It's tempting to head to a dealer and trade your used car in, but selling the car yourself could get you 10-20 percent more on average. The downside is the time and effort involved, and relying on potential buyers to show up when they say. Sometimes people just want to kick the tires and aren't serious buyers. That being said, there are ways to optimize your chances of success, and more importantly, mistakes that you don't want to make.
Follow our advice below and you'll have a much better chance of selling your car without undue hassle.
Don't take lousy photos
Buyers want to see the car from all sides, and enough of the interior to know what sort of shape the car is in. Bad photos that don't show enough, are blurry, or dark, won't encourage anyone to buy it. Good photos are much more likely to encourage serious buyers to contact you, and result in a quicker and fairer deal.
Don't mislead buyers about the condition of your car
And write enough of a description that buyers can understand quickly and easily what you're selling and what condition its in. A couple of short paragraphs is fine. Be descriptive and honest. Reveal known flaws (if any) as well as providing relevant documents such as service work invoices, etc. If you are trying to sell a used car that has a bad transmission of needs brakes, inform prospective buyers. Playing fair is not only the right thing to do, it's a waste of time and energy to show your car to buyers who will be scared off by your undisclosed problems.
If you are selling a used car that has any defect or problem that could make it hazardous to operate, do not allow unsuspecting people to operate the vehicle. You should have any such problems fixed before you put the "used car for sale" ad in the paper, or indicate in the ad that the vehicle is not currently in operable condition.
Don't drive around with a "used car for sale" sign with your phone number on it
This can encourage crimes of opportunity. Now, it's different if you take your car to a car show or something like that, where the people looking at the sign are more likely to be interested potential buyers rather than no-good-niks. The better bet is to use a classifieds site like Craigslist or Autoblog's classifieds. Craigslist has a neat feature that anonymizes your email address, so you can correspond with the buyer without giving them any personal contact information. Of course, if you include your phone number in the ad, they'll have that. Don't be paranoid, but do be smart.
Don't meet buyers at your home or office
It's rare that a seller will be the victim of a crime or scam, but it's just good practice to meet a potential buyer at a public place. The parking lot of the buyer's bank is a great idea, because if the buyer wants to do a deal right on the spot, you can go into the bank or credit union (if they're open) and exchange money in a relatively secure and public place.
Don't accept a wire transfer
Dealing with a large amount of cash makes folks nervous, but there is almost never a circumstance where accepting a wire transfer is a legitimate way to do business. Same goes for a personal check. There's too high a risk that the check will bounce or the wire transfer will be fraudulent.
Don't take a check or money order as payment
So, wire transfers are no good, but there are a few lower-risk options. You can ask the buyer for a cashier's check. The bank that issues the cashier's check will have verified the funds, so for your purposes its as good as cash. If it's lost or stolen, the bank may be able to recover the buyer's money. However, cashier's checks can be forged. The safe way to accept a cashier's check is to go to the bank with the seller and watch it being issued by the bank or credit union.
It's a similar story for cash. Go to the bank with the seller, preferably your bank, and deposit the funds immediately with the cashier or at the ATM. You don't really want to carry the cash around.
Money orders are similar to cashier's checks, but with less protections against loss or fraud. We recommend avoiding money orders.
Personal checks are an issue because there's no way for you to know that the funds are actually in the person's account. If it bounces, you could be charged a fee, and have few recourses to recover money from a buyer who's likely disappeared with your car. So: don't accept a personal check.
Don't let a buyer driver your car without a license and insurance
Ask to see a driver's license and proof of insurance before you let a buyer drive the car – and make absolutely sure the driver is at least 18 years old. Never, ever allow an unattended minor to drive your vehicle; if they wreck or damage it, the under-18 driver may not be legally responsible. Insist a parent be present before allowing a test drive. Also be aware that if the driver is uninsured, you could get left holding the bag in the event an accident happens during the test drive. Be sure to write down the prospective buyer's DL info, and make sure the person matches the description before turning over the keys.
Don't hand over your title without getting paid
Don't sign or turn over the title and keys until you have full payment. Every state has slightly different requirements concerning the paperwork the buyer will need, but you want to make sure that you both understand what's required so you don't have to meet the buyer again to fill out paperwork you missed. Generally, you'll have to sign your title (releasing your interest in the vehicle) and fill out a bill of sale. It's a good idea to make copes of everything for your records. You may have to fill out an odometer disclosure form, too. And lastly, your state might require you to file a report of sale. Check with your state licensing office to make sure you know what's expected.
Be sure to know if you should remove your license plate(s)
In many states, the license plate stay with the seller, not the car, and the buyer will need to get new plates from the licensing office. In other states, the license plate stays with the car. The thing to do is visit or call your licensing office or its website to figure out what the rule is with your plates. If the buyer is taking the car out of state, your local law still controls what you should do with the plates. If you're unsure, again, call the licensing office and ask. If your tags haven't expired, you may also be able to get a pro-rated refund for the taxes and fees you paid on the plates.