Tips for selling a car privately

The best way to sell a car privately involves thoughtful, careful planning.

Determine a fair asking price

When selling a car privately, use a an online valuation tool from a reputable source such as Kelley Blue Book or Edmunds to estimate your vehicle's worth. Enter a realistic condition for the vehicle. These tools produce a price range with a lower dealer trade-in amount and a higher private sale one. Use these as a guide for setting a fair asking price.

Beyond the car’s make, model, and mileage, factors influencing your asking price include: having a transferable warranty, maintenance and upkeep, and the vehicle's overall appearance.

Prepare your vehicle for sale

Thoroughly wash and vacuum the car before selling your car privately. Consider having it detailed. Make sure the glass is clean inside and out. Dust and air out the interior. Shining the wheels can help your advertisement photos stand out. While cleaning, check carefully for any small cosmetic repairs.

Remove all personal items, including bumper stickers. Check the glove compartment and other storage spots for belongings. Remove any personal information stored in the car's electronic systems, and unpair your phone from the vehicle's Bluetooth connection.

Get the paperwork ready

The exact paperwork you'll need to sell your car privately can vary depending on the state where it's registered and the vehicle's condition. Generally, you'll want to gather specific documentation beforehand.

Check the motor vehicle history report, even if prospective buyers obtain copies, so that you can talk about any issues listed. Have maintenance and repair records to support your asking price. Federal law requires disclosing the mileage, either from the car title or a disclosure form through the department of motor vehicles (DMV). Gather the documentation if you still have a warranty from the manufacturer or a third party that you could transfer to a buyer. If there's no warranty, state in the ad that you're selling the car "as-is" to avoid confusion.

Advertise the car

Experts recommend being honest about your vehicle's condition in the ad. Include information such as:

  • Make, model, trim level, and year
  • Features and options
  • Mileage
  • Overall condition
  • Asking price
  • Vehicle identification number (VIN)
  • A transferrable warranty
  • Photos

Photos should show the whole car, the odometer, the vehicle identification number (VIN), the engine, the interior, all the wheels, and any damage. Sharing the VIN helps potential buyers get the vehicle's history. Don't share photos that show the license plate or any personal identification information. Selling a car through a well-known online marketplace tends to be a fairly common practice, but keep an eye out for potential scams.

Take safety precautions

Safety experts suggest taking several steps to protect yourself when selling a car privately. Thoroughly screen prospective buyers by phone before agreeing to a test drive. Ask questions and welcome queries from them about the vehicle as well.

Get the person's full name and contact information. Ask to see their driver's license before a test drive. Don't start the test drive at your home. Meet in a centrally located public place during the day with a short, well-populated route you've planned. Bring a trusted family member or friend to the meeting and ride along with the person.

Negotiate for the best price

Coming into the negotiation well-prepared can help you obtain a fair price for the vehicle since you'll know how to counter low bids. Let the buyer make the first offer. Have the estimates you used to price the car handy. If the prospective buyer won't make you a fair offer, it's okay to say no and move on.

Complete any DMV paperwork required to transfer the car title to the buyer. You may need to fill out a release of liability form so you're not held responsible if the buyer gets into an accident right away. Contact your auto insurance company about updating your policy.