accept wire payments. The more flexible you are, the easier it will be to get paid. Just make sure the funds are available in your account (or that you have cash in hand) before handing over the title and keys.
RELATED: Sell Your Car on KBB