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I've decided to sell my car. The bluebook website estimates I can sell it for X dollars. How do I actually sell it? (and get as close to X dollars as possible)

Just fyi I live in a large city in California.

Please include details like:

  • where? anything from dealer buying it back to selling it on Craigslist
  • what paper work is involved?
  • when (if ever) does the seller disclose details about the maintenance?
  • how to get the most money?
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When I was looking for a car in 2009, Craigslist was a major source of listings in the San Francisco Bay Area. Look at other people's ads and copy them. Include a picture. People like to see what the car they are interested in. –  chrisfs Feb 1 '11 at 9:59

3 Answers 3

up vote 13 down vote accepted

As someone who's currently shopping for some winter wheels and has the raised blood pressure to go with that, I've got a few suggestions as to what would make me pick up the phone and call your or email you if you're advertising a vehicle.

Keep in mind that if you're willing to deal with the additional hassle, you'll normally get the most money for a used car if you sell it privately. If it is worth the additional effort though is both a matter of judgement and if you're willing to put up with strange people like me :).

Depending on the value of the vehicle and its rarity/desirability, you're looking at newspaper ads (probably won't get you much of a response these days), craigslist, Autotrader and similar, and last but not least, ebay. If you're trying to sell something that's easy to find because there are five at every street corner (think beige minivan), skip ebay. If it's worth below 5k-6k, I wouldn't bother with places where you have to pay to advertise, which leaves CL for the cheap stuff - that said, I'd still stick it on CL if it's advertised in other places. Heck, it's free after all.

The figure out what sort of money you're asking for. Check the resources like KBB.com and have a look at your local CL for similar vehicles. Out here, certain types of vehicles (for example, Jeeps) sell quickly and often above even KBB.com. A little market research will help you come up with a good price. Just don't do things like asking a massively inflated price for a vehicle because you paid $x five years ago. All this shows that you have no idea what your vehicle is worth. Oh, and I'd always work out what the minimum I'd take is - leave yourself some haggle room but don't undersell the vehicle.

Once you know where you advertise and for how much, pull together the basic facts for your vehicles and the points that would make it stand out. Basic facts about the car should include engine size, type of transmission, if it's AWD (where applicable), mileage. Color I can see on the pictures, but it's nice to include that, too. If you have service records, recently replaced a big ticket item (think transmission or similar) or had a very recent service, especially a big one where you had a timing belt and waterpump changed, mention it. Don't say the vehicle has a new engine if that was put in 100k miles ago, that's nice to mention but it's not new. If nobody's ever smoked in it, mention it. If it's got other outstanding features (super low mileage, summer only use etc) make sure to mention it that, too.

Next, if it's got any faults that you know of - especially obvious ones - disclose them. People like me will most likely find the leaking shock absorber and the rust holes in the floor anyway, and it makes a much better impression if you do tell us about them beforehand. Trying to tell someone that your banana-shaped car that looks like the Blue Man Group used it for practise is actually pristine and accident-free isn't going to go down very well.

Next, pull together the paperwork - make sure you've got the title (if there is a lien on the title, check with the lienholder before advertising the car so you know their procedure for releasing the title), any maintenance records you have, manuals, receipts etc. If the vehicle has a salvage title, try to find out why and mention it in the ad. I've just had a comedian phone me while I was driving to see his vehicle and leave a message that he didn't have a title and didn't seem to be willing to bother to get one, either. Obviously that put me in the right frame of mind, given that it was a 200 mile round trip. So don't do it - if you can't get a title, the schmuck you sold it to will have even less of a chance of getting one. And given that you are in California, a lot of people (including myself) react really badly to three years' worth of back registration, missing smog, expired registrations on something I'd expect to test drive etc. Essentially anything that would stop a potential cash buyer to drive it away on the spot.

Next, clean the car - you know, the five years' of accumulated McD wrappers and inch thick layer of dirt (I'm only partially kidding, I've seem some pretty horrible stuff recently). Spend the two hours it takes to clean it or pay to have it valeted or detailed. Clean, shiny cars sell a lot better than a rolling recycling container.

Oh, and last - make the effort take some decent photos. The more the merrier, shot in daylight (no photographing a black car after sunset) and if there is any damage, an additional photo or two showing the damage would be nice. Stick the on photobucket or similar and put the links in your craigslist ad so you don't restrict yourself to the microscopic photos that you normally get on there.

