Help me sell my my car safely
July 2, 2006 9:55 PM   Subscribe

I'm selling my car. Help me not be stupid.

What's safe? How do I handle a test drive? Do I go with them?
If they buy, do i insist on cash, or some sort of check (what sort?) What are the safest ways to not be taken?
Do I let people come to my home, or meet them somewhere? Any other hints?
posted by cccorlew to Work & Money (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I have to say, some of this depends on the car you are selling. If it's something worth a lot, then you should be much more careful in general.

I've sold two cars through want ads. One was an old high mileage Ford Tempo (sold for $1000 in TN), the other was a Chevy Cavalier 60k mileage great condition ($5000 in DE). In both cases, I let the folks meet me at home and take the cars on test drives alone (after all, the car they came in was still sitting in my driveway).

I got the $1000 in cash, and requested a cashier's check for the $5000. I think you have to listen to your gut, if something seems "shady", then proceed with caution. If someone seems super aggressive, or pushes you to make a deal on the spot that gives you a bad feeling, you can always tell them you had a person look at the car just before them, and you promised to give them 24 hours to make a decision.

I am a single female, and never really gave this issue too much thought.
posted by kimdog at 10:09 PM on July 2, 2006

Certified cheque/check or money order or cash...something other than a personal cheque.

As far as test drive...ask to see their license, write down the name and number, etc. and leave that with someone else at home, then go with them, possibly with someone else if you are afraid to be alone with a stranger. If you're in a location where car insurance follows the driver (not the car, as it does here), ask to see that as well.

Anyone who is not out to screw you and is reasonable should have no problem with the above. If they do have a problem with it, feel free to refuse their inquiry.
posted by Kickstart70 at 10:12 PM on July 2, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions so far.
I'm asking $8500, which is more cash than I'm comfortable with. I'm not sure I'd recognise a fake Certified cheque/check or money order. I guess I could ask them to meet me at my bank, or does that sound just too paranoid?
posted by cccorlew at 10:23 PM on July 2, 2006

I am getting ready to sell my car, too, and I have sold a car once in the past. That previous experience was a mix of the good and the bad, so I'll tell you what I learned from the experience.

I insisted on payment that couldn't possibly bounce. The buyer gave me a cashier's check. I wouldn't do it any other way than something that guarantees I'll get my money. If a person insisted on giving me a check, I wouldn't deliver the car to them until it had cleared. I considered accepting PayPal this time around, but I've heard that it can be hard to get large amounts of money out of your PayPal account, so I probably won't do that.

This time around, if someone makes me an offer, I'll ask for a non-refundable deposit. Last time, I turned down a serious offer because I had already come to an agreement with someone, and then the buyer backed out (wife wouldn't approve the purchase). It was a big hassle and cost me money because I had to re-advertise the car and couldn't find another buyer who was willing to pay as much as Guy Number 2 had offered me. If a person doesn't want to give me a deposit, I'll say (in the most friendly way possible), "Fine, but if I get a better offer between now and when I get your cashier's check, I'm taking it."

Although I had a lot of interest in that car when I sold it (I actually had two people in a bidding war in my front yard), nobody asked to test-drive it. I don't even remember anybody starting it up! I wouldn't drive along on a test drive (I'm a woman) but I would ask for something to hold, like the keys to _their_ car, or a copy of their driver's license.

I was comfortable having people come to my home and talking with them in the driveway about the car. I wouldn't want to have to go to the trouble of meeting somewhere. But if you're nervous about it at all, make appointments at a time when a friend can be there with you.

Most "how to sell a car" articles suggest making copies of maintenance records. I did that last time--typed up a whole maintenance log with copies of all the receipts--and nobody seemed to want it or care about it. This time, I won't do it in advance but will have the file available for potential buyers to review.

I'll be following this thread with interest.
posted by not that girl at 10:23 PM on July 2, 2006

Be sure to be on the lookout for scammers that frequently troll for sale ads, show up for a test drive, then make up problems they hear in your car (classic is wiping oil from your tailpipe and saying the block is cracked) and have an extraordinary sob story about how their cancer fighting sister needs a car to get to the orphanage where she works before they close it down. The scam is they talk their way into amazing deals then turn around and resell the car at market value.

I had two guys show up to look at my $3k CRX a few years ago. I rode along with them for the test drive and when the story came out with an offer of $1200 I knew they were pros. I refused and went back to my apartment and they hung out downstairs, calling me every 15 minutes with more of the story and a $100 added to the price. I took the phone off the hook when they got up to $1700.

A week later someone showed up, looked at it, and handed over the cash. He was dropping a new engine in it and didn't even need to drive it.
posted by mathowie at 11:09 PM on July 2, 2006

I would insist on a cashier's check or money order, if you aren't comfortable accepting cash. If the person tries to write you a personal check just tell them they can go to their bank and get a cashier's check for a dollar or two. Or they can go to the post office and get a money order (or more likely, a series of money orders) for a few dollars.

If you absolutely have to accept a personal check, tell them that you will not sign over the title and give them posession until the check has cleared, which could take days/a week depending on thier bank. But really don't even go there, it's just too much trouble.

