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What to Consider Before Selling a Car

Selling a car yourself might sound simple enough: List it on AutoTrader, take a few calls, go on a few test drives, then strike a deal with the buyer and finish the transaction. But in reality, selling your car privately isn’t necessarily as easy as it sounds. To explain what we mean, we’ve listed a few things that you’ll want to consider before putting your car up for sale.


First and foremost, you’ll need to figure out whether you have all the car’s paperwork in line. If you have a loan on the car, you’ll need to find out the exact amount of the payoff. The buyer will probably have to write two checks: one to you, if you have any equity in the car, and one to your bank for the remaining balance.

If you don’t have a loan on the car (and in some cases, even if you do), you’ll need to figure out where the title is. The title is considered proof of ownership by your local jurisdiction, and you should have it in your records, but for many car owners, the title was issued years ago, and it’s been lost or mistakenly thrown away. If you can’t find the title, you’ll need to get a duplicate from your state’s motor vehicle department before you can sell the car.

Additionally, some states require that you get an emissions test or a safety inspection before you sell a car. If you haven’t done that in a while, you’ll want to do it before signing over the paperwork.


If you have all the paperwork in order, you’ll want to assess your vehicle’s condition. Is it really ready to sell? Many sellers try to offer their vehicles with old tires, major scrapes or dents, broken power windows, headlights or taillights, and other flaws. Many buyers will avoid a car with those kinds of problems.

As a result, you might need to spend a little money and time reconditioning your car for sale. Visit a paintless dent repair specialist, for instance, to get dents taken out. Change the oil or put on new tires, if necessary. Consider addressing any obvious issues, such as power windows that won’t go up or down or a keyless remote with a dead battery. Problems like this can be expensive to solve, but they can also go a long way toward getting you more money for your car.

Time Commitment

Another important thing to consider when selling a car is the time commitment required. Unfortunately, selling your car probably won’t be as simple as meeting a buyer and agreeing on a price. You’ll probably have to show the car to multiple potential buyers, which means that you may need to set aside some time for the sales process. You’ll likely have to set aside even more time to transport the car to and from a mechanic’s shop if the buyer plans to get a mechanical inspection.

Too Hard?

When you consider all the troubles that you’ll have to go through to sell a car — paperwork, reconditioning and the time commitment — it’s easy to see why some drivers prefer to trade in their vehicle to a dealership, even if it means that they lose out on a little extra money. While we certainly don’t advocate one way or another, we think you should consider the entire process before listing your car for sale — because it might prove to be a little more troublesome than you first thought.


Doug Demuro
Doug Demuro
Doug DeMuro writes articles and makes videos, mainly about cars. Doug was born in Denver, Colorado, and received an economics degree from Emory University in Atlanta. After graduation, Doug spent three years working for Porsche Cars North America. Eventually, he quit his job to become a writer, largely because it meant that he no longer had to wear pants. Doug’s work has been featured in a... Read More about Doug Demuro

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