As to payment, I'd either take cash, meet the buyer at his bank where he draws out a cashiers check in front of your eyes, or, well, cash. No Kauri shells, deeds on bridges in Brooklyn or anything else. Be prepared to take a deposit - a lot of buyers aren't willing to wander around with ten large ones in the back pocket to go look at a car - and spell out exactly how long the deposit is good for. I also tend to make them non-refundable (buyer doesn't pick up the car within the negotiated timeframe, you keep the deposit as 'damages' for not being able to sell it to another cash buyer).

Check your DMV's website as to what exactly you need to do once you sold the car. Here in Nevada it's the buyer's problem on how to move it as you keep the plates, but I know in California the regular plates (not personal ones IIRC) stay with the vehicle and I think you need to inform the DMV that you sold the vehicle. I'd also keep a record of who I sold a vehicle to (name, address from his drivers license, license number etc) just in case they run a few red lights and accumulate a few grands' worth of parking tickets.

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+1 for clean the car. Clean the heck out it. Get some q-tips and get the dust out the vents and polish the door jams. Wax people, WAX! –  MrChrister Sep 27 '10 at 17:11
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+1 very thorough –  bstpierre Sep 28 '10 at 2:06

The transfer is easy. Usually you just sign over the title to the new owner, and you're set.

Blue book price is a fantasy designed to get you in a car dealership to trade in your car. You won't get "blue book" pricing. I would use NADA "Yellow Book" or Edmunds TMV pricing as a guide.

A dealer won't pay you a good price, but will take the car off your hands quickly. Selling a car privately can be a real pain if you don't have the personality for it. You'll get more money and more hassle.

Figure out where people do private party sales in your area. In my area, there's an autotrader magazine that dominates the market. Craigslist is going to attract the types of people who frequent craiglist, which is not always a good thing.

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If you can get your hands on one, the Black Book price is really what you want as a bottom line. That's what dealers actually use to determine wholesale value. –  Eric Petroelje Sep 27 '10 at 20:45

http://www.nadaguides.com/ and http://www.kbb.com/ and http://www.edmunds.com/ are the leading sites to check vehicle values.

Also, great how to at: http://www.ehow.com/how_2003079_sell-used-car-california.html

Where to sell?

You could sell it in your local newspaper classified, small auto newsprint mags/publications, Craigslist, ebay, or just put a sign in the window. The advertising method is up to you. You could also trade the car in to a dealer if you purchase another vehicle from a dealer if they offer that option. (Trade-In's generally bring in less money than private sales as a general rule). Some car places will do consignment requests to help you sell your car. However, they will normally take a percentage of the sale as payment for this service.

What paperwork?

If you own your car, you should have the title in hand. There are instructions on title on how to sign it over to another person. If you have a loan through a bank, the bank would have this title and you would need to express your interest in selling the property to the bank and work out the details with them. You do not hand over a title to anyone until full payment is made and the property will become theirs.

Beyond the title, you will need to fill out a release of liability or report of sale form for the state. Titles have a portion you can mail in or you can fill it out online. This is to report the sale to the state to release liability from your name.

You will also need to create a "bill of sale" between you and the buyer. There are many examples online or you can just create your own. You really need just a statement saying I release all interest of the vehicle and no warranty implied to this person with the VIN of the car, model, make, year, the buyers name and signature, and the sellers name and signature. This is your contract with the seller and they use this when they go to register the car in their name.

Maintenance Disclosure?

This is completely up to the seller on what they want to disclose. You are selling a used car and the buyer should know that. Vehicles with detailed records sell for more money and buyers are more interested in cars that have history records. This is where buyers should be the most careful, so the more records and history you can show, the better they will feel about the purchase. I believe you should share everything you know and any information about the history of the car. The more positive information you can prove/share, the more money or chance of sale you could have.

Most money?

First, clean the car out. I am amazed at the amount of people that try to sell a car and don't even bother to clean it out. A detail job would be great to get. You are trying to sell it, so you want it to look the best. Next, I would fix anything minor and cheap to fix. The less things wrong can mean more money. Back to your maintenance question, you will want to show how you have maintained the car. People might also ask for a carfax report to prove its clean history. Irresponsible and deceiving people tend to leave out important details in a car history like accidents, flood damage, or having re-built titles. You want to give the most information you can. Do not lie about any detail. Though, this can be a little tough when you are a 2nd or 3rd owner of a car and do not know about the original owners.

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Ditto on don't lie. Also don't lie by omission because if the buyer spots that and are smart, they won't buy it at all. –  BCS Sep 27 '10 at 1:51

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