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What should I do to prepare a vehicle for sale?

Before you list your vehicle, you may need to prepare it for sale. The goal is to make it look as good as possible to buyers and give as much information as you can. Here are some basic steps:

  • Gather the title, registration, warranty (if applicable), maintenance history, and any recall or repair documentation.
  • Examine the vehicle's wear and tear and make necessary repairs.
  • Clean it as best you can.

Depending on the state where you are selling the vehicle, you may need to do more. California law, for instance, requires vehicles to have a recent smog test before changing hands. In most states, used car sales between private parties are considered "as is." An "as is" sale means the seller is not responsible for any faults the car may have. A savvy buyer will know this and inspect the vehicle very closely before making an offer.

You may find yourself in legal trouble, however, if you hide or lie about problems. As long as you are honest and disclose what you know about the car, then you will probably be okay. It is also wise to buy a vehicle history report if you did not buy the car new. These reports can tell you about the car's history before you bought it and prove that you are being honest.

Making repairs, getting new tires, having the car detailed, and other steps may help you sell your car much faster. Often, by doing a little bit, you can get more for your car.

You will likely also want to prepare a Bill of Sale before you hand over the keys to the new owner. A Bill of Sale is a legal document used to record the sale and creates a contract between the buyer and seller. In some states, a Bill of Sale is legally required when you sell a car. A handful of states even require a Notarized Bill of Sale.

How do I figure out the value and fair asking price for my car?

There are some good online services that can give you a range for what your car is worth based on several different factors. You might also want to check to see how similar vehicles are priced in your location. The value of your used car is typically based on several factors, including:

  • Make and model.
  • Mileage.
  • Condition.
  • Upgrades.
  • Accident history.
  • Sale location.

Location can often matter significantly. For example, the same car may sell for more in Los Angeles than in rural Kansas. The season can also impact prices for certain vehicles, such as convertibles, boats, or 4x4 trucks.

Another way to figure out a fair asking price is to take the vehicle to a mechanic for an inspection. A mechanic may be able to give you a good idea of the value of your car, or provide a repair estimate if the car needs any repairs. That way, you can understand what the repairs might cost when you negotiate with potential buyers.

Where are the best places to advertise my vehicle for sale?

Most private sellers advertise vehicles online, including on social media sites. This method lets you reach buyers in a more targeted way. But it typically works best for cars and trucks. If you are selling a boat, motorcycle, RV, or something other than a car or truck, you may want to look for websites or social media groups that cater to these particular buyers.

Of course, you can also advertise in the local newspaper or in community forums, such as on downtown kiosks, bulletin boards, at churches, or in other places. Whether you still drive the vehicle or it stays parked, you might consider attaching a "for sale" sign with your contact information.

However you choose to advertise your vehicle, it is a good idea to consider including these items in your ad, depending on where your listing shows up:

  • High-quality photos.
  • Mileage.
  • Vehicle identification number (VIN).
  • Details about its features and condition.
  • Any warranty information.
  • Your asking price.
  • Your name and phone number.

If you are concerned about protecting your privacy, do not provide your last name. If you want to avoid getting a lot of messages on your phone, or in your email account, you may want to consider setting up a temporary phone line or email account for the sale.

Should I sell my vehicle to a dealer or trade it in?

There are benefits to selling or trading your vehicle into a dealership. One is the ease of simply handing the keys over and avoiding the time-consuming process of selling it yourself. Depending on state tax laws, you may also get a tax break by trading in your car. This means you may pay tax only on the difference between the trade-in value and the new car's price.

But the trade-off you make for this convenience and peace of mind is a much lower selling price. The amount will vary, but you can expect to get less by trading in or selling to a dealer than by selling it yourself.

Dealers typically need to turn around and sell your used vehicle at a profit. For this reason, they may offer you less than you could make by selling the car to a new owner yourself. You may be able to haggle a bit on the price. But the real question is what is more important to you: Do you want the ease of working with a dealer, especially if you are already buying another car? Or do you want to get as much as the car is worth by selling it yourself?

When is it better to donate a car than to sell it?

Sometimes a vehicle is just too old or run-down to sell, and donating it can be a good option. The process is typically simple and direct when done through well-known charities. Doing so can also give you a decent tax refund of about $500 on average. It is also a great way to just get that old clunker off your curb and into the hands of someone who can use it.

Remember, it can take a few weeks to sell your car, so being patient can help you see it through. It may turn out that you cannot sell the car or even get any interest in it. If this happens, then you may want to look for a registered 501(c)(3) organization or tax-exempt religious institution, such as a nonprofit or a church, that is willing to take it.

Organizations that accept cars for donation typically fix them up and either use them or sell them to raise money. So, if your vehicle is just too far gone to fix, you may even have a hard time donating it. In that case, you may consider junking it. Some salvage yards may be willing to pick it up or tow it for you. It is a good idea to do your research and make sure the costs and benefits of junking the vehicle work in your favor. Even if your car is going to a junkyard, it is likely that you can still be paid something for it. If you donate or scrap your used vehicle, it is still important to transfer the title of the car before handing over the keys.

If you have more questions about selling your used vehicle, reach out to a Rocket Lawyer On Call® attorney for affordable legal advice.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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