I'd like to convert a car to cash with minimal hassle.
July 14, 2014 8:00 AM   Subscribe

I have a car I don't use that much, and a looming home repair that needs some money thrown at it. I'd like to convert the car to cash to be thrown at the home repair. But, in the face of the home repair vortex, I'd like to avoid getting bogged down in car-sale hassles. Is it a giant hassle to sell the car privately, or am I best off selling straight to a dealership?

Bonus: if I'm best off selling to a dealership, do you have recommendations for dealerships in the Twin Cities area who're likely to give me a good deal for the car / not give me headaches?

Car in question is a 2002 Mazda Protege 5, 68,000 miles, motor in good condition but body a little dinged from 12 years of city driving and a few rust spots.
posted by COBRA! to Work & Money (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I've always sold my cars in private sale and I feel like it's not much of a hassle if you don't want it to be and I think you get slightly more money (though not much more so you can balance the hassle factor in your mind). You have to be sort of okay with

- saying "No" to people who want things you aren't willing to do (lower prices usually)
- trusting people to test drive your car
- being okay telling people with scams to fuck off ("Oh hey your car is leaking transmission fluid...")
- knowing what you need to do legally to make sure it all goes okay (keep the plates? sign over the title? writing a bill of sale?)

I've always lived someplace rural where you could advertise on Craigslist but not sell on cars.com for example and it was fine. Make a listing with a lot of photos. Tell people to only contact you over email if you don't want them blowing up your phone. Have a set price and a "will not go lower than" price in mind (they can be the same, but people usually try to haggle) and the service records all packaged and ready to go (Carfax if you really want this to sail through) and just set aside a weekend to get it done.
posted by jessamyn at 8:22 AM on July 14, 2014 [5 favorites]

Apparently the next best thing to selling your car via private party is to sell it to Carmax.

As opposed to other dealerships, they'll just buy your car outright without trying to pressure you into buying a new car to replace it. You probably won't get as much money as you would selling it to a private individual, but from what I've heard you'll still get a somewhat fair price.
posted by Gev at 9:12 AM on July 14, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'm with Jessamyn - especially if you have a little bit of time to wait for offers to come in, selling a car privately is not hard at all. It's likely you'll get some dumb offers from dealers, scammers, or people who aren't paying attention if you advertise online, but you can just ignore any communication you don't like the sound of, for any reason!
posted by mskyle at 9:15 AM on July 14, 2014

Just sell it on Craigslist and maybe also list it on Carsoup.com. I've used them before, it's cheap, easy to make a nice looking ad, gets you a carfax report for potential buyers to look at, and gives you a link to paste on your Craigslist ad, facebook, etc. $25 and the ad runs until it sells.

You'll probably get a few calls from dealerships. Some will be wondering if you're in the market for a new car but one or two might ask you to bring the car in for them to make an offer on buying it outright. I got a call from a newer dealer that was trying to build inventory. They'll basically offer you trade-in value for it. Which might be a little or a lot less than you can get for it selling it on your own. A quick guess at the trim level and it looks like it could be as much as a $1,200 difference.

If nothing else, this gives you a bottom number to work from since you now know what you can sell it for on the low end. You just need to decide how much more than the dealer/Carmax offer you need to get to make it worthwhile to sell it on your own. If anyone offers you more than that number, you've got a sale. That is exactly what I did about two years ago when I sold my car. I might have been able to get a few hundred more for it but I had an offer that was over my, "I need to get at least this much to make it worthwhile to sell myself" number so took the deal and considered the money I left on the table the premium I paid to be done with it.

It's not usually much hassle to sell a car. It just takes some time and a willingness to ask people to buy it (this is something even professional car salespeople struggle with). As long as you've got the title in hand and the lien release card (if there was ever a lien on the title from a loan or something) the paperwork is pretty easy for you. Just sign your name as it's listed on the title and hand that to your buyer along with some kind of bill-of-sale (if you list on Carsoup they'll provide one) in exchange for a cashier's check/cash and the rest is your buyer's problem.

If you take a cashier's check, either meet your buyer at the bank so you can see them issue the check or use the internet to look up the bank's number (never use the number on the check itself) to call them up and verify that they issued the check.
posted by VTX at 9:33 AM on July 14, 2014

You can get a quote from Carmax for free, of there is one near you, so you will at least have a baseline of how much you can get for it from a private party.
posted by procrastination at 9:33 AM on July 14, 2014

I don't have any real experience selling a car to a private party, but I have sold several cars to Carmax. It's truly hassle-free, and I got a good price on every car. Last year I bought a new car from a dealership, and I got a quote for trading my old car in to them. Carmax gave me significantly more money - the dealership was amazed at the amount.

Like procrastination said, you can always go get a free quote from Carmax, so you know what your options are.
posted by thejanna at 9:39 AM on July 14, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions so far, all. It looks like the nearest Carmax is a state away, so that's off the table.
posted by COBRA! at 10:33 AM on July 14, 2014

Dealer = less hassle, less money.
Private sale = vice versa.

And in my experience the $ difference was significant -- e.g. I got around $15k on a private sale, and a dealer offered me $12.5.
If you go private, the little things are important. Clean as a whistle, fix the worst dings, etc. I even had a paint job.
But, as noted, if you want cash fast and zero hassle, get an offer from a dealer. I don't know how far a state away is, but I wouldn't rule it out if you could hop a bus back home. CarMax is the easiest by far.
posted by LonnieK at 11:16 AM on July 14, 2014

I've had good experiences with Craigslist -- sold a van and a motorcycle, both sold within hours of listing it, and both were actually in non-running condition.

Make sure you have the title and sign it before handing it over, and write up a little bill of sale which is nice for legal reasons. Only accept cash (I know a guy who got burned by getting talked into accepting a check). Take pictures of both sides of the vehicle, because apparently the assumption is that if you only show one side, that means the other side is smashed in.

Selling the car privately is only a hassle if you let it be: I actually simply hung up on a guy who was trying to get me to hold the motorcycle for him, because I had a guy looking at it in my driveway right at that moment. If anyone tries to give you a runaround about it, say, "well, it looks like we can't make a deal," and move on to the next guy. Because there will be a next guy -- unless you're asking way too much for it, someone will likely buy the car for you under the terms you're asking.
posted by AzraelBrown at 12:23 PM on July 14, 2014

About only accepting cash: the way I like to pay for cars over $1000 is with a cashier's check from a bank. I bring the seller to a branch of my bank, and let them watch while I get the cashier's check and immediately hand it to them. It costs $10 and creates a paper trail. I'm just wary of handing someone a huge wad of cash, in case there's some way they're trying to scam me. Anyone who won't accept a cashier's check under these terms is someone I don't trust and won't do business with. Under $1000 I just chance it. But I wouldn't take a cashier's check unless I saw the bank teller make it out, because they can be forged.
posted by the big lizard at 4:41 PM on July 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

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