Expanded Lesson 9 min read

Private Party Auto Sale: Tips for Sellers

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Selling your car to a private party can be stressful and intimidating. Use this checklist for information that can help you sell a vehicle with confidence.

shiny car for sale in summer weather, parked with a red vibrant color exterior.

Before You Begin

  • Make sure you are listed as the owner of the vehicle on the title and/or registration.
  • Make sure your name is listed and spelled correctly; obtain a new title or registration if your name has recently changed or is spelled incorrectly.
  • Make a copy of the front and back of the title or registration for your buyer.
  • Gather maintenance and service records.
  • Complete any regularly scheduled maintenance, like fluid flushes, tire rotation or an oil change.
  • Have the vehicle inspected by your mechanic to determine if there are any issues that could impact the sale of the vehicle.
  • Wash and detail the vehicle.
  • Determine your car’s value; browse similar listings and use a valuation tool, like NADA.
  • Determine how you want to advertise:

You Found a Buyer

  • Arrange a test drive with your potential buyer; it is recommended you meet in a public, well-populated place during daylight hours.
  • Be prepared to show your ID and ask to see the buyer’s ID. Review it carefully to make sure the description matches the person in front of you.
  • Be prepared for the potential buyer to request a vehicle inspection by a mechanic. Make sure they have selected a certified mechanic with a verifiable place of business.
  • Negotiate the purchase price of the vehicle.
  • Prepare a bill of sale listing specific vehicle information, including the VIN, year, make, model and odometer reading.
    • Include the agreed-upon purchase price and indicate any equipment that is included with the purchase.
    • Also note that nothing else is due and no warranties have been implied or promised.
    • The bill of sale should not be signed until the transfer of ownership is complete.

What Now?

  • Provide a copy of the front and back of your title or registration to your buyer.
  • Contact your current financial institution and obtain a 20-day payoff statement (if applicable).
  • Do you owe more on the vehicle than what you are selling it for? Be prepared to pay the difference to your lender.
  • Determine if the buyer intends to pay cash for the vehicle or if they will be financing the purchase.
  • If it will be a cash purchase, tell the buyer you will only accept cash or certified funds for the transaction.
  • If the buyer will finance the purchase, ask if the lender requires DMV documentation that needs your signature as the seller, and be prepared to attend the closing.

Title / Registration Review

  • Be prepared for the buyer to ask about the ownership of the vehicle if there is more than one owner listed on your title/registration.
    • Signature of each named owner is required to release interest in the vehicle unless the names are separated by “OR.”
  • If your name has changed or if it is misspelled on the title or registration, be prepared for the buyer to ask you to have it corrected.
    • Be prepared to provide proof of name change to the DMV (e.g. marriage certificate, divorce decree or court order of name change).
  • If you have a duplicate title, review the face of the title for any liens listed.
    • Your lienholder will have released their lien on the face of the original title but that lien release doesn’t print on the duplicate since it is simply a re-issue of the original title.
    • Contact your original lienholder to request a lien release.
    • Some states may require a new title to be issued without the lien prior to the transfer of ownership.
      • Contact your local DMV to find out if they require a new title. If so, take your duplicate title and lien release to the DMV for a new title. Be aware that rules vary by state and county.

Transfer of Ownership – Free and Clear Title

  • If receiving cash, arrange to meet the buyer in a public, well-populated place during daylight hours. Suggest meeting the buyer at your financial institution so a teller can verify the cash or meet at your local DMV office to have a title clerk help you complete the transfer of ownership.
  • Bring your prepared bill of sale. Two copies are recommended, one for you and one for your seller so both parties have an original.
  • Bring your original title. Locate the transfer of ownership section on the title. There will be a spot for both the seller and buyer to sign and a place to list the current mileage.
  • Print and sign your name as the seller exactly as it appears on the face of the title.
  • If the buyer is financing, they or the lender may reach out to you to schedule an appointment for the closing. The lender may prepare DMV seller documents and may facilitate the transfer of ownership. Ent offers this service, but be aware that other lenders may not.

Title Mistakes

  • Most DMVs have a form called a “Statement of Fact,” which allows the person who made a mistake on the title to write a brief statement describing the error. If your DMV does not have this form, a new title may be required.
    • Requires a signature under penalty of perjury.
    • The phrase “No Fraud Intended” should be included in your statement.
    • Draw a single line through the error and correct your mistake.
    • Any alteration or erasure in the odometer field will void the title completely, and the seller is responsible for obtaining a new title

Transfer of Ownership – Lienholder

  • Make sure you have paid any difference between the purchase price and the amount owed on the vehicle.
  • It is recommended you meet the buyer at the financial institution where the title is housed to complete the transfer of ownership. The financial institution can release the title directly to their customer, and you are present to complete the transfer of ownership. This may not always be possible if the financial institution houses titles out of state OR if the vehicle has an electronic title (see below).
  • Contact your financial institution to ask if they can release the title directly to your buyer.
  • Be prepared to meet your buyer once the title has been released to complete the transfer of ownership. Your buyer will not be able to plate the vehicle if they are not able to remove your name from the title.
  • Is your vehicle registered in an Electronic Title (ELT) state? If so, your lienholder doesn’t hold a paper title. The lienholder will file their lien release electronically and you will need to request a paper title to be issued by your DMV. They may send a paper lien release instead. If that happens, take the paper lien release to the DMV and request a printed title. Check with your local DMV to see if there is a specific power of attorney you can sign authorizing your buyer to obtain the title on their own.
  • Suggest your buyer finance with Ent as this can make this transaction easier for you!

Temporary Tags, Vehicle Plates and Insurance

  • Remove your plates from the vehicle. Do not allow the buyer to drive the vehicle with your plates on it (does not apply in CA where the plates stay with the vehicle).
  • If you don’t remove your plates you are putting yourself at risk!
  • For example: You forgot to remove your plates from the vehicle. The buyer drives recklessly, causes an accident and leaves the scene – YOUR plates are the only way to identify the vehicle. What would you do? This is when having your completed bill of sale can prove you no longer own the vehicle.
  • Remove all of your personal belongings from the vehicle.
  • Contact your insurance agent and cancel the policy on this vehicle.
  • If you have GAP coverage, contact your coverage provider to cancel and see if there is a pro-rated refund available.
  • If you have a warranty, transfer the warranty to your buyer if possible

Why it’s Easier to Sell to Someone Financing at Ent

  • You can accept payment confidently since you will receive a certified-funds check.
  • If you have a loan against the vehicle, you can sign an “Authorization for Payoff” letter at closing. When the loan is funded, a payoff check is issued to the seller’s financial institution. We send the check and the letter to the seller’s financial institution. The letter authorizes the seller’s financial institution to send the title directly to us instead of sending it to the seller. We will then take care of the transfer of ownership with the buyer.
  • If you own the vehicle free and clear, one of our title- and DMV-experienced processors will assist you with the transfer of ownership.
  • We will ask you to attend the closing where you will sign the DMV seller documents to ensure we can assist the buyer with removing your name from the title or getting a duplicate title if necessary. This protects your buyer and reduces the need for you to go to the DMV if any title issues arise.
  • Closing at one of our Ent Service Centers provides you with a neutral safe environment to conduct the sale of your vehicle.

Want a copy of the checklist?

Download the PDF.

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