How to safely find potential car buyers
After you've prepared your car for sale, there are several ways to safely sell your car and find potential buyers, each with its own security considerations:
- Word of mouth: Find out if friends or family members are looking to buy a car. If you're able to find a buyer you already know, you may feel safer throughout the process. On the other hand, it might be uncomfortable to ask family or close friends for the financial guarantees you'd ask of a stranger. Don't enter into a financial agreement you're not comfortable with, no matter how close you are with the other party.
- Online: If you're considering the popular method of selling your car online, be wary of potential scams. Don't advertise unnecessary personal information, and avoid buyers who want to send you money electronically or have someone else pick up the car, especially if they don't want to test drive it first.
- Newspaper classifieds: Newspaper advertising can feel less anonymous since you may be reaching a more local audience. You're still dealing with strangers, though, so be careful when meeting in person.
- Physical advertising: This includes putting up flyers in your school or office and placing a "for sale" sign in the car window. These methods may limit your audience to people in your general community. However, you'll need to include some personal contact information in the ad.
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Some online classifieds have a built-in forwarding service that doesn't disclose your email address. If you won't be communicating through an online selling tool, consider creating an email address just for the sale. This allows you to avoid broadcasting your personal contact information and keeps messages about the sale in one easy-to-find place.
Meeting for test drives
To provide a safe test drive opportunity, meet in a public place where other people will be present, like a shopping mall parking lot during the day. Propose specific days and times for the meeting without disclosing unnecessary information about your habits and movements. Before you meet for the test drive, tell a friend where you'll be and how long you expect it to take. If possible, bring a buddy. You can further protect yourself by bringing only the essentials: your license, proof of insurance, car key, and your phone. Learn more about how to test drive a car before buying it.
When you meet, get a copy of the buyer's information, including their proof of insurance. Before you get in the car, agree on the route for the test drive. Ideally, it should include streets as well as the highway to give the buyer a fair impression of the car. An agreed-upon route establishes a time frame for your return so your buddy can check in.
Protecting your finances
On top of protecting your physical safety, consider taking these financial and legal safety precautions when selling your car:
- Ask for the driver's proof of insurance. While your insurance may provide some coverage if a buyer gets into an accident during the test drive, the buyer should show that they have a minimum of liability coverage in case they cause an accident.
- Get everything in writing. After the test drive, once you agree on the terms of the sale, document everything in writing: the vehicle's details, when the buyer will pay, how much, when you'll transfer the title, and any particulars (similar to the documents for signing at a car dealership). If they don't want to get things in writing via a bill of sale or car sale agreement, walk away.
- Wait for the money to come in. Never transfer ownership of a car until you have the money in hand. Request a secure form of payment like a cashier's check rather than cash or a personal check, which might bounce. If you're taking payment electronically, wait until the money is in your account to transfer the car title.
- Keep your car insured while it's yours. Don't cancel your insurance policy until it's titled and registered under the new buyer's name. Anything that happens before that can be considered your responsibility, and you generally need insurance as long as the car is registered to you. Learn more about when to cancel insurance after selling a car.
- Complete the paperwork. Procedures for selling a car privately vary by state, so check with your BMV or DMV. The new buyer may need the title that you've legally signed over to them along with a copy of the signed bill of sale and odometer disclosure statement. You can suggest that you go with the buyer to the BMV or DMV to make sure the paperwork gets finalized.