During the Sale With Interested Buyers
Things can get tricky with interested buyers. Sometimes, the process goes smoothly, and you make the sale without a hitch. Other times, there is problem after problem. To minimize issues, scan, save, or take pictures of paperwork and reports, and keep copies on hand to show buyers.
Plan on a lot of folks calling, emailing, or texting. Many won’t be serious, and some will lose interest after you answer their questions. That’s not good or bad; it’s just part of the selling process.
You may also get a few scammers. Try these approaches to vet potential buyers:
- Talk finance. Ask if they are local and have financing. Reiterate the payment method(s) you listed in your ad (if you had one) to ensure they’re OK with it. If using a payment method such as a cashier’s check, say that you’d want to meet at the buyer’s bank to complete the transaction.
- Trust your gut. If an interested buyer sets off any alerts for you, move on.
- Be patient. Prepare mentally for the process to take some time. This way, you won’t settle for the first offer that comes your way, especially if your gut is blaring.
- Get their documentation. Explain that you need to check their driver’s license and proof of insurance before they go for a test drive. Say that you’ll photograph the license and send it to someone you trust. Tell the buyer that, as a safety precaution, you’re bringing someone with you when you meet. Ask if they’re bringing someone and who. (Evasive answers are not a great sign.)
- Schedule a test drive. Set a time and location for a daytime test drive. Common places to meet are shopping malls and even police stations. Plan the test-drive route so that it includes multiple driving situations (such as both interstate and residential areas) and avoids isolated or risky areas.
- Partner up. Consider having your companion keep the potential buyer’s car keys while you and the buyer go on the test drive. Before the drive, remember to check the driver’s license and proof of insurance, and send a photograph of the license to someone you trust.
- Ask for a deposit. If a test drive goes well and a buyer seems legit and interested, you can ask for a deposit. Usually, $500 is fine. (If you want a deposit for sure, list that in your ad or mention it early on.)
- Complete the transaction. For the full sale, set a time to meet at the buyer’s bank. Go with the buyer when they get a cashier’s check. Wait to hand the title over until you’ve been paid in full. If you don’t or can’t witness the cashier’s check transaction, call the bank to verify the check is legitimate before you hand over the title. Beware of Venmo and Zelle, as there’s no fraud protection and people can cancel transactions. Ditto with PayPal, which specifically excludes motorized vehicles from fraud protection. A service such as Tred can be a safe way to place an ad or even to use only when you have a buyer. (Tred can also take care of the title and registration for the buyer.) Cash can work but might not be ideal for high price tags. As with a cashier’s check, meet the buyer at their bank to be there while they withdraw cash. That way, you’re sure not to end up with counterfeit bills.
- Remove your license plates. Take the license plates off the vehicle before the new buyer drives off with it. Typically, you turn plates in at the DMV.
Selling in Person
Word of mouth is a good tactic if you prefer to sell your car in person. Tell your family, friends, and colleagues about the car. Ask them to spread the word to anyone who could be interested.
Another approach is to find an appealing location to display your vehicle with its “for sale” sign. If possible, go for a high-traffic location or a parking lot with a lot of visibility. Just make sure you have permission to park your car in that location first.
You could also drive regularly with the “for sale” sign on the car, as long as it does not affect your visibility or ability to drive.
Selling Online Independently
If your car is ordinary, slightly used, or beaten up, KBB recommends a free platform such as Facebook Marketplace. Craigslist is free too, but beware of the higher chance of scammers.
If your car is a classic, hard to find, or otherwise special, or you just want to cast a wide net, look into paid classifieds such as KBB, Autotrader, and CarGurus. Bring a Trailer and eBay, with their auction-style listings, are good choices for higher-value vehicles. For classic cars, Hemmings does both magazine and online classifieds as well as auctions. Plan to spend a minimum of about $45 using the classifieds/auctions method.
- Use great photographs. Take a lot of quality pictures, both exterior and interior. A smartphone camera should be fine, but clean and vacuum the car first. Cloudy days work well for photographs. Strive for plain backgrounds, no shadows, and multiple angles. If your car has special features, such as a touchscreen or roof racks, snap pics of them too. Post pictures of seat tears, dents, and other problem spots as well, and take engine pictures.
- Get a new email address. Consider creating a new or separate email account just for selling the car.
- Provide the right information. Begin the ad with your asking price and all of the car’s vitals, including condition, year, mileage, and body style with trim or version. Include honest and detailed descriptions (which also means fewer questions for you to answer later!). State the KBB value (or the value from whatever online appraisal tool you used), and if your asking price differs from that, explain why. If your car gets good gas mileage, highlight that. Explain what drew you to the car in the first place and why you’re selling it. If you’ve modified the car or it remains under warranty, give the relevant details. Write about anything that needs fixing, providing vehicle history reports, mechanic inspections, and/or maintenance and service records. Also list the VIN so the buyer can run their own vehicle history report, and say how you want to be paid.
- Be consistent with pricing. If you post the ad in multiple places, list the same price in all of them. Different prices turn off buyers who spot duplicate listings.
Here is an example of an ad for prospective buyers (although the layout, order, and some specific features depend on the service or platform you use):
- Used [year, make, model, trim/version]
- [Location of the car]
- 80,461 miles
Selling to downsize, kids off to college! 32 mpg highway/28 mpg city, runs terrific, good condition. Well maintained, documented regular service and oil changes.
Accident-free, mechanic’s inspection report available. Most driving on city streets. Non-smoking, minor tear on driver’s seat.
New tires added in 2021, 900 miles on them. Cashier’s check only.