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How to Sell a Car to Someone: Steps for Success

How to Sell a Car to Someone: Steps for Success

Selling a car can be somewhat of a headache but with preparation and organization, you can ensure you get the best price for your vehicle. In addition to advertising and necessary paperwork, sellers should be wary of fraudulent buyers to keep themselves safe during car viewings. 

Auto Repairs Are EXPENSIVE


Sellers are quick to sell in the easiest manner available without understanding the options that allow them to safely get the best price for their vehicle.

Sometimes the problem is laziness on behalf of the seller. They just don’t want to work that hard to unload the car. Other times, the holdback is a time constraint. If you’re moving out of town in a haste, then selling a car fast may be an important priority. Each case is different.

This blog discusses the various ways to sell a car to someone including selling to a friend or family member, privately, or to a dealership. Remember that each country and the individual state has specific rules and regulations regarding vehicle sales; you should consult the department of motor vehicles.

How do I Sell my Car to a Family Member?

There is a lot of fear around selling a car to a friend or family member. There is a fear that the car will die or need a large repair shortly after selling the car to your friend or relative and they will become so angry they will never speak to you again.

Although that could happen, there are steps to take to ensure the car is sold correctly and you maintain a good relationship with your friend or relative. This includes:

  • Realistic expectations
  • Full transparency
  • A fair deal

Be realistic and tell your friend or relative your honest opinion about the car; yes the future is uncertain, but hopefully, there are still a few good years remaining to drive the vehicle.

Offer full transparency by disclosing any accidents, damage, or issues. It’s better to tell them up front than to have them discover it on their own later.

Recommend an independent inspection from a trusted mechanic and ask them to report the condition of the vehicle. Along with this, suggest a vehicle history report from a provider that lists owners, services, and any major incidents. Typically, the buyer pays for both the inspection and report.

Provide all service and repair records, even if you don’t have the receipts – at least write down a list of recent services and the dates they were performed along with the location of where the services were done.

Be clear about any future repairs. If your mechanic recommended a repair or service that you left unresolved, tell your friend or relative about it. Also, consider this when setting the purchase price.

When setting the purchase price, set a fair price. Look up your car’s value and compare current prices from a private party and trade-in values. Pricing the car at trade-in value plus the state’s sales tax amount is a generous deal.

A final tip, on the personal side, is to just skip this idea if someone involved in the deal is a hothead. Fighting with friends and family can be costly.

It might be tempting to just “give” the vehicle to a friend or family member. However, on paper, this makes the transaction taxable in many localities. For this reason, some family members sell their car for a minimal amount like $1 or $100. It makes a sale, not a gift, which is easier to document.

How to Work Out the Details When Selling to a Friend or Relative

Selling a car to someone, especially a friend or relative requires handing a few important details including:

  • Payment
  • Outstanding loans
  • Paperwork

It is common to be paid in cash or with a cashier’s check at the time of sale, but sometimes, friends will promise to pay you in full or part of the sale price later. Be careful in doing this; loans with friends can quickly lead to tension.

There are too many anecdotes about friends and family members ripping each other off with unpaid loans. It’s worth it to put the deal in writing and have both parties sign it. If you’re more official, you could have the contract notarized or ask an attorney to process the transaction on your behalf.

If you still owe money on the car you’re selling, discuss how to handle the sale before exchanging the car. It is still a fairly easy process but may require a few waiting days, especially if paying with a cashier’s check.

Check with your state’s department of motor vehicles to find out what paperwork is required in transferring ownership of your car to a friend or family member. Most states require:

  • A title: the document proving ownership of the vehicle. Tip: Get it “clean and clear.”
  • A bill of sale: the document that serves as a record of sale and the price paid,
  • A transfer of ownership: some states require a separate document to transfer the car from the seller to the buyer,
  • License plates: find out whether or not the tags go with the car or stay in your possession,
  • Sales tax: the buyer will have to pay sales tax when registering the car, and
  • Release of liability: some states have a special form that records the date and car’s mileage when it was sold. That way, if the buyer has an accident or gets some type of ticket you can prove the car no longer belongs to you.

