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How To Sell A Used Car

Updated on March 28, 2016

Are you about ready to buy that first new car, truck, SUV, or whatever suits your fancy? Up till now you've only always had the proverbial "clunker." So now before you make that all important purchase you must get rid of your latest clunker, and you've been advised against trading it in, the reason given, you will get more if you sell it outright. "I've never sold a car before," you say. So what do you do?

I should be an expert at this, because at one time I had to maintain 8 used vehicles. The reason for that is, I owned a business that depended on good running vehicles.The business was a same day courier service, and I provided the vehicles for the first eight employees, while others used their own. During the time I was in business, (Freta's Fast Delivery and Errand Service, 17 years), I bought, and sold numerous vehicles, (cars, vans, trucks), most times negotiating the deal personally, or with my ex-husband as my wing man. That being said, no I'm not an expert, however, I did learn a few things during the process, and what I didn't learn I researched. So herein is the benefit of my "expertise," and a bit from the Internet on selling a used vehicle.

Rules For Selling Used Cars

First, and foremost check your local laws. Laws vary from state to state, and country to country. For instance, some states allow you to drive the car with the "For Sale" sign prominently displayed, others don't.

A few basic legal rules for selling a used vehicle in California, USA:

  1. Within five days of transfer of title, the form, Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability must be submitted to the DMV. Before filling the form out, read, read, read, and take it slow, because if the form is not filled out correctly, the DMV will kick it back to you, and it's still yours until the vehicle's records are updated. You could be held liable if the buyer has an accident, or heaven forbid it's used in a crime.
  2. California has strict emissions laws, so a Smog Check is mandatory, if the vehicle is over four years old. You, the seller must provide proof of such, or risk having to repair it even after it's no longer in your possession.

Before we leave this section, I'd like to add, if you've lost your title, i.e pink slip, then you must apply for a duplicate title through the DMV. You cannot legally sell a car unless you can prove it belongs to you, so don't try to get past that technicality.

The Morality of Selling a used vehicle

Now that we've gotten past the legal issues, let's get to the moral issues. While you could get in legal hot water if you don't follow the laws of the land, not following the moral laws of selling a car could result in something far worse.

Let me paint you a picture. What if you desperately needed a car to get you back, and forth to your means of making a living, or back and forth to visit a cherished loved one in the hospital, (spouse, child, parent, etc). Now, you only had enough money to buy a used car.Your first thought is to purchase one from, say, a friend, neighbor, or a private owner. So you buy this car with your last "dime," with the owner declaring it's in good running condition, and you won't have to do repairs anytime soon. Ah, now you can get to work on time, and afterwards visit that family member, in the hospital. The first week everything goes just fine, with a few minor warning lights, smells, sounds. Here comes a new work week, you've been warned if you're late one more time, you'll be fired. You can't afford to be fired, so you start out earlier than usual for work, and what happens, all those little warning signs add up to one big problem, the engine's blown. Before you get wrapped up in the story, it's only a figment of my very vivid imagination. Anyway, you know what I'm trying to say here, if this happens to you, how would you feel. Now, put yourself in the other person's place. So the moral to the story is disclose any, and all mechanical problems that you know of before selling a used car "as is." This way you give the buyer a chance to make a choice as to whether he wants to take a chance on this particular vehicle, or not. Thereby saving headache, and heartache, down the road, from both sides.

Getting the Vehicle ready for sale

It's always advisable to make the vehicle as clean as possible, by washing, vacuuming, in some cases, polishing. This is so you can get the best price for it. Buying a set of cheap floor mats wouldn't be a bad idea. If you've used your automobile for the dog, or cats home for a while, or maybe you tend to leave your "stinky" sneakers behind on a regular basis, because they were not allowed in the house, then a little extra effort needs to be put forth. After washing spraying, and doing all the necessary things to clean it, sprinkle a little baking soda around, and let it sit for awhile. Even put a little in the ash trays. I also read or heard, I don't know which, that charcoal is really good for extinguishing foul odors. As a matter of fact I did use it once to get rid of a bad freezer odor.