And by all means do not accept any kind of payment for more than the asking price (with the expectation of giving back the difference) as this is the halmark of a scam.

Paypal? Are you crazy? Receiving more than $3000 would require qualifying for a merchant rate, and even then fees would be about 2.5%, which would mean taking a $212.50 loss out of $8500. When you can get a cashier's check for a couple dollars this is insane.
posted by Rhomboid at 12:52 AM on July 3, 2006

I would steer clear of personal checks. Someone could easily give you a fradulent check that could and most likely will clear. Once the bank(s) figure out the forgery, you, not the guy who wrote the check will be liable. So insist on a cashiers check. Its the safest way to go.
posted by special-k at 1:13 AM on July 3, 2006

Best answer: Your profile says you live in California and CA requires a bill of sale, notice of release of liability and a smog certificate. The bill of sale and liabilty release are available online here. It's the seller's responsiblity to provide a smog certificate in Ca, so you'll need to get it smogged in advance if you're going to do it right. You'll find a form at DMV called a statement of facts. That can come in handy for spelling out any conditions attached to the sale such as warranty or an as-is sale that can protect you if the deal goes bad and you wind up in court. Fill all of the forms completely and honestly (especially the the odometer mileage and selling price), get a copy of the buyer's driver's license and make sure you mail the liabilty release to DMV ASAP to avoid any problems the new owner may cause.

Check to make sure the party has a valid driver's license before you let them drive your car or you can wind up in deep trouble if they get into an accident before the sale is complete. meeting at your bank is a good idea because you can have someone at the bank notarize the bill of sale and liability release while you're there. And always insist on cash, there are just too many scammers here in CA that will pass bad checks (both cashier's and personal). Don't fall into the trap of feeling confident because the buyer has a cashier's check, many of those are counterfeit or altered. If you're really uncomfortable, meet them in the lobby of your local police station and go to your bank to finalize the deal.

You'll find a form at DMV called a statement of facts. That can come in handy for spelling out any conditions attached to the sale such as warranty or an as-is sale that can protect you if the deal goes bad and you wind up in court.
posted by buggzzee23 at 1:34 AM on July 3, 2006

Note that getting a cashier's check is not a guarantee against getting scammed. From this site:
Unfortunately, many banks will say the cashier’s check funds are available within 24 hours, but this does not mean that the cashier’s check is good. It may take two or three weeks to know if the check is good or not, but by then it is too late for the victim (during this time they have already wired the money to the overseas person, and they can’t get the money back).
This is because federal law requires that money from deposits be available within a fixed time, but that time is often less than the time it takes for the check to clear. If it comes back bad after that, the onus is on you because that's how the law works and because you're the person in the best position to evaluate the trustworthiness of the check.

So the upshot is that asking your bank if the check has cleared doesn't mean much -- they interpret it as whether the money is available, not whether the check has been cleared with the original issuer. And the latter can take a couple of weeks.

There are some good tips here (toward the bottom) on how to avoid getting scammed by a fake cashier's check.
posted by raf at 8:36 AM on July 3, 2006

Speaking as a frequent used car *buyer*, I can tell you that I always want a test drive, but I also understand hesitation on the seller's part. Usually, I just volunteer to leave my current car keys with them. When I don't have a car currently (my saga with cars in the last five years is too long and stupid to get into), I offer to leave my wallet, sans driver's license.

I've always met the person at their place, or more specifically, where they say the car is parked. If they want to park it out of sight of their home, that's fine by me, just so long as they come outside to talk to me.

I've paid with everything from cash to personal checks to a cashier's check. Since I'm not a scammer, it's all the same to me! When I'm serious about a purchase, I bring a small portion (about 10 percent) of the price with me, in cash. If I like the vehicle, I can leave the cash with them while I go to the bank and get the rest in whatever form they prefer. One time, I drove the buyer to the bank and she waited in the vehicle while I went inside and got the money.

To my mind, all of this is easier than dealing with a car dealer and I'm more than willing to do it. If I was selling, I'd be pretty skeptical of anyone who wasn't willing to do these kinds of things...
posted by schwap23 at 9:28 AM on July 3, 2006

I forgot to mention that I make 2 of every document and keep the notarized docs for my own records. mathowie brings up a good point about pros trying to scam you into selling cheap. There are lots of those assholes out there.
posted by buggzzee23 at 11:41 AM on July 3, 2006

If you're nervous about $800 in cash, ask a friend to accompany you to the transaction. For that amount, cash is really the best option. Definitely document the details of the sale. However, I've bought and sold several used cars, and never had any issues, so don't stay up nights worrying.
posted by theora55 at 12:02 PM on July 3, 2006


It would have been nice to have an email in your profile to hear about the car you were/are selling.
posted by filmgeek at 1:56 PM on July 4, 2006

wow, filmgeek, really? OK, I'll go add one now.
posted by not that girl at 3:43 PM on July 4, 2006

Theora55 where did you get 800 from? she said 8500.
posted by crewshell at 7:55 PM on September 1, 2006

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