How to Close a Private Car Sale

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When You Sell Your Car

Getting payment: Cold, hard cash is the easiest way to collect payment for your vehicle. The buyer might request a receipt for the cash. If you provide a bill of sale, this will serve as a receipt. Additionally, if you or the buyer prefers to use a cashier’s check, make sure to follow these safety tips and meet at the buyer’s bank instead.

When vehicles are being sold remotely, you can use an escrow service to facilitate the transaction. The escrow service essentially verifies that the funds are paid and transfers them from the buyer to the seller.

It’s unwise to accept a promise of future payment from a buyer, even if it is someone you know. If the vehicle is wrecked, the new owner’s motivation to pay you back plummets. You are well within your rights to refuse to float loan payments, and in most cases the buyer will understand and quietly back down.

Limiting your liability: What if someone drives away in the vehicle you just sold and gets into an accident? Can you be held responsible? There are two ways to deal with this concern. First, record the odometer reading, and sign the vehicle’s title over to the buyer. Second, in most states, a release-of-liability form can be downloaded from the registry of motor vehicles website. This story has links to the different Departments of Motor Vehicles.

Handling complications: What if the buyer calls the next day and wants you to take the vehicle back? Or what if the buyer claims you didn’t reveal something about the vehicle or that a mechanical problem has been discovered?

Both buyer and seller should keep in mind that most states assume a used vehicle is being sold “as is.” That means there are no promises or guarantees after the sale is concluded. If you are a buyer, it’s imperative you thoroughly inspect the car before purchase. Sellers can head off trouble by encouraging buyers to have an inspection.

If you want to avoid taking any chances with a private-party sale, there’s a safer alternative here on Edmunds. Appraise your vehicle to get an instant offer, which is good for seven days at participating dealerships.

Car Seller’s Checklist

  • Have a smog test performed if required in your state.
  • Fill out a release-of-liability form, including current mileage, and file it with the DMV.
  • Provide maintenance records (if available) to the new owner.
  • Receive payment in cash, by cashier’s check or, if selling remotely, through an escrow service.
  • Take the license plates off the vehicle (if required by your state).
  • Remove personal items from the glove compartment and other storage areas.
  • Hand over both sets of keys to the new owner, along with any warranty papers for the car, the battery, tires, etc.
  • Cancel insurance for the car.

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