I remember once I was interested, I mean really interested in this one vehicle, the price was right, mileage was suitable for my needs, I even told my wing man, ah, I mean my ex-husband, that this was the car for me, but when the salesman opened the door, to say I was taken aback was an understatement. The odor emanating from that thing was just too overwhelming. Now, mind you I know how to clean, even get rid of odors, but that was beyond even my capabilities. Imagine if you will, "dead fish, old sneakers, moldy food, maybe even a rotting carcass of a small animal, all closed up in one place, and you haven't even begun to imagine the odor. Even the used car salesman couldn't stand it, and you know the reputation of a used car salesman, "they'll do anything to sell a car." Okay, all you used car salespeople don't send me hate mail, LOL. Notice I said the, "reputation," not my opinion. At any rate, we all surmised that someone had died in the car, and it sat for a long period of time without being cleaned. Suffice it to say, clean the car well.

Don't forget to remove all of your personal items, from the glove box, under the seats, and the trunk. I can't tell you how much personal information I've found by searching under, and through places in the vehicle the previous owners had forgotten to check.

Where and How to Advertise

Begin with friends, relative, co workers, and the people they might know who would be interested in buying a used vehicle, your used vehicle. I can't stress it enough, BE HONEST, especially with acquaintances, about the condition of the vehicle. Relationships have deteriorated for lack of information concerning the selling of a used car, to an acquaintance. So disclose, disclose, disclose.

There's your local paper. In some localities, there are special publications for selling used vehicles, beware sometimes there's a heavier fee to sell this way, so check that out before you advertise there. In some cases it could be a time saver to use this avenue, regardless of the cost, it could be a matter of how much is your time worth.

The Internet has emerged as a new, suitable way to sell any, and everything. However, here seller beware, actually anyway you intend to sell the vehicle, beware, but there's special warning where the Internet is concerned.


Not to make you feel like there's danger lurking around every corner. But actually there is, spoken like a true politician, which I'm not. Anyway, there are unscrupulous individuals always out to take advantage of any situation. At times this presents an opportunity to an otherwise honest person to take advantage of a vulnerable situation.

So a few things to keep in mind in this regard:

  1. Never take a potential buyer for a test ride alone.
  2. Never meet in a secluded area for the transaction.
  3. For women, never, ever get into a car alone with a potential buyer, male or female.
  4. Only take cash, or cashiers check, even then you're taking a risk, unless you know how to spot counterfeit money or checks.
  5. Always fill out title transfer on the spot, don't let them leave with the car without doing so.
  6. There's even the suggestion that you meet your potential buyer at the police station, or close proximity there of, or at the very least a very public place.


Armed with this information, you should be able to successfully sell your used vehicle.

Have You Ever Sold A Used Car?

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    • fastfreta profile image

      Alfreta Sailor 6 years ago from Southern California

      Thanks Brett, I agree, you do get more by selling your used car, instead of trading it in.

    • Brett.Tesol profile image

      Brett Caulton 6 years ago from Thailand

      Good advice, too many trade in their old car, which is normally a bad choice. Unless it is a complete wreck, you can get more selling it privately.

      Thanks for SHARING.

    • profile image

      ashbubala 6 years ago

      Thanks for this awesome hub Freta and it couldn't have come at a better time. I am currently trying to sell my used car and needed some help in doing this. Your article was right on time! Thanks!

    • fastfreta profile image

      Alfreta Sailor 6 years ago from Southern California

      Thanks elle64, glad you liked it, and thanks for stopping, please come back.

    • elle64 profile image

      elle64 6 years ago from Scandinavia

      You know what youre doing -good advice

    • fastfreta profile image

      Alfreta Sailor 6 years ago from Southern California

      You know pmcray, I didn't want to go there, but that was what I was trying to say in a veiled sort of way. I look at the real life murder mysteries and I've seen more than one of those instances. So thank you for bringing that up.

      Linda, you and I both, I can't tell you how many I've sold or bought for that matter, but it's been quite a few. So I felt I could offer a little advice.

      Thank you both for stopping by, hope to see you again soon.

    • Angela Blair profile image

      Angela Blair 6 years ago from Central Texas

      Good, sound advice and well written HUB. I've been fortunate to sell a few used vehicles -- and buy a few! Voted UP! Thanks! Best, Sis

    • pmccray profile image

      pmccray 6 years ago from Utah

      Excellent advice especially the cautions. We had a man killed here in Salt Lake after some people met him in a secluded area regarding a used auto he had for sale. It was an ad from Craigs list and the couple happen to be in the middle of a crime spree. Voted up, marked useful and interesting.

    • fastfreta profile image

      Alfreta Sailor 6 years ago from Southern California

      You're right sabasarish.

    • sabasarish profile image

      sabasarish 6 years ago from Abbotabad Pakistan

      Its depends on you