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What Paperwork Do I Need to Sell My Car?

By Autolist Staff | October 30, 2019

When you go to sell your used car through a private transaction, you'll need to be prepared with some paperwork. Selling privately is the best way to get maximum value for your vehicle vs. trading in at a dealership, but it does mean a little extra homework on your part. Before you list your car for sale, make sure to gather some vital paperwork as indicated below. Not all of these pieces of paperwork are technically legally required, but they can make your car sale go much more smoothly.

Vehicle History Report

These days, hardly anyone buys a used car without seeing some vehicle history report. When you place your car ad, you will probably add your VIN to allow prospective buyers to look up your vehicle's history. If you're the first owner of your vehicle, that may be all you need. However, if you're not, you may want to take a look at the vehicle history report yourself to prepare for questions that buyers might have.

Maintenance Records

It's easy to say in your ad that your car has been well-maintained, but it's even better to have actual proof of this. Whether you did your own maintenance or had it done at a dealership or repair shop, any kind of records are valuable to prospective buyers. If you performed your vehicle's maintenance yourself, then records of the parts you bought can suffice.

Warranty Documents

If you happen to have a remaining warranty on your car that is transferable, then you'll want to have this on hand as well. Having this available can also justify a higher price on your vehicle. However, it's essential to have proof of this warranty ready for the potential buyer to see. It's also a good idea to have some contact information so that the buyer can quickly contact the provider and get the warranty in their name.

As-Is Document

So you can protect yourself and make things clear to prospective buyers, have something in writing indicating that your car will be sold as-is. That means that you're not offering any warranties or buyback on the vehicle. By signing it, the buyer agrees that they are accepting all responsibility for the vehicle's condition and future repairs. After you receive payment, and the vehicle changes hands, then the matter is legally done.

Odometer Reading

If your vehicle is less than 10 years old and weighs 12,000 pounds or less, then the Truth in Mileage Act applies to you. This federal law requires anyone selling a vehicle to disclose the odometer reading to the buyer at the time of sale. The execution of this law may vary by state. Some states allow you to write the current mileage on the title, while others require you to get a separate form.

An odometer disclosure form typically requires the following:

  • The vehicle's VIN, year, make and model

  • Buyer's name, address and signature

  • Seller's signature

  • Current mileage

  • Notary public seal or signature

Vehicle Title

If your used car is owned free and clear, then you probably have the vehicle title on hand. You can fill out the space on it for transferring ownership and hand it over to the buyer. However, if your vehicle has a lien, then the title is likely in possession of a bank. To facilitate a sale in this situation, you'll have to call the bank to get a current payoff. You'll then have to work it out with the buyer to make the payoff to the bank and then wait for the title to be sent over.

Bill of Sale

A bill of sale isn't generally an absolute requirement, but it's a good idea to have for the release of liability. This document lists the comprehensive terms of the sale. You can add the vehicle description, the odometer reading, the price, delivery date, statement of as-is condition, and the signatures of the buyer and seller. You can also get it notarized if you wish. If there's any dispute after the sale, the signed-around bill of sale can protect you from any liability.

Selling Your Car

Once you're prepared with the paperwork to sell your car, then you're ready to move onto the logistics. Some things to consider include how to get payment, being prepared for any complications, and making sure to limit your liability. You should also make a checklist of what you need to do to complete the sale.

Such a list might look like this:

  • Perform a smog test if required by your state

  • Prepare a liability-release form and turn it in at the DMV

  • Gather any maintenance or parts records to show the buyer

  • Remove the license plates from the car if your state requires it

  • Remove all personal items, including registration from your glove compartment and any other areas in your car

  • Gather all keys and any papers to transfer to the new owner

  • Cancel your insurance on the car

Receiving Payment

One of the most critical parts of the car sale is getting payment for your car. The easiest way to deal with this is only to accept cash. If the buyer requests a receipt, you can provide the bill of sale. However, if your car is commanding a price well over $2,000, then it might be a better idea to deal with a cashier's check. The easiest way to conduct this transaction is for both buyer and seller to go to the seller's bank and complete the transfer. That way, it's in a safe place, and the buyer can be assured that everything is legit. In the case of a remote sale, then an escrow service can be used to verify funds between buyer and seller.

Limit Your Liability

Have you ever wondered what happens if someone buys your car and then gets into an accident? That is why you need to cover your bases as much as possible. A bill of sale and signed-over title in the hands of your buyer will help. You can also immediately get onto the DMV site and report the vehicle as sold. It's a good idea to cancel your insurance as soon as possible too.

What About Complications?

In another complicated scenario, what if the buyer contacts you the next day and wants to return the car? What if they claim that you didn't reveal a significant mechanical problem that suddenly turned up? The good thing is that most states consider an as-is sale as the default. That means there are no guarantees of anything after the sale. It also means that it's up to the buyer to do their due diligence in inspecting the vehicle. As the seller, you may want to encourage them to check it out as well thoroughly. It is another area where the bill of sale comes into play. If the buyer signed off on accepting the car as is, there is no recourse from their end.

Setting a Fair Asking Price

When you start deciding on a price, remember that you will likely have to field lower offers unless your car is very much in demand. With this in mind, you may want to set the price just above market value. Start by looking up your vehicle's value on Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds. Then you may want to check sites like Craigslist to see what cars are selling for in your local area. Another thing to consider is where to round off. Many people search using the nearest $1,000. For example, if you list your car at $6,200 and it's worth under $6,000, you likely won't get those buyers capping their searches at $6,000. You might consider listing your car at $5,900 instead.

Curb Appeal

It's not just for selling houses. You don't have to spend a fortune to fix everything on your car, but you should at least give it a thorough wash and vacuum. You want car buyers to show up and immediately like the looks of the vehicle as it sits. That is especially important if you have had pets in your car.

Take Good Photos

The very first impression a buyer is likely to have is from your advertisement. Writing a good ad is essential, but even more important are quality pictures. Take pictures of your vehicle in good lighting and from several different angles. Photograph the of the inside, including the front and back seats if applicable, and with the doors open. Take a full shot of the vehicle from the side, as well as from the front and back. You may also want to consider an engine shot and pictures of the tires to show tread wear. It's also a good idea to take a picture of the odometer to verify the mileage you are stating. A view of the underside isn't a bad idea either.

Where to List Your Car

There are many places to list your car online. Craigslist is very popular and available for the nominal fee of $5, but scams are still prevalent. More specialized sites include Autotrader, eBay Motors and Car Gurus. If you're selling a rare or specialty vehicle, then you might consider various collector sites. Write your ad with any details that might add value, such as options or recent upgrades.

Screen Buyers

Save time and hassle by reviewing all offers carefully before getting back to the buyer. You should generally avoid the ones that sound generic or like they're contacting several listings at once. Lowball offers are likely not legit either.

Set Up the Meeting

Once you have a reasonable offer, set up a meeting place in a safe area, and have someone else with you. Ride along on the test drive, but resist the temptation to sell them the car. Just answer any questions they might have or point out anything they don't know about the vehicle. If everything checks out, then you can arrange payment and transfer ownership with the documents you've prepared.