How to Sell Your Car Privately

Selling your car privately will more than likely get you the best price, but it may take some time and organization to do so. When selling your car privately, there are a few steps to follow to make the process easier:

  • Advertising
  • Ensuring safe payment
  • Completing paperwork

There are many ways to advertise including a “for sale” sign in one of the car’s windows, local newspaper classified ads sections, car auction sites, car-selling websites, or even social media. Some are free while others have a fee.

Make sure to include the color, mileage, condition, contact information, equipment, taxes, complete service history, exact make and model, and the year of manufacture. If you are advertising and selling your car online, quality images from a variety of angles are important.

Once you have negotiated a price and agreed with the buyer, make sure you safely receive payment. If the payment is in cash, try meeting at the bank where you will deposit the money. These locations are normally secure and you can deposit the money right after receiving it.

Another popular meeting point is at the police station, especially as some departments have intentionally set up meeting points for such transactions.

Alternatively, you could also receive funds via bank transfer or ask for a cashier’s check. Be careful with cashier’s checks; they are commonly fraudulent. Once you receive the check, ask your bank to verify funds with the issuing bank and wait until the check has cleared before handing over the car keys.

As soon as you have been paid for the car, complete the following paperwork: a bill of sale with two copies, transfer of ownership, sales tax, the release of liability, license plates (if applicable), and title.

Can I Sell My Car to a Dealership?

Some people sell a car to a dealership because the selling experience is typically very quick and easy. Most sellers assume that you need to purchase a car from a dealership to sell one there, but that is not always the case.

Before selling your car to a dealership, consider the following:

  • The vehicle condition as a potential buyer would see it
  • Your vehicle’s worth
  • Ensuring all of your paperwork is in order 
  • Dealer inventory

Certain dealerships will allow you to enter basic information about your vehicle into a website and in return will receive a cash offer that can be redeemed within three business days. If the dealership confirms the details you entered, the dealer will pay you what was offered. 

Avoiding Fraudulent Buyers

Selling a car to someone can expose you to thieves posing as buyers. Watch out for the following scams:

  • Someone posing as a car exporter who asks you to transfer to an overseas buyer
  • Phishing emails from car buying websites requesting login and payment details for your card
  • Text message expressing an interest in your car only for you to be charged at a high rate if you respond
  • Buyers wanting to use PayPal or similar e-payment systems that may have been set up using false credit cards
  • Buyers who pay by check and take the check before the check clears
  • Buyers who offer to buy your car without seeing it for the full amount through PayPal. When this occurs, the “buyer” overpays, asks for the difference to be returned, and during that time, cancels the original transaction leaving you losing money that you have returned.

The golden rule applies: if it’s too good to be true, then it probably is.

Safety When Buyers View Your Car

When you sell a car to someone, they will want to come to view it before and will more than likely be complete strangers to you so it’s best to take some precautions:

  • When arranging a viewing, ask a family or friend to join you
  • Ask the buyer for proof of identity and check it
  • Always remove the keys from the ignition before letting anyone check the car interior
  • Go with the buyers on test drives and do not hand over the keys until you are in the passenger seat

How do I Sell My Car to the Junkyard?

In this article’s introduction, it is mentioned that some people need to sell their car quickly because of a time constraint; they may choose to sell their vehicle to the junkyard for a faster turnaround.

Of course, sometimes people sell their cars to other reliable services like CarMax. However, if the car is falling apart or can’t even make it out of the driveway, perhaps a call to the junkyard is in order.

All you have to do is find a local junkyard near you. Make an appointment for pick up. They will send a tow truck to you. Sign over the title (if present, if not ask the junkyard if they will take the car before the appointment), then collect the cash. It’s really one of the easiest routes to go!

Selling a Car: Where to Go from Here

Anyone who has ever sold a car knows that dealing with friends, family, or private parties can be a hassle. Sometimes, you speak with a buyer who never shows up. Or they offer considerably less than the purchase price. If you want to avoid this, selling to a dealership may be the best option for you.

Alternatively, it may be better to sell to a friend, relative, or private party because this is more than likely where you will get the best offer. If that is a cash offer from a trustworthy person, it ends up working out great, but any other type of payment (or non-payment) may end disastrously. 

Selling your car means preparing your vehicle for sale, creating advertising, negotiating and agreeing on a price, and safely turning over the keys. Once you have completed all of the steps, all of the time spent researching and organizing will be worth it. 

Only you can get the most out of the deal you choose.