How To Sell Your Old Car

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There’s typically 10-20 percent difference between what a dealer will give you for your old vehicle as a trade-in vs. its retail market value – i.e., what you could probably sell it for yourself. The dealer’s not being cheesy. He will have to clean/prep your trade-in for sale – and often, perform whatever work’s necessary for the car to pass both emissions and state safety inspections – which in some states is a legal requirement before a dealer can put your old car on his lot to sell. All of that costs money, so don’t begrudge the dealer the 10-20 percent he’s taking off the top. If you want to keep that coin, then sell it on your own.

The downside to that, of course, is that you have to sell it yourself. And that means prepping the car for sale yourself, as well as dealing with off-hour phone calls and interacting with strangers – some of whom may be sketchier than the people you sometimes see on Jerry Springer.

Plus the attendant paperwork hassles.

If you’ve never sold a car on your own before, here are some tips that may help:

Don’t drive around with a “for sale” sign (and your home phone number) taped to the car

This can encourage crimes of opportunity, especially if you are a woman. Instead, post an ad in the local Auto Trader or newspaper; CraigsList is good, too (and free) provided you take a few precautions such as screening people over the phone first (before you give them your home address) or – even better – arranging to meet them in a public place, such as the parking lot of a busy shopping mall. If someone creeps you out over the phone, you can always just tell them the car has already been sold.

Describe the car objectively

If the car has a bad transmission or needs brake work, tell prospective buyers. If the car has any defect or problem that could make it hazardous to operate, don’t let unsuspecting people drive the vehicle. You should have major, safety-related problems fixed before you put the “for sale” ad up – or clearly state in the ad that the vehicle is not currently in operable condition, explaining why. Playing fair is not only the morally right thing to do – it’s the practical thing to do because it eliminates the danger of an irate “sucker” tracking you down later to get even.

In court or otherwise.

Ask to see a driver’s license and proof of insurance before you let a prospect drive the car

Be sure to write down the prospective buyer’s DL info – and make sure the person matches the description before turning over the keys.

You want to make certain the person is legally entitled to drive – and that if he wrecks your car, his insurance will pay for the damages. If you let an unlicensed, uninsured driver operate your vehicle and that person causes a wreck that ends up hurting or killing someone else, you could be charged criminally and can expect to be sued out the whazoo civilly.

Make absolutely sure the driver is at least 18-years-old. Never allow a minor to drive your vehicle; if he or she wrecks the car or causes damages to someone else’s car, the under-18 driver may not be legally responsible and you’ll be the one left holding th’ bag. Insist that a parent be present before allowing a test drive.

Don’t sign or turn over the title and keys until you’ve got payment in full in cash or its equivalent; no personal checks

Until you have cash in hand, the car should not leave your driveway. Don’t agree to installment payments unless you live for hassles.

Draw up a simple bill of sale

This should state the make/model/year of the vehicle, the current mileage, the seller’s and buyer’s names, the sale price – and most important of all, that the vehicle is sold “as is.” This last is important to protect you in case the buyer later claims the car had some unknown/undisclosed problem – and wants his money back.

Be sure to remove your license plate(s) from the vehicle before the buyer drives away

If you don’t and the buyer leaves the plates on, you could be liable for traffic tickets, etc. that are tied into the plate number – and to you. Immediately notify the Department of Motor Vehicles (and your insurance carrier) that the vehicle has been sold; this way, you won’t be charged for registration fees/property taxes and/or insurance premiums that no longer apply. You may even be eligible for a pro rata discount if you prepaid any of these fees for the full calendar year.

Other options:

If all this seems like a hassle but you still want to get more money out of your old car than you would by just trading it in, you may want to consider a consignment lot to avoid all the hassles of selling the car yourself. For a fee (either a flat fee or a percentage of the sale price) the consignment lot will put the car on its lot, show it to prospective buyers and handle all aspects of the transaction – including the paperwork/title transfer. You give them the car – and pick up a check when it’s sold.

It’s a decent middle-ground solution. You may get less than you would by selling the car yourself but you’ll probably still end up with more money in your pocket than you’d have if you just traded it in.

Reprinted with permission from EricPetersAutos.com.

Eric Peters [send him mail] is an automotive columnist and author of Automotive Atrocities and Road Hogs (2011). Visit his website